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Looking for my new blog?

Friday 1 March 2013

You’ll find it here.

Christmas wrapping-up: Goodbye blogging

Friday 24 December 2010

Avid readers of this blog (err, my mum, Jerry Hicks, a few people who used to support Les Bayliss) may have noticed I’ve not updated it much recently. Mainly that’s because I’ve left Tribune magazine and started a new job in financial reporting. Unlike Tribune it’s full time and hard work, so I’ve much les time on my hands to get in touch with trade unionists and blog about industrial stuff and politics.

So I’ve decided/been forced to mothball this blog, at least for the time being. For the next few weeks I won’t even attempt to update it regularly. There isn’t time, I’m afraid. The update I wrote today will be the last one for a while, if not forever.

But before I go, there are a few thing that need saying and can be safely said here. I started this blog in mid-2008 in a desperate attempt to get more reader than the low-circulation pages of Tribune would allow. But if that was selfish, then hopefully the way I have written it hasn’t been entirely so: I have tried, quite hard sometimes, to tell the truth about things which don’t see the light of day often enough. That’s especially the case with trade union politics. The demise of industrial reporting means journalist aren’t reporting and scrutinising trade unions in the way that their members or the public deserve.

I have quite enjoyed writing the blog. I am grateful to everyone who has read it for reading it. And I’m particularly grateful to people who’ve read it and then come forward with information and assistance with my stories. You know who you are. Your generosity is touching, and I offer big thanks. How couldn’t it be? I can’t offer anything in reward, and indeed I shouldn’t, so more often than not I think this has been a selfless act [update - on their part, I meant]. As a journalist I am humbled by people who give those precious nuggets of info with no thought of reward. I won’t try and name names, partly because some people might get into trouble if they were so named. That’s one of the problems with internal trade union politics especially, and politics generally.

Most of the people I’ve met in trade unions and politics have been either okay or nice; some have been exceptionally nice, cheerful, kind, sunny, helpful and so on. They’ve made life more worth living. A small number however have chosen to be hostile, or even malevolent. I mean they’ve tried to get me into trouble for no good reason. The reason, as far as I could make out, was that I was writing things which didn’t agree with the PR line they were trying to enforce and they saw it as their (paid) job to squash anyone who threatened that line. Sometimes this has been actually scary. Again, a problem with internal union politics, though that doesn’t wipe away personal responsibility. But spare a thought for the people who have to deal with that all the time, and not just because of a blog. Not everyone involved worked for a union either.

And I won’t mention the MP who upset me a bit by texting me in fury, called me “disgracefull” [sic] and said “please do not speak to me again” over something I wrote he found unhelpful. (Oh all right, it was Jon Cruddas. To be fair, I’m sure he was under a great deal of stress at the time – but I had not misreported him.)

These people didn’t get, or didn’t want to get, that I am not interested in helping the Labour Party, the TUC, Ed Miliband, or any of those trade union general secretaries through my journalism. That’s the difference between journalism and PR. This may sound obvious to you. I can assure you that it is not obvious to them.

Anyway, that’s a wrap, for now. Diehard fans can check this blog again in mid-February by which time I’ll have hopefully made my mind up what to do with it. I don’t want to abandon industrial affairs: it’s been far too stimulating and fun.

Again thanks to all my readers and those who’ve helped out. I’ll not forget. And since ’tis the season to be jolly, even if you’re out of work or otherwise feeling the pinch, I’ll leave you with Christmas wrapping of a different kind. When not obsessing about unions I obsess about music, and this is one band I like a lot. Merry Christmas! (Even you, Jon).

Update, 21 January: Tribune editor Chris McLaughlin has been in touch to say that some people took the comment above about Tribune being a ‘low circulation’ magazine to signify that it was in financial difficulty, or otherwise in trouble. I’m sorry if anyone took it that way; that wasn’t my intention, nor did I want to put the magazine down, so I’m happy to set the record straight and say so. For the record also, Chris tells me that it’s inaccurate to call Tribune ‘low circulation’. However I stand by what I’ve written.

Build a power station, get a nearly-five-per-cent pay rise

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Last year I blogged here about how, in a climate of austerity, engineering construction trade unions had secured an inflation-busting pay rise.

Well, strike two: they’ve done it again, only in a climate of even more austerity. Workers on engineering construction sites – power stations, gas terminals, motorways and the like – will get a 4.7 per cent pay rise from 2011, it’s been announced.

Phil Davies, who leads on the sector for the GMB union, told me this was a “good deal”. “It’s one of the top ones in the collective bargaining area.”

The deal reflects the fact that big things still need to be built - partly in the energy sector. Last year’s Ofgem report indicated there would be more capital investment, while this week three renewables firms announced they would build new factories.

But there’s also the prospect of big contracts being handed out for the government’s High Speed 2 rail link and the upgrading of trunk roads.

The latest industry reports show that, while orders in the sector fell last year they did not fall catastrophically, and orders are currently picking up. In engineering construction, the pay rises show no sign of abating.

John Healey for shadow business?

Friday 8 October 2010

One of the highlights of today’s shadow cabinet results is that John Healey, shadow housing minister up to now, has romped home with 192 votes and is now even being talked up as a shadow chancellor. This would mean appointing him over the heads of Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper (who got more votes than anyone – 232, practically the entire Parliamentary Labour party).

A slightly more likely scenario (I would submit) is that Healey receives the business, innovation and skills porfolio held up till now by Pat McFadden (Lord Mandelson’s junior in the business departent when Labour was in government). Why? Because a) Healey has expressed a desire for it and b) McFadden failed to make the shadow cabinet at all. One man’s meat…

Update, 18:42: Okay, I was wrong, and John Healey got Health. Well, my prediction was no worse than several fielded by much better-paid journalists than I. Suggestions that Healey would get Work and Pensions proved equally unreliable.

Unite enters the post-Charlie Whelan age (and what’s next)

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Readers of this blog have got in touch and this week prompted me to return to a well worn subject. This week Unite’s political department enters its first week post-Charlie Whelan since Gordon Brown’s redoubtable ex-spinner joined the union as political director in 2007. It’s likely to remain that way until at least 1 December, when the result of the Unite general secretary election is announced.

“Holding the fort”, as he has described it to those around him, is political adviser John O’Regan. Since he was Whelan’s deputy in the department, and since they both speak with distinctive Cockney vocals, there’ll be continuity for now. O’Regan came up through the GPMU print union which merged into Amicus which in turn merged into Unite. So he’ll be used to managing change, and staying on the right side of new bosses – essential in a union with such complex and sometimes fraught politics.

Who is to be the new political director? It’s been reported (including here) that Joe Irvin, Gordon Brown’s former political secretary at No 10, was likely. Actually, I blogged that he had been chosen, following a Tribune story. This was swiftly denied by Unite.

Truth be told, I was a bit hasty. It’s true that no formal decision has been made. What’s also true, and interesting is that – after the subject came up at Unite’s executive committee three weeks ago - the consensus seems to have shifted towards appointing the new director after the new gen sec is announced.

Which of course makes sense. You wouldn’t want to be appointed and then find, weeks later, that you had a new boss who didn’t have full confidence in you. A view shared within the Unite political department, I’m told.

Both Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, Unite’s joint leaders, have been backing Irvin for the job. But some at Unite are unhappy at his record working for Gordon Brown. In his time at No 10, Irvin reportedly helped to block the implementation of the agency workers’ directive, resisted the introduction of one-member-one-vote for the National Policy Forum (a policy supported by almost all Labour’s unions, as I reported here) and, most emotively of all, supported the Hayden Philips review of party funding, which would have capped union donations to Labour and put the party-union link under severe strain.

A new candidate has arisen in the form of form of Byron Taylor, the thirtysomething national officer of the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation. Having been lead officer in negotiations with Labour over policy issues, Taylor enjoys the advantage of having been on the unions’ side of the argument. He’s also a Unite member and former industrial organiser, with widespread respect in the union movement. My understanding is Taylor has been approached.

Royal Mail, Labour conference and the CWU hit list

Sunday 26 September 2010

Tomorrow the Labour party conference will debate a motion from the Communication Workers Union attacking Business Secretary Vince Cable’s plans to fully privatise Royal Mail, and committing Labour to keeping Royal Mail entirely in the public sector.

Meanwhile, the CWU has drawn up a plan of action for campaigning on the ground against the coalition and its MPs. As general secretary Billy Hayes explained at the TUC Congress recently:

“We’ll be going into 71 marginals where the coalition has a majority of less than five per cent. In these marginals we only need to win over five of every hundred to make progress on defeating privatisation.

“We know it’s a big task but we’re helped that all candidates have come out against privatisation.”

Two Lib Dem MPs and one conservative, the maverick Daniel Kawczynski, signed an early day motion against privatisation before the election. But the union is hoping to put more MPs with slim majorities under pressure by linking up with community groups and making the issue about public services under threat.

(On the subject of Royal Mail, Ed Miliband told Labour’s affiliated unions: “I believe that we need to show as a party, including in the case of Royal Mail, that we can modernise and improve public services without resorting to privatisation”.)

(from Tribune blog)

Ed, cuts and the union agenda

Sunday 26 September 2010

Perhaps the biggest policy issue for Ed Miliband’s Labour is how they respond to the coalition’s cuts programme and present their alternative economic strategy.

Right here – in Manchester – and right now, that means deciding what stance to take at party conference. There isn’t much time for deliberation.

Labour’s affiliated unions have mostly decided to go for cuts and the economy in choosing their motions for debate this year.

The GMB and train drivers’ union ASLEF are pushing for a motion on tax avoidance, keen to argue that billions can be raised by collecting more tax. Unison is demanding an alternative to attacks on public services and a review of the effects of privatisation, with a view to reversing the New Labour privatisation trend, while Unite and Community want to get conference to agree to an alternative economic and industrial strategy. Community, in particular, will seek to get in a mention of Sheffield Forgemasters, the plant denied an £80 million loan by the coalition government. This should go in, given that the Labour frontbench have been trying to make merry hell for Sheffield MP Nick Clegg.

Everyone at this conference agrees that the coalition’s cuts are wrong. The question is: how wrong? And what would you do instead? Will Ed Miliband agree with wannabe Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls that this is the time or investment, not cuts (contrary to Labour’s pre-election plan to start cutting the deficit this year)? And will he welcome motions calling on him to agree to that?

On the one hand, he risks being seen as a hard-left deficit denier by the media and public. On the other, he risks failing to put blue water between Labour and the coalition, and sounding too much like his brother.

Union and constituency reps are sitting down today to agree composite motions on the economy, taxation and other issues. Ed M and his team will be watching, at very least.

(from Tribune blog)

How Unite members swung behind Ed Miliband

Saturday 25 September 2010

Much will be made in coming weeks and months of the fact that Ed Miliband only beat his brother David for the Labour leadership because of the votes of affiliates – mostly, but not exclusively, trade union members. And it’s true that Unite, the biggest union and Ed M supporter, pulled out all the stops for him, even printing pictures of him on some of the envelopes containing the ballot papers they sent out.

That aside, what looks set to emerge in the union-by-union voting figures is that Unite members must have taken the hint.

A few weeks ago, Team Ed M visited Unite’s co-headquarters in London’s Covent Garden to do some telephone canvassing. They contacted 850 Unite members – over 5 per cent 0.05 per cent of the total membership, not a bad sample size by opinion poll standards.

Of the 850, over 500 said they’d vote for the younger Miliband. The second most popular choice was ‘don’t know’ and the third most popular ‘not voting’. The remaining candidates did pretty badly in the sample’s estimation.

Update: I should point out, not all the membership were balloted, as they’re not all political levy payers. So the ‘sample’ was actually bigger than 0.0005 per cent. The point stands. However the figures now show that Unite members didn’t vote quite as uniformly as the phone poll suggests – although a majority of Unite voters did vote for Ed Miliband.

(from Tribune blog)

A thank you note

Friday 24 September 2010

I don’t normally do blogs of a personal nature, but a word of thanks is called for. I absent-mindedly left my (work) netbook in the security tent at the Lib Dem conference in Liverpool on Tuesday evening. After some enquiries, it turned out that the Lib Dem conference staff had found it and taken it back to their Cowley Street HQ.

Cowley Street is about twenty minutes from where I live on my bike. Liverpool is not. So I’m very grateful to the Lib Dem staff for taking it back – and to responding very swiftly and efficiently to my query. Lost property is hardly a core activity for a political party.

Big thanks to Emma, Sophie and Sonia at Lib Dem HQ for their help, and also thanks to Lorraine and Jason at the ACC Liverpool for putting me in touch with them in the first place.

P.S. Amusingly, the message board at Cowley Street reads more like the coat pegs at an old English public school. Next to signs under sliding covers indicating ‘in’ and ‘out’ are the names in last name and first initial format – including ‘Clegg N’ and ‘Alexander A’ (who is still listed as working in the leader’s office, despite having stopped being his chief of staff some time ago.

Unite election: Len McCluskey way ahead, Cartmail kicks Bayliss’ van

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Unite’s executive council yesterday received the first official figures for nominations of candidates in their general secretary election. As the man himself predicted, assistant general secertary Len McCluskey is streets ahead of his nearest rival, Les Bayliss, with 829 workplace and branch nominations to Bayliss’ 214.

It certainly puts the remarks of Bayliss supporters last week – who, as I reported, said that McCluskey’s talk of having over 500 nominations more than Bayliss was “bollocks” – into context. However, it also bears out their counter-cliam that Bayliss’ branches and workplaces have more members. Despite having nearly eight times more nominations, McCluskey’s represent less than three times as many members.

Captain Sensible below points out that Ken Jackson was ahead on nominations before losing the AEEU union general secretary election to a certain Derek Simpson.

Gail Cartmail is pleased with her lot, given that people had suggested in the past that she wouldn’t even qualify to make it onto the ballot paper (the minimum number of nominations needed is 50). On her blog, Gail has mocked Bayliss’ use of a van plastered with pictures of his head, calling it a “mini-van for a mini-man” (miaow) and sconred his call for no strikes at Christmas (“What about Easter, Eid or Yom Kippur, the Solstice or Equinox?”) She also criticises McCluskey for attacking Bayliss in his platform speech at the TUC (as I reported here earlier; his none-too-subtle reference to “pandering to the Murdoch press”).

Those nominations in full:

  1. Len McCluskey, 829 valid nominations, including nominations from branches representing 368,986 members
  2. Les Bayliss, 214 valid nominations, including nominations from branches representing 137,942 members
  3. Jerry Hicks, 137 valid nominations, including nominations from branches representing 109,088 members
  4. Gail Cartmail, 97 valid nominations, including nominations from branches representing 37,836 members

Hat-tip: Ian Allinson


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