Thursday, September 27, 2007


Well I've appeared on Channel 4 and BBC today!

Proudly singing The Red Flag at Labour Party Conference.

So if you see a youngish chap singing along on the news that would be me!

Proud to be Labour

Supporting the Labour Party can sometimes feels like a dirty secret, and it’s no secret that I have had some significant policy disagreements with the Labour Government.

But after a week at Labour Party Conference, a Labour Party Conference full of Labour activists committed to equality and social justice and where speech after speech has given real commitment to progressive policies many of which we in the trade union movement has been calling for, I’m certainly proud to be Labour.

From education, where school support staff have finally got a national pay structure to housing, where we not have a consensus about the way forward which includes local authorities being able to build new council houses.

Policy seminars were a good opportunity to put forward our point of view, which is then fed into the policy forum process. The first one I went to was in the sustainable communities section, where I was able to ask Hazel Blears about reviewing how effective the two-tier workforce code of practice had been and she gave commitment to working with UNISON to review the implementation and see what more can be done. In health I asked about bringing cleaning staff back in house to help improve our hospital cleaning. I was able to follow this up with her at our reception later in the week and they are seriously looking at cleaning contracts to see what can be done. I also attended the crime a justice seminar, where Pat Heatherton (Vice Chair of the National Labour Link Committee) was able to ask about the appalling statistic that around 95% of prisoners have a mental health issue.

Fringe events were really interesting. A highlight was the Women in Work fringe organised by UNISON where the Minister for Women spoke very encouragingly about what we want to see from the Single Equalities Act.

And the week has also been a great opportunity to talk to politicians in an informal setting. Talking to Anne Keen about contract cleaners in hospital, or discovering Alan Johnson’s cousin is married to my dads cousin (small world). I had a very useful conversation with Dawn Butler MP, the Labour Party’s new Vice Chair Youth. She seems to be a real activist at heart and we will be following up about supporting young trade unionists within the party.

There's a lot of speculation with the success of the conference as to whether Gordon Brown will call a snap election. I really don't know what he'll do, but whenever a General Election is called I'm sure UNISON will be right behind Labour delivering the 4th term.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

On my way to Bournemouth

The National Young Members Forum get to send two lucky people to Labour’s Annual Conference every year, and this years lucky people are Emma McLoughlin and me.

I’m currently about half way through a 4 hour train journey. Much time has been passed by reading the 200+ page document that is the National Policy Forum report which comes to Conference for ratification. Like everything with our relationship with Labour I agree with the vast majority (and there are clear bit when the trade unions including UNISON have had key influence). There are also those things we disagree on, such as ‘diversity of provision’ seen in the raft of new types of school and the drive for private providers in the NHS.

As it stands it’s difficult to see what the week ahead will bring. A key issue is party reform measures being proposed by the leadership which I’ve already blogged about. Since my last blog there has been compromise reached which many of the unions have signed up to. I’m still rather sceptical, and those Labour Link Committee members such as myself who are available will be meeting to discuss UNISON’s position later today.

Another interesting part of the week will be what could be a last hurrah for contemporary motions. UNISON’s motion covers issues within local government and the single equalities bill, especially around equal pay. This has already had some attention in the media, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

But more than anything this conference seems to be about the fringes and the receptions. I’m particularly looking forward to the LGBT Labour do tonight (for obvious reasons) and the Labour Students party on Tuesday (which promises to be a haven of youthfulness in the conference). UNISON’s own reception is on Wednesday, the last night, and is sure to send us out with a bang!

Not sure if I’ll get chance to blog during the conference but I will certainly do one reporting on the whole thing.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Giving power to, or taking power away?

That's the question when addressing the party reforms being put forward by the new leadership of the Labour Party.

The Partnership in Power process focuses on engaging members on policy issues and coming to a consensus across the party. The reform proposals rightly point to the need to do more to engage with members locally which is welcome.

However there are some key issues which are problematic. The proposals would change the way that so called 'contemporary issues' are dealt with. At the moment affiliates (such as UNISON) and CLP's (the labour party in your constituency) can submit motions to the annual conference on issues arising after the policy forum process has been completed. It's these contemporary motions that has seen the government defeated on health last year and council housing before that. Under the new proposals we would still be able to submit things but instead of being voted on they would then just go into the forum process for the next year. This takes away the only real opportunity we have as the membership to democratically decide what the policy is.

The other issue is the proposal to put the final manifesto out to a ballot of all members. This take it or leave it ballot has few benefits and would create many problems. From our point of view it would cost us a fortune to conduct a ballot, and just before a general election this would be just what the party doesn't need. There are also some real risks for the party, what if there was a significant 'no' vote? Or even having the manifesto rejected? And what if groups of members or affiliates campaigned for a no vote, with a mass vote a messy row would be much worse there than at conference!

We really need to avoid a messy argument this year at conference, so I hope ongoing negotiations come up with a solution which avoids that. If we don't and it comes onto the conference floor it will make for an interesting time.

TUC Congress thoughts

Well, I’m on my way back from TUC Congress feeling quite tired it has to be said.

I used to watch some of congress on the TV, admittedly when nothing else was on, but it was quite different being there. It was interesting to hear Gordon Brown speak, the first time I’ve heard him as prime minister. I thought he gave a solid performance which spoke directly to his audience, whereas Tony Blair would be more focussed on talking to the media. The news of his speech seemed focussed on public sector pay, describing it as the ‘main thrust’ whereas actually it was mostly about skills.

Amazingly for the diversity of the trade union movement we agreed on nearly everything, great for the movement but not so great for our entertainment.

Wednesday afternoon’s session brought a couple of contentious debates, on child care and the EU constitutional treaty. On the EU treaty, we have a clear policy in unison supporting call for a referendum and a no vote in that, not because we’re anti Europe, but because we want a social Europe, rather than a Europe based on economic liberalism and undermining our rights to good public services. We supported a motion calling for a referendum from the GMB and a motion from the RMT which also called for TUC to campaign for a no vote. The only speaker that spoke directly against the RMT motion was from community. In fact both Unite’s General Secretaries spoke in favour of the GMB motion on the basis of opposition to the treaty spinelessly avoiding speaking against the RMT motion, then voting it down.

On childcare we opposed a motion from TUC women’s conference calling for the TUC to offer crèche facilities outside of formal business hours. Speakers rightly pointed to the importance of fringe and social events at Congress, and how people with child care responsibilities shouldn’t be excluded from those opportunities. However, UNISON opposed the motion on the basis that crèche facilities aren’t the most appropriate form of childcare out of hours and that other unions should take more responsibility in funding tailored rap around childcare for their members, because if they can’t do that at TUC how do they engage women in their own conferences the other 51 weeks of the year?

Thursday morning contained debates around education. I spoke for UNISON in a debate around participation in education or training post 16, with the Government proposing increasing the compulsory age. It was nice to see UNISON release this! I was proud to be speaking out against compulsion. The real show down on this issue had been avoided through the compositing process, with the word compulsory being removed. This left the composite supporting participation, rather than compulsory participation. But then the mover from the Association of College Management (ACM) spoke in favour of compulsion, the seconder from University & Collage Union (UCU) went a bit mad attacking the ‘manager’ for not knowing what it’s really like in FE colleges. This led to UCU voting against their own composite.

I did really enjoy the week, especially the social events (as they often offered free drinking opportunities) next stop Labour Party Conference.