Archive for June, 2010


Monday 28 June 2010

Forgot to say (again), I’ve been on holiday since last Thursday and will be until Monday 5 July. See you soon…


Dave Prentis re-elected

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Since I’ve blogged about the Unison general secretary election, it’s only fair to note that Dave Prentis’ re-election as general secretary was announced this week. (If I sound a tad blasé, it’s because no shrewd observer expected him to lose). Prentis comfortably saw off challenges from Socialist Party member Roger Bannister and Unison United Left faction candidate Paul Holmes to get 67.2 per cent of the vote, down from 75.6 per cent in 2005.

Bannister polled 19.7 per cent and Holmes 13 per cent. Turnout was about 15.7 per cent (216,116 valid votes in all).

In a statement, Prentis said: “We are ready to face the tough times ahead, we are growing in strength and numbers.  Together we will stand up for quality public services, for the hardworking people that provide them, and for the poor, the sick and vulnerable people who rely on them for support.”

He’s right about the numbers – Unison put on over 30,000 members last year. What happens to those numbers, after the coalition government takes Labour’s public sector spending cut plans and builds on them, remains to be seen.

Gail Cartmail speaks to this blog

Wednesday 23 June 2010

I really need to pay more attention to what goes on on this blog – but then it’s a very part-time pursuit. Last week, to my ignorance, Unite general secretary election candidate Gail Cartmail waded in to a lively discussion on my post below, in order to respnd to critics and explain her position. Here’s what she had to say:

On the support for candidates by full-time officers and other Unite staff:

“An instruction was issued by JGS Tony Woodley today quite rightly advising staff and officials that displaying or wearing election material while at work is prohibited.”

Very interesting – at Unite’s policy conference, the biggest example by far of wearing election material came from supporters of Len McCluskey. Several full-time officers such as former national officer for civil air transport Steve Turner were seen wearing McCluskey lanyards and poloshirts embroidered with  ‘Unite 4 Len’ logos. McCluskey is of course Woodley’s preferred candidate, so this doesn’t seem a partian move on the face of it.

Cartmail also attacked McCluskey and Les Bayliss as being part of the establishmednt and part of the problem:

“My AGS colleagues have had every opportunity to Unite the opposing left factions and use their position in the inner circle to deliver integration – they have sadly not stepped up to the mark on either count so time for a fresh start, a different approach.”

Clearly she doesn’t see herself as being part of that inner circle. If either Les Bayliss or Len McCluskey want to respond, the comments thread – and my inbox – is yours…

Labour’s automotive council chugs on

Monday 21 June 2010

Although the coalition government has scrapped a number of loan agreements – notably and controversially the £80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters – there’s one aspect of Labour’s industrial policy that seems to be staying put: the Automotive Council.

As I reported last year, then business secretary Lord Mandelson set up the council after a select committee report blamed government ambivalence for the failing state of the car industry, which saw over 2000 job losses last year. The purpose of the council is to spur development of low carbon vehicles in Britain and protect the supply chain for the auto industry, i.e. all those parts factories which depend on car factories for their business.

The voice of organised labour is represented – in a minority of one – by the Unite union’s national officer Dave Osborne, who has a seat on the council. It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall at their next meeting.

(from Tribune blog)

Public sector cuts: a view from the north-east

Wednesday 16 June 2010

I spoke earlier this week to Simon Henig, leader of the Labour-led Durham County Council, which is shouldering £16.5 million in budget cuts following last week’s announcement by the Department for Communities and Local Government of £1.166 billion in cuts to grants for local councils. In addition to the £51.3 million he says the council was already having to find in efficiency savings. Only a bit of Mr Henig would fit into my piece for Tribune this week, so here he is in full.

Mr Henig began by complaining that most of the £16.5 million had been hidden from last week’s announcement. (Indeed, the table found on the DCLG website only gave a figure of something over £6 million for Durham’s cuts.) “You had to be very forensic to find all the detail”, he said. The government figure, he says, does not include cuts in capital funding inc. road maintenance, road transport, road safety – which are in a separate table – or abolitions of specific grants. “I got hold of it [the table] by getting someone in the House of Commons to get it for me”.

“I don’t think it’s a very good start for a government that was always at the previous government for burying detail – this goes beyond anything of the last government’s . We would hope for greater transparency; we’re having to put online every transaction over £500. They can’t even do the same for reductions of millions of pounds.”

He noted that 24 out of 28 local authorities which have the biggest percentage cuts are in northern regions, and nine out of 12 northeastern regions are present. “There’s a very clear north-south divide. Some of those grants are there in response to deprivation and kick-starting economies.”

He drew attention to the Local Economic Growth Initiative, which encourages people to start their own businesses. “To be frank, you don’t need that money to start that scheme in Surrey.” And referring to Nick Clegg’s promise to protect vulnerable areas like the north-east, he said: “I think questions will have to be asked about quite what influence the Liberal Democrats are having on these decisions.”

“If that spending review in the autumn repeats these patterns, that’s going to lead to some negative consequences. All sorts of things have been put in place to counter deprivation. If those are taken away, that recreates a gaping wound that was created in the 1980s, throughout all the northern regions.

One of the ‘area based grants’ to be cut covers Connexions, which gives careers advice to young people on leaving school. “It’s not money off schools but a very important service”. Also young offenders rehabilitation will be affected. “Those are important programmes. It’s also working together with the police with youth offending teams, which are going to be reduced significantly.” Road maintenance and safety programmes will be hit too.

“My greatest fear isn’t on any of these cuts. My greatest fear is the spending review in the autumn. I’ve heard sort of 20 per cent bandied about by a number of different sources. If that is added to by any change in the formulae, the prospect for the whole of the north is very worrying.”

Finally, on local government pay and pensions (also covered in Tribune this week) he said: “I think it’s about to be taken out of our hands completely. I sympathise with Unison, the vast majority of whose members are not gold-plated people and need to be treated equally. This year my suspicion is it’s about to be taken out of our hands altogether. They’ve certainly talked about a public sector pay freeze.” Mr Henig was not against further reform to public sector pensions though, and suggested some sort of commission would be a good thing.

“There does appear to have been an upward pressure [on the cost of public sector pensions]. The argument here is over whether that’s temporary factors or something more permanent.”

DCLG had not responded to a question about the effect of the cuts on the north-east at the time of publication.

(from Tribune blog)

Who is in the lead in Unite election?

Saturday 12 June 2010

With nomination papers for the election to become general secretary of the Unite union hitting doormats, it’s a good time to check what’s going on. And it has been a busy couple of weeks in trade union politics. So let’s take a look at the election’s two frontrunners.

Both Paul Reuter and Simon Dubbins have now withdrawn from the race, respectively backing Les Bayliss and Len McCluskey. The effect of this backing is not just to concentrate support, but to concentrate it in the hands of what might be called, without too much fear of reprisal, the establishment candidates. Bayliss, from the former Amicus side, is supported by joint general secretary Derek Simpson; McCluskey by JGS Tony Woodley.

Both Reuter and Dubbins are from the former Amicus side, Dubbins (like his father) from the GPMU graphical paper and media union, Reuter from the Amalgamated Engineering Union. Both Bayliss and McCluskey say they want to unite the T&G and Amicus halves of Unite – but (not that any of them can help it) the McCluskey-Dubbins agreement, unlike Reuter-Bayliss, is between a T&G and an Amicus man. So that should be of some propaganda value.

What’s more, Dubbins has this week published a list of supporters on his website who are following him over to Len McCluskey. Top of the supporters list are the national chairs of Unite’s industrial committees for aerospace and for graphical paper and media. Interestingly, one of Bayliss’ supporters is assistant general secretary Tony Burke, the chief official in charge of the GPM sector, while he is expected to pick up support in skilled ex-Amicus sectors like aerospace. So not too much can be relied on. (I have asked what supporters Reuter brings with him, but without result so far).

Finally some allegations and counter-allegations. Those not supporting Bayliss or, previously, Reuter have suggested that Reuter didn’t intend to run at all, and planned to support Bayliss prior to his announcement last Wednesday. This is strenuously denied by supporters. It’s certainly been rumoured for a long time, though, that an alliance was under discussion, as I mentioned last week, and Reuter didn’t flyer at the policy conference.

Simon Dubbins is accused of packing it in either because a) he realised he didn’t have much of a chance or b) that he didn’t have the necessary length of service under Unite’s rule book (rule 16.12. Yes I have read it), as Les Bayliss’ email says (see below). I hear that Dubbins did tell supporters he was an underdog in the election, and that he didn’t have quite the right continuous service – but that he was prepared to challenge that rule. But perhaps, if so, that would have become a distraction.

More on the Unite election – and its wider – implications – later…

Unite union election gets nasty

Friday 11 June 2010

By email anyway. Within days of Unite election candidate Simon Dubbins withdrawing and throwing his weight behind Len McCluskey for the Unite leadership, McCluskey’s main rival Les Bayliss has launched a stinging attack on the pair of them – and it gets personal. Here’s an email Bayliss has sent to full-time officers in the union:

“The first casualty of war, they say, is truth. Well two of the combatants in Unites ongoing fight for the General Secretary position have entirely annihilated truth in their statements this week.
“First we were asked by Simon Dubbins to believe that he underwent a Nick Cleggesque political transformation during the policy conference in Manchester last week. Apparently he no longer considers himself to be the only “unity” candidate on offer. Nor does he feel his relative youth compared to other candidates is an electoral asset any longer. So he is teaming up with the oldest candidate currently available Len McCluskey. He may of course have come to this view since Len McCluskey’s supporters on the Executive Council forced through a regulation that will remove the candidate’s age from the ballot form, thus rendering age a secret to be kept from the members.
“The second battering of the truth comes from Len McCluskey himself. He welcomes Simon’s bold and courageous step in joining up with him to beat a path toward a united Unite, and not a carbon copy of either previous unions. Strangely Simon has chosen to overlook the fact that Len’s election campaign is based almost word for word on Tony Woodley’s GS campaign in the T&G back in 2003. So much for building Unite mark 1.
“The truth is, as always, less prosaic [sic]. Simon Dubbins hasn’t got the required 10 years membership of Unite to be a candidate for General Secretary. A fact he may have only recently been alerted to, last week perhaps, in which case it would seem that he cannot have given the idea of standing as GS the necessary serious consideration. Alternatively he may of known all along and his intention was always to do a deal with Len McCluskey, albeit not quite as early in he campaign as this. Either way neither option reflects well on either man does it?

More on the Unite election – and what Dubbins supporters make of this message (clue – they don’t agree with it) later…

Mr Demos joins the ‘Con-Dems’

Friday 11 June 2010

Not too many raised eyebrows at the headquarters of non-aligned think-tank Demos at the news that their director Richard Reeves is to join Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg next month as a special adviser on £85,000 a year (a bit of a pay cut from his current job).

After all, Reeves was, I am told, seldom off the phone to Clegg, and is thought to have dined with David Cameron’s head of strategy Steve Hilton* on a regular basis.

But why is he doing it? Does a career in frontline politics beckon, perhaps – will he follow the path of so many SpAds and become a parliamentary candidate? For now, Reeves is working on political strategy – which may (or many not) have something to do with ensuring that Simon Hughes, the newly elected Lib Dem deputy leader regarded as somewhat to the left of Clegg, doesn’t become a liabiltiy to the coalition government.

*now one of David Cameron’s 18 special advisers, on £5000 a year more than Reeves

Paul Kenny: New Labour treated me like incontinent relative

Thursday 10 June 2010

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny doesn’t do scripted speeches. No ‘check against delivery’ – the speech is the delivery. And his address to the GMB’s annual congress in Southport yesterday morning was colourful in its spontaneity. Warning that Labour should not treat unions like “elderly relatives who wet themselves”, he added: “That’s how I felt about New Labour. I felt we were almost the aged relatives they didn’t want to admit, but were having to visit every now and again.”

Kenny was speaking the day after the union held Labour Party leadership hustings, where all candidates except David Miliband apologised for one or another policy aspect of the previous 13 years of Labour government. And after Ed Balls had written an article for the Observer backing the GMB demand to subject free movement of EU labour to nationally agreed pay and conditions – the Lindsey Oil Refinery policy, if you will.

On the other hand, the leadership candidate who most vociferously backed GMB policy yesterday – John McDonnell – has now dropped out

(from Tribune blog)

Ed Balls lunges for the GMB vote

Sunday 6 June 2010

Ed Balls’ Observer piece, in which he says Labour should look at the issue of migraiton within the EU with a view to tightening the rules, has caused a bit of a media flurry, as I’m sure it was meant to. But it was meant to do a bit more than that.

Crucially, Balls says that free movement of workers through the EU should not ve allowed to undermine terms and conditions of employment in this country:

“And it means debating what labour protections and restrictions on unskilled labour mobility are needed in an enlarging Europe, for the benefit of all European peoples. The Tory-Liberal government should be pushing to protect the pay, terms and conditions of British workers, not seeking to undermine them by taking Britain out of the social chapter. I make these arguments in the spirit of pro-European realism.”

This is exactly – and I mean exactly – what unions, notably the GMB and Unite, have been complaining about for years now, and what led to all those wildcat strikes at power station sites: that free movement of labour from the EU allows nationally agreed terms and conditions to be undermined. For the GMB it’s an article of faith that this is so. And sometimes it has been proven.

So it’s not altogether surprising that this article has appeared on the eve of the GMB congress, where they will tomorrow (Monday) be hosting Labour leadership hustings. Before GMB members vote in the Labour leadership election. Not that there’s anything wrong about this, or that I don’t think Balls is sincere. But it is a pro-union propaganda hit calculated to spike his opponents’ guns. And it could well work. Sam Coates at The Times reports that Unite is already backing Ball’s stance.

Incidentally, Balls isn’t attending the hustings due to other commitments. He will be at the congress on Tuesday though.

For the record, it was the government of which Ed Balls was a member which allowed Andrew Miller’s agency workers bill to be killed off in parliament, and as well as delaying implementation of the agency workers directive till 2011 – the “failure” he seems to refer to towards the end – it doubled the EU’s qualifying period from six weeks to 12.