Sunday, November 18, 2007

LGBT Conference 07

Well I'm blogging from the Airport on my way back from Glasgow and UNISON's National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Members Conference, the annual gathering of LGBT members from across the union to set the agenda for the next year's LGBT Group activity. I attended the conference as a delegate from the National Young Members Forum.

I have to say (as I promised Louise I would on my blog) that the highlight of the weekend was finding out that the actor that played Alf Stuart (the very macho husband to Elsa in Home & Away) is an out gay man, and whats more does a lot of work with the trade unions on LGBT rights.

It was also an interesting conference for coming together and agreeing our policy on issues that LGBT members care about. We were completely united on what we want to achieve, the contention came at times about how to achieve it. In a rare occurrence for UNISON conferences, or most conferences, we completed all the business and even finished a little early.

There was also some unjustified criticism of the National Executive Council, which seemed to stem from someone getting some very dodgy information from somewhere. The NEC was accused of blocking work on blood donation and gay/bi men, which is an issue I really care about but, especially as I sit on the policy committee, can't see how the NEC has been stopping it. I did try and find out where this came from unsuccessfully, if disinformation is there it needs to be challenged.

I'm glad to say that the conference adopted our motion on recruiting and organising young LGBT workers, with some helpful amendments. And also adopted an amendment to the conferences standing orders allowing the NYMF to submit amendments as well as motions.

As with any UNISON event, a key and enjoyable part of the event was the social activities. Friday night started with a Civic Reception thanks to Glasgow Council, where there was a music from a choir (though lovely there was a bit of tension between those that wanted to talk and those that wanted to listen) and then off for a lovely buffet and karaoke at Glasgow's LGBT Centre before dancing to the wee hours at a local club. Saturday I was delighted to join the Eastern Region for a lovely meal with some enlightening conversation and then plenty of drinking followed by some impromptu singing (though sadly between us and international guests we couldn't remember the words to the Internationale, shame on us).

I have really enjoyed the weekend and it was enlightening to see the workings of the LGBT group, I'm sure I'll be back.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

An afternoon at Westminster

After shooting across London from PDCC at Mabledon Place it was time for Labour Link Committee, which met in Parliament as the guests of the conveners of the UNISON Group of MPs.

It was our first meeting since the regional reps elections so it was election time for our Chair and Vice Chair. Steve Warwick was re-elected as Chair. For Vice Chair I was proud to nominate Rachel Voller from the Greater London Region, who was elected. Rachel is a strong activist in UNISON and the Labour Party and I'm sure she will do a wonderful job for us.

We heard from Harriet Harman, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party as well as being Party Chair, Leader of the House and Secretary of State for Equality. She spoke about the importance of working together on our common agenda, with an emphasis on equalities and set out her vision for the next manifesto to have a focus on equality. She spoke of the importance of attracting more women into the party, and as the union with the largest number of women members the role for us in that. Harriet only had time to answer one question before having to litterally dash into the Commons for some important business but committed to meeting with the committee in future.

Dawn Butler, Vice Chair of the Party with responsibility for youth, also came to speak to us. She spoke about the launch of the £1 youth membership rate which will be launched at an event I will be at in December. She also spoke of some plans for a mass consultation of young people next year, aiming to consult 60,000 young people. We expressed our desire to support this and encourage our young members to get involved.

We also had extensive discussions about our work against the BNP and how we take that forward. We discussed the important role of getting the Labour vote out in order to defeat the BNP.

There was also a discussion about the importance of our activity in supporting Labour locally and improving our influence within the local party, a topic we will be returning to.

Wonderful Wales and Exciting Equality

It was a fleeting visit to policy this morning as I had to dash off to Parliament for the National Labour Link Committee, so I only managed to stay for two items. However, those two items were substantial and important.

We heard about the Welsh Assembly Government's programme agreed between Labour and coalition partners Plaid Cymru. It was a very positive agenda for Wales, with a strong link to UNISON policy, so congratulations to UNISON Cymru/Wales. It must also be said that it is very, very close to the Labour manifesto.

We also had a report from the Membership Participation Unit (which supports the Self-organised Groups, Young Members & Retired Members) which covered ongoing equality policy work. This was a really interesting report cutting across all of the equality areas, including young members.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Karen Reissmann Sacked!

You may be aware that Karen Reissmann, Branch Chair at Manchester Community & Mental Health UNISON and member of UNISON's Health Service Group Executive, has been subject to disciplinary action by her employer.

I came to light yesterday that she has now been dismissed - not for any problems with the care she delivers to patients as a psychiatric nurse, but for speaking out against cuts and privatisation. Sacked for trade union activities!

Now, within UNISON Karen isn't someone I will always agree with, particularly on tacktics and our relationship with the Government. But she is a strong trade unionist, attacked by her employer for being that. The whole of UNISON needs to continue to support Karen and the members of her branch taking industrial action to defend her.

With everything these days there is a facebook group and a website. I have today also e-mailed Karen to express my support.

It's important that whatever your politics within the labour movement, we unite to defend this activist under attack.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

I love NHS Demo

What a great day!
It was fabulous to see so many people celebrating and defending the NHS. It was great to march with others from National Young Members Forum under the Young Members Banner.

Our chants went down very well, with some fool lending me his mega phone! The MRSA one went down particularly well.

After the demo was a rally in Trafalgar Square where we heard from Dave Prentis as TUC President and a host of other union leaders as well as front line staff, patients and NGO's like Breakthrough breat cancer and Oxfam.

Now this has all been very possitive, and I have been wanting a national demo for a while, but there does have to be some sober reflection. Having searched through the sites of the major papers and TV news websites, the media impact was very disappointing. Despite a great deal of effort by the press office there was very little coverage and what we did have was a little flat & dissapointing (much of it being the same). The demonstration was at great cost and great effort across the union, and overall I think it was worth it. However I do feel that the impact demonstrations can make has decreased over the past 5-10 years, to the point were you only get mass coverage if it's an issue the media is already covering anyway. Our ability to shape me media's agenda with events like this has been significantly diminished. We need to remember this in the future, as much as we remember the fun had on the demo.

National Young Members Forum 02/11/07

This was an incredibly packed meeting with three guest speakers, with incredibly interesting topics to discuss.

A speaker from TUSDAC (Trade Union Sustainable Development Advisory Committee), a joint Trade Union/Government body talked about greening the workplace issues and the broader policy issues around climate change. It was good to hear what trade unions are doing, and there was plenty of experience in the room from young members trying to tackle green issues in the work place. It was also interesting to here the important role of internationalism, particularly with American trade union having originally pressured their Government not to ratify Keyoto.

The National Young Members Forum will be jointly hosting an event with Yorkshire & Humberside for Young Members in the region on organising around green issues. This is particularly important as we haven't had much participation from that region in the young members structures.

We also had Stephanie Peacock the Young Members rep on the Labour Party NEC spoke about her role representing young people within the Labour Party and what she's been up to since she got elected onto the NEC at Labour Youth Conference last year.

Deborah Littman spoke around Minimum/Living Wage issues. It was intersting to here how UNISON has been working on these issues, and with next year being the 10 year annaversiry of the national minimum wage's introduction. The NMW has made a huge difference to workers in the UK, especially women. But there are still issues with the lower youth rates and exemption for modern apprentices. On the Youth Rates, UNISON has once again made a submission calling for those rates to be fased out with the adult rate from 18 then being extended to 16. I believe the anneversary year gives us another opportunity to challenge this discrimination. On the issue of apprentices, this is going to become a much bigger issue within the public sector in the future. The Forum agreed to submit a motion to health conference I had drafted on apprenticeships and I hope similar motions can go to the other service group conferences. We also agreed to submit it as one of our issues for TUC Young Members Conference.

On the issue of TUC Young Members Conference we will be looking to appoint delegates in a different way this year, subject to approval by the NEC's Policy Development & Campaigns Committee. We have previously had difficulties in filling our delegation from within the forum, as we have a delegation of 12. The proposals will ask regions to put people forward, with different regions given preference in alternate years.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Forum meeting today

Just a quick note for now.

I'm down in London for the National Young Members Forum meeting. It's Stuarts first as Chair (having not been able to attend the AGM) and I'm sure he'll do a great job.

We've got a packed agenda with guests form TUSDAC (Trade Union environmental group), our Bargaining Support Department on young workers stuff, and the Young Members rep on the Labour Party NEC, funnily enough about the Labour Party.

With a whole host of other debates I'm sure it will be a great meeting, and of course we're all ready to defend and celebrate the NHS tomorrow