Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

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.


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.

The truth about the TUC congress and days of action

Tuesday 3 August 2010

Meetings, meetings, meetings. Unions large and small are currently meeting, with each other and internally, to decide on what motions they’re going to back at this year’s TUC Congress in Manchester. There’s a raft of motions up for debate which call for varying degrees of campaigning and co-ordinated action to defend against public sector job, pay and pension cuts.

However, reports in today’s Times that there’s to be an autumn of strikes by angry unions strike me (no pun intended) as a little overblown. (The Times article is behind a paywall, but it’s been heavily borrowed from for this piece in the Daily Mail.)

It’s one thing to propose a motion to the TUC. It’s another to get that motion passed. It’s yet another – if it does pass – to do something substantial to put that motion into effect.

The “day of action” on October 20 called for in one of the motions – which led the Times to talk of an autumn of strikes – cannot be a strike, because you need to hold a ballot to call a strike. And because unions have to give lots of notice to bosses for strike ballots and their results, it’s safe to say that an autumn of strikes is now looking near-impossible. They would have to agree joint strike action at Congress (no motion calls for strike action as such), then plan strikes, give notice of ballots, hold ballots, get yes votes, give notice again… you get the idea.

And sometimes there are upsets. In September 2008, as I reported at the time, the Prison Officers’ Association pushed an amendment that would change a vote for “joint action” to “joint strike action”. It failed to go through, after the Unite delegates voted for the amendment by a show of hands, Dave Prentis in the chair called a card vote, and they then “lost” their voting cards. The POA general secretary said Prentis should “get new glasses”.

The Public and Commercial Services Union, the GMB, RMT and Unison have all put up motions against the cuts. Those motions will almost certainly be composited together into one in the next few days. How strong the motion is and how much support it’ll get remains to be seen. However, the FT is already reporting that the TUC’s general council is going for a day of protests in March next year, rather than October. The PCS union, which tends to take a hard line and favour joint action where possible – is pressing ahead with protests on October 20 and 23.

Another year, another TUC, another spate of motions calling for action. We’ve been here before (as I wrote two years ago). There hasn’t been solid joint industrial action in the UK in defence of jobs, pay or pensions for a few years. Of course this year is different – there are Tories in power and big cuts on their way – but wait and see.

Gail Cartmail risks upsetting Unite election

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Gail Cartmail, Unite assistant general secretary for the public sector at Unite the union, was in a good mood tonight. Today the only female candidate in the (all together now) election to become the leader of Britain’s biggest union got a sympathetic profile by veteran reporter Andy McSmith in The Independent. Tomorrow (i.e. by the time you read this) she is appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. The Media have woken up to the fact she could become the country’s first female general secretary of a big union.

Gail said: “A huge concern of mine is that my two colleagues who are leading rivals have factions behind them, and if either gets the politically important post of Unite first general secretary with a faction behind him, there will be a further period of disunity”.

Interesting stuff. Only yesterday, I heard one Unite source condemn one of the candidates for not standing on a given platform. Cartmail turns that argument on its head. The result will boil down to what Unite members prefer.

But Cartmail clearly positions herself in the piece as the women’s candidate – and I heard her female supporters do the same thing. One complained about a stall at Unite’s policy conference here in Manchester which offered the prize of a crate of beer. What if you don’t drink beer? They didn’t seem to have thought of that.

The media attention on Cartmail raises the possibility she could attract serious votes. Despite being a senior salaried official, her blog carries rather independent views. Even if she doesn’t win, she may become an important figure after the Unite election. Which may upset other (male) officials…

Update: Writing this blogpost in the small hours of the morning having only had four hours’ sleep is the only reason I can imagine for writing that Cartmail  “could become the country’s first female general secretary”. Brenda Dean of Sogat in the 1980s was one, and currently we have Sally Hunt at the University and College Union. Thanks to Paul below for good-naturedly pointing out my mistake.

Unite policy conference – calling all delegates

Friday 21 May 2010

I’m delighted to say I’m going to be attending the first day of the Unite union’s policy conference in Manchester on Monday 31 May. Partly because Manchester is my favourite city in the UK, but mainly because of the opportunity to report on the future of Britain’s biggest union.

So if you’re a delegate, an official or whever, I’d love to hear from you. My email address is over there on the right, and my self portrait above is reasonably accurate. See you in the Midland Hotel (where I won’t be staying)…

The Times has been forced to print month-old stories about Labour, this blog has learnt

Tuesday 5 January 2010

“Labour has been forced to scrap a planned manifesto meeting of its National Policy Forum on cost grounds, just before a campaign in which Conservatives are preparing to out-spend it by a factor of about three to one, The Times has learnt.” Thus today’s front-page splash.

All well and good – except I wrote the same thing, in slightly less attention-grabbing language, in Tribune last month. And the meeting of Labour’s Joint Policy Committee where it was decided not to hold an NPF was actually held two weeks before that. Breaking news eh?

Anyway, the Times report quotes David Blunkett as saying that Labour’s campaign war chest is only £8 million. I’ve no idea about this, but I do know that £8 million is funnily enough the size of the Unite union’s political fund, or was in late 2008 when Charlie Whelan said so. Not that the two are the same of course…

Okay, I promise to stop bitching and find something original to write about next time.

Unite BA strike ballot: an accident waiting to happen?

Friday 18 December 2009

Just been watching Newsnight’s take on the High Court’s decision to injunct Unite from sending BA cabin crew on strike. There was a bit of discussion about whether this had anything to do with the Unite general secrtary election but it was all speculation.

What’s a bare fact though is the following: the High Court granted the injunction on the basis that the ballot included workers who were leaving the company.

Frnkly I’m surprised this hasn’t happened before. Unite has long-standing difficulties in keeping track of its membership. Last year its annual return to the trade union certification officer showed that over 300,000 names had been wiped – much more than redundancies would allow for. Some of those names had undoubtedly left the union, died or both. Addresse don’t always get changed and email addresses are in short supply – less than a quarter of the membership have valid email details on record.

So keeping track of who’s in the bargaining pool and who isn’t is by no means an easy task, and BA spotted an opportunity. None of this can deny, of course, the overwhelming mandate for strike action delivered by the 92 per ceent strike vote. But time and again, when strike plans fail, they fail on a technicality.  It’s no indictment of Unite’s industrial relations policy to say that better record keeping would have prevented this.

The Sunday Times poaches my work (and still gets it wrong)

Monday 7 September 2009

The story on Unite’s general secretary election I did for Tribune last week continues to generate ripples (see below).

Not only have people within Unite been commenting on it, but Sunday Times political editor Jonathan Oliver followed it up in an article in yesterday’s paper.

In fact, so keen was Mr Oliver on my work that he lifted an entire quote from it – Rob Williams saying “The link with Labour is an absolute millstone round the neck of the union” he said. “It’s got us nowhere.” – without attribution. That’s not very nice is it. Oh, and the subs decided to make this the pull quote – the one pulled from the text and reprinted in a bigger type size, which is quite flattering really, or would be if they’d said where it came from.

Unfortunately, not even my reporting could save Mr Oliver from getting his story wrong. In the article, he names Jerry Hicks as “the frontrunner” in the contest. But on Saturday, Hicks failed to get the nomination of the United Left faction of Unite (admittedly after his supporters were, apparently, barred from entering the hustings meeting in Manchester). The remaining members elected Len McCluskey. With a big profile and a nomination in his pocket, McCluskey is the closest thing to a frontrunner Unite has. (More on this later)

This story seems to have fallen apart the day before it appeared on newsstands. Oh well, you can’t get it right every time.

P.S. I did email Mr Oliver about this, but no response as yet.

Update: There’s some intense debate going on at Socialist Unity as to whether it was right to exclude Hicks’ supporters or not. I haven’t got to the bottom of this yet (but my piece in Tribune this week hopefully will).

Update 2: Oliver has responded and takes my point. All is forgiven.

Labour’s planned smear website: Telegraph gets it wrong

Monday 13 April 2009

My blog post today was going to be about my experience of the government’s special advisers in the light of the Damian McBride scandal – and I will write about that, later today if I get time – but I’ve spotted a bizarre piece published on the Telegraph website yesterday purporting to be a profile of the Unite official Andrew Dodgshon, who it says is the “apparent frontman” for Red Rag, the empty blog website where McBride proposed to publish unfounded smears against senior Tories.

This article is full of mistakes and its author has obviously not bothered to check any of the contents.

I don’t know what, if any, involvement Dodgshon has with Red Rag. But I have had some dealings with the man, so I can tell you that he isn’t a “journalist and press officer for the Transport and General Workers Union” any more. For over a year he’s actually been based in the political department. And someone should tell the Telegraph about the T&G’s merger to form Unite. He doesn’t live in Milton Keynes either. Charlie Whelan is Unite’s political director and therefore Dodgshon’s boss, but he’s not in charge of press officers, who are in a different department under different bosses. And yes, he does review books for Tribune – as do people far more loyal to the government, like Denis McShane – but why didn’t the article’s author check by putting the website through a Google search?

Come to think of it, why didn’t he get hold of Dodgshon’s phone number – which isn’t hard – and ring him up? This article should have been more rigorously checked before the Telegraph’s web editors let it get published, and it doesn’t reflect well on their standards.

Rene told you so (part the umpteenth)

Friday 20 February 2009

12 February: Tribune reports that GM is going to flog off Saab.

18 February: reports: “GM Europe will also consider partnerships for German-based Opel and is aiming to dispose of loss-making Swedish car maker Saab.”

20 February: Saab hits the headlines big time.

Maybe you should try reading Tribune, guys. You might learn something.