Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holiday reading

Well I’ve just come back from a bit of winter sun, which with our current shortages on the wards and an always busy load of union work, was greatly needed.

I read a few books while I was away, the new JK Rowling book of fairy tales (adapted for muggles like me), A spot of bother (a great piece of fiction which weaves through different lives in the run up to a wedding and is really funny and very insightful), and Obama’s ‘The Audacity of Hope’ (though I must admit that I’m only a 3rd of the way through).

Obama’s book is a fascinating look at American politics, though with the blinkers that brings (his pride that the American constitution was ‘a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or ism’ seems to neglect that the constitution has absolutely enshrined capitalism).

With the context of increased scrutiny that trade union funding and support for political parties are under in the UK, Obama’s discussion of how American unions supported him was particularly interesting. Discussing the support that some unions gave him during the Democrat primaries when he was in the Senate race Obama says,

“So I owe those unions. When their leaders call, I do my best to call them back
right away. I don’t consider this corrupting in any way; I don’t mind feeling
obligated towards home-care workers who clean bedpans every day for little more
than the minimum wage, or the teachers in some of the toughest schools in the
country, many of whom have to dip into their own pockets at the beginning of
every school year to buy crayons and books for their students. I got into
politics to fight for these folks, and I’m glad a union is around to remind me
of their struggles.”

This seems to sum up fairly well the difference between corporate donors and trade unions in our effect on politics.

As I said, I'm only a 3rd of the way through. But I hope to finish soon thanks to the number of train journeys this months necessitated by the Christmas period.

Interestingly while I was away we got chatting to a couple (one being a nurse at the local Birmingham mental health trust and proud UNISON member and COHSE before that, the other a Social Worker in Birmingham who left the union [I think it was NALGO] because they expected him to go on strike [and abide by the decisions of him colleagues – shocking]). The Social Worker told me he had no time for Obama and didn’t trust him because he was called Hussain, worrying in anyone, even more so in a Social Worker in a place like Birmingham.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A great day to kick off our celebrations – 10 Years of the NMW

I’ve blogged before about the National Young Members Forum’s plans for campaigning around the 10th Anniversary of the National Minimum Wage. Monday saw the first part of that campaign as it was launched with a seminar in London.

The day was a great gathering of people interested in the minimum wage from different perspectives. From the labour movement and the student movement to young people’s organisations and poverty groups.

The day was kicked off by our own Dave Prentis, highlighting the minimum wages importance. But not only that, he set out UNISON’s commitment to fighting for the minimum wage and a living wage.

It was followed by the legend that is Rodney Bickerstaff, former UNISON and NUPE General Secretary who was a driving force in the fight for the minimum wage. Rodney was able to give us a flavour of the history of struggle for the minimum wage, stretching back over a hundred years. But as is his style it was full of colour and entertainment.

Our own Heather Wakefield, speaking as a Low Pay Commissioner, tried her best not to dampen our spirits as she discussed the difficulties ahead in even getting a rise in the minimum wage for the next round. She also usefully set out the working of the commission and how we need to be getting involved.

A highlight for me was the speaker from ASDA. Now ASDA (particularly with their now parent company Walmart) didn’t strike me as the obvious ally. But it was fascinating to here from an employer why they (and the Employers Forum on Age representing a number of large employers) want to see the removal of age rates in the minimum wage.

On apprenticeships we heard about the scheme at North Yorkshire County Council, from both their Assistant Chief Executive (HR & Development) and UNISON Branch Secretary Wendy Nicholls. This is a scheme that UNISON is promoting heavily and included in the submission on apprentices to the Low Pay Commission. After a detailed presentation it was great to here the excitement amongst people such as poverty campaigners about the benefits schemes like that can have. It was also great to hear for NYCC that thanks to the promoting of the scheme we’ve done they have started getting approaches from other authorities interested in the scheme.

The morning was ended with the President of a Student Union in an FE college who gave a really passionate presentation on the minimum wage, highlighting the unfairness of both the age rates and the apprentice exemption. It was a great way to be sent off for lunch, and the end of the morning session ably chaired by President Sue Highton.

The afternoon was a chance to go into smaller groups and really look at the issues involved. I went into the group looking at the apprentice exemption ably led by the YWCA England and Wales. As part of the campaigning work that the young women they work with set, they have done some great work already around apprenticeships. Throughout this work the YWCA have absolutely smashed my preconceptions of them, especially as they aren’t a faith based organisation and they don’t do housing!

We then finished up with a panel session to wrap the day off with, which I chaired. This gave us all the chance to come together and have any final questions asked and round the day off.

I really enjoyed the day, after starting with some nerves that nobody was going to turn up to the party.

We’re currently working on a briefing to go out to Regional Young Members Forums to help them get involved with the campaign.
We will be organising another meeting of our partner organisations.
And setting the planning in motion for the 1st April event in Parliament.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

World politics – just a light subject for today

It’s clear that the world is changing, though sadly comrades the revolution isn’t here yet. But what the global financial crisis has brought about is that, if we must live in a market driven society, then that needs to be accompanied with strong intervention into those markets. Now I definitely support the Labour Party, but we can’t quite wriggle out of all responsibility. 3rd way politics under Blair in the UK and Clinton across the pond deregulated much that in hindsight (esp. as I am no financial expert) it would seem shouldn’t. The disaster in the US was then along came Bush who continued the low regulation regime while deliberately skewing the tax system to benefit the rich. Now our Government does have some responsibility, though everyone appreciates this is a worldwide problem; but things are changing.

Within the financial storm that’s ripping across the world; there is becoming clear distance between those that would intervene in market and those that would pull out and leave them to fail. I think the route of that division is who you care about? I’m glad to say that our Labour Government have looked at the prospects for ordinary working people, middle and low incomes alike, and decided that we must intervene to protect them. Labour are borrowing in order to maintain public spending, both to avoid the way public services were devastated for a generation and to continue to drive the economy, while bringing forward and funding new capital projects to help meet the reduction in demand from the private sector. And they are intervening to help business stay open and employing staff, and when business do have to lay off staff, Labour will do as it did close to me with the Longbridge Taskforce, supporting people back into work or training.

Whereas the Tories, Cameron’s ‘caring Conservatives’, look to the wealthy who can weather the storm and in all likelihood come out on the other side with greater ability to get richer and richer. They would certainly not be maintaining public spending, and they certainly wouldn’t be using public building programmes to drive the economy. Instead, they’re spending their time trying to rubbish Labour’s record on debt (which is good by international standards and when compared to what the Tories gave us), and calling for spending cuts to keep down the deficit. And with their proposals to benefit the richest in society through inheritance tax, it really is tax cuts for the few, service cuts for the many. It absolutely shows that the Tories have not changed, and have not learned, from the disaster they inflicted on working people when the economy faltered on their watch. They cut public spending, ruthlessly attacked public services and public sector workers and left those in need with nowhere to turn. They failed to intervene to support companies and maintain employment, turning workers on to the scrapheap and telling them to get on their bikes.

And as for those ‘left wing’ Liberals, their response is tax cuts and closing the Government department responsible for supporting businesses. They have shown nationally what many have been saying about them locally, right wing with a nice face. Now I can’t talk about world politics without a mention of the US President Elect, and the hope for a US that is there supporting all it’s people and wanting again to be a friend in the world. But as for economics I know too little and in any case it’s too soon to tell. But what there is, is hope for change.

Labour still need to do so much more (and there are lots of other blogs about that), but at the moment they are showing their metal. I hope the people of Glenrothes give us a boost today, it's time to Go Fourth for our 4th term in Government.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Saw something great of the bus ride home

Having spent the day in Birmingham and the West Midlands' Organise! and strategy session (combined for the first time this year) I got the bus home.

On the bus a guy started to hassle a young black lad without any reason, it was great to see someone step in to tell this guy 'to be more respectful' and then pretty much the whole bus uniting in our intolerance of racism.

In these troubled times I think these sort of events lighten the heart and restore you faith that our society is far from 'broken'!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

NEC sets out our response to the economic crisis

Having discussed and developed a statement on the financial crisis at the policy committee yesterday, the NEC unanimously passed the statement today setting out our policy on behalf of the 1.4 million members we represent.

This comprehensive statement calls for ways of mitigating the worst effects of the crisis; such as a windfall tax on energy profits, protections for pension schemes (particularly investment based ones like the LGPS), and the ending of the Government's unjust public sector pay policy.

We also highlight the ways to help us out, including significant cut to interest rates, and public spending to help drive the economy (while helping support those in need as a result of the crisis).
But further than this, the NEC points to the end of neo-liberalism and the supremacy of the markets, and how we must move forward in this new era with public investment and public ownership.

As well as going to the outside world, I hope this statement provokes further discussion throughout the union on the way forward.

We will also be making sure we are fighting for our members, and have set up a project to gather intelligence on job losses. We will also need to ensure we're supporting our members in increasing financial hardship, and UNISON Welfare, our unique charity for members, will have a vital role in supporting our members, particularly with debt problems.

Our members, like all workers, are suffering. Lets make it clear that we are the ones on their side.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Not enough time to blog?

Well, I’ve been huge busy, honest, and hopefully normal service will now resume (though I’m not the most prolific blogger). Being a busy boy with the union, finding some time to be a nurse, and completing a module at Uni (including a horrendous essay) didn’t leave much time for blogging.

And I’ve had lots to blog about; TUC Congress was great this year partly because it was a little reunion with some of my fellow Cuba brigadista’s. I was also immensely proud to second the FBU’s motion on Cuba, in what was an excellent debate. A highlight though was controversy on the first day when the Unite delegation lost it’s marbles and voted for all out public sector strike over public sector pay (not only illegal but fairly unachievable calling out members who are not actually in dispute). Thankfully their delegation literally lost their card vote, so the motion fell.

Then we had Labour Party Conference, a very different one from last year. Right from the moment our delegation met the emphasis was on the importance of showing unity and how the public wouldn’t forgive the party for turning in on itself at a time like this. This message came loud and clear from the delegates throughout the week, despite what the press tried to spin. I was asked to speak (surprise, surprise) and spoke in the Citizenship and Equalities debate in support of the National Policy Forum position in favour of Votes at 16. After some great speeches I’m glad to say that this is now officially party policy, and should be in the next manifesto. I did however use the end of my speech to point out that there is plenty of time left in this Parliament to deliver Votes at 16.

As always these conferences are as much about the fringes and the receptions as anything else. At TUC there was an interesting fringe organised by Unions 21 on recruiting new members which focussed on young members. It was interesting to hear what other unions were doing, and particularly how we are seen as a model! Again on the Cuba issue, a highlight of Labour Conference was a fringe were we were addressed by two of the wives of the Miami 5 who are wrongfully detained in the US and whose families have been treated appallingly.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Nearly in Brighton

It's TUC time again and my train is whisking me into Brighton. It's been a busy day, getting the train straight after our Regional Young Members Forum. After a busy week what with the Challenge Cup Final last Saturday, student nurse recruitment at Birmingham City University and a full day of staff side meetings (as well as doing some nursing).

I'll be getting off the train just in time (hopefully) to make it to the Policy Development & Campaign Committee for our pre-TUC meeting. This years looks like a fairly uncontentios year, though we are opposing a motion from the RMT wanting us to all take strike action together on a number of days against the anti-trade union laws. Erm, I don't think our members would thank us for playing politics with their incomes at a time like this.

Like most of these things the fringes and the bars are where it's at, I'll let you know how I get on!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Got quoted in New Statesman

This is my little quote I've just come across in the New Statesman.


I appear to be the only one defending Gordon Brown in the article.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Speaking up for apprentices - Evidence to the Low Pay Commission

I'm sure everyone at UNISON's National Delegate Conference back in June heard the word 'apprentice' from the rostrum at least 10 times, thanks to the agenda being driven forward by the National Young Members Forum.

This week UNISON will be speaking up for apprentices and against low pay in apprenticeships when submitting our evidence to the Low Pay Commission. Apprentices under 19 and those in the first year of their apprentice get none of the protection of the minimum wage, simply getting an unenforceable minimum £80/week (which is less in NI and Scotland).

The Government has asked the Low Pay Commission to look at the minimum wage exemption for apprentices as part of the Government's wider skills agenda, and is taking specific evidence on this early.

Later in the year we will be submitting evidence on removing the age differentials and of course the overall rate.

UNISON have been collecting our evidence, not only for the important need for apprentices to get he minimum wage, but to the great benefits for the quality of apprenticeships. Our key case study is the scheme UNISON negotiated at North Yorkshire Council, and we have been collecting evidence from other public service schemes.

This next year will mark a key time for us to take the minimum wage forward in it's 10th year. We have been linking up with other unions and organisations so that we can work together, look out for more.

Edit - Here is our submission

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Electoral suicide?

Sam Coates in The Times writes,

"more than 100 demands that many Cabinet ministers see as electoral suicide.

Key items on the wish list include a new agreement on public sector pay with the Treasury, internet balloting for strikes, changes to the way that the oil market works, tax deductions for union membership subscriptions and the extension of the full minimum wage to younger workers."

These are hardly controversial ideas? Maybe some simple steps to get the millions of trade unionists back on the streets campaigning for Labour, whould be of huge electoral benefit!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Supporting the local goverment strikes

I'm sure that everyone is now aware that UNISON is leading a strike of our members who work for local government (and those with NJC based pay & conditions who have been balloted) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland this Wednesday and Thursday (16th/17th).
UNISON are pulling out all the stops to make the action as successful as possible and to ensure the public are behind us. Staff from across the union, including all service groups, are being diverted into supporting the action. As blogged below, the GPF have funded a massive advertising campaign.

I myself have been doing what I can to support the action through the medium of facebook. Through the UNISON group there is an event set up to promote the action.

I will be on a course on both these days but will be doing what I can to get to picket lines before I start.

What you can do to support local government workers taking action:

1. Visit a picket line - members will really take heart from your support

2. Give a message of support via our website http://www.unison.org.uk/paymatters/support.asp

3. Speak up for our low paid local government members taking action. There will be plenty of stories about self interest and greed, so whenever you hear them speak up for our members struggling to get by with soaring prices.

Most important if you come into contact with local government workers in your job make sure you don't undermine their action by doing the work of striking workers (and remember it is illigal for agency workers to be used to do the work of striking staff), and if you can't please avoid crossing the picket line.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A new year for young members

I’m on my way back from Croyde Bay (which is amazing by the way and well worth a visit) having been at the National Young Members Forum AGM. Being the AGM we had a number of new members which was really great, but of course very sad that we no longer some really great people who have dropped off (mostly through age).

I have to say a huge thank you to Sarah Lewis who has served us well as Vice Chair and Emma McLoughlin who has often been my partner in crime.

I’m glad to say that Stuart Reeves (Eastern) was re-elected at Chair of the forum and he is joined by Carrie Milligan (Scotland) as Vice Chair.

The forum decided to focus it’s work around two strands this year, obviously the National Minimum Wage’s 10th Birthday was always going to be key but the forum will also be looking to work on Gun & Knife Crime.

We also had a variety of elections for conferences; I will be going to the TUC Young Members Forum on behalf of UNISON, as well as representing the forum at the Health Service Group Conference.

Age limit should stay the same

We also had a discussion, at my request, on the age limit for young members. I requested this debate not because I believe there should be a change, but because there is always a great deal of debate and strong feeling about this within the young members’ events and that debate should be had by the National Forum. The forum was unanimous in its support for the current age limit. However there remains concerns over the NEC decision (before I was on it) that to hold any position within young members you must be under 27 for the whole of the term of office (whereas people previously did part of their term and stood down as they turned 27). This causes a number of issues, especially at a regional level. The forum decided to refer this to the NEC to reconsider. I will try and follow this up (though I do not sit on the Development & Organising Committee in which this will be dealt with).

London calling – GPF, PDCC and TUC Delegation

On Tuesday the GPF met in London. As always a number of bids were approved, part funded or rejected. Two really key items (with big price tags) were local government pay dispute and taking forward our general publicity work.

On local Government pay the GPF approved a bid for significant funding to support the strike. This includes newspaper advertising in a number of nationals (excluding Scotland) as well a targeted number of regionals. We also funded these billboards to drive around on both strike days and to be directed by regions to pickets and rallies etc. The GPF decided to allocate at that point further funding for advertising in Scotland to encourage turnout (and a yes vote) in their ballot.

GPF had previously the Strong Yet Caring campaign, more commonly known as Lions, Tigers and Bears. This had been hugely successful and popular with branches and members (and has been duplication in unions internationally). It was decided to extend the funding for this as it had been so successful. The GPF also agreed to fund the next stage in the campaign, which focuses more on real members having been helped by real stewards. We saw some examples and these will be a really strong campaign

The Policy Development & Campaigns Committee met on Wednesday. UNISON’s submission to the EHRC Inquiry into the Human Rights Act and public services makes a compelling case for public services from a human rights perspective, highlighted our concerns with regards to the human rights act’s lack of coverage in areas of privatised services (such as residential homes) and highlighted the important human rights issues within healthcare of disabled and LGBT people.

We were disappointed that we still hadn’t had view of a cross union anti-racism strategy which we have been asking for. We hope that this will be circulated to the committee over the summer.

UNISON’s response to the Energy Bill is being developed and UNISON will be promoting an amendment which would change to way the tariff’s work. Currently as your usage goes up the cost of the energy unit decreases, our proposal would make that the other way round so that higher usage would attract greater cost.

UNISON will be feeding into the review of Housing Revenue Account, which redistributes rental income between councils. This is an important consultation.

The results of the NHS Constitution Survey were presented, which you can find at www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/pp8707.pdf

We noted a consultation submitted by UNISON Scotland on devolution and agreed to hold significant discussions on the union’s position on and response to devolution and regional governance at our next full meeting.

TUC delegation met on Wednesday afternoon, and I was glad I’d not just come down for this one hour meeting. The delegation approved 3 motions, one on Public Services, one on Public Sector Pay and one of the NHS. The Young Members Forum had asked for inclusion of text on the National Minimum Wage, I hope we can try to get this at the amendment stage.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Visited by the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister for my Birthday.

Friday and Saturday was Labour Link Forum, so I spent my 26th Birthday in Gateshead (which is not the same place as Newcastle I have been reminded).

The National Labour Link Committee met the day before to deal with forum business. We also had a detailed discussion on the implementation of motion 63 from National Delegate Conference and the resulting review of the effectiveness of our political funds. At the conference this was developed further with workshops for delegates on the matter.

There were a number of motions, nearly all lacked contention. One was defeated on limiting the group of UNISON MPs based on our policy and setting regional criteria for trigger ballot votes (which decide whether we just reselect an MP or have a full selection procedure again).

This years forum had very prominent speakers. David Miliband as well as being Foreign Secretary is a local MP in South Shields. David spoke well on the important but difficult role the UK is playing in supporting the democratic movements in Zimbabwe, but mostly focussed the rebuilding the party and the support Labour enjoyed in 97.

Gordon Brown paid the forum a visit to launch UNISON’s Nye Bevan awards for excellence in the health service. He spoke at length about a number of issues before the gathered press, but then had agreed to answer questions (though I don’t think that’s what he advisers wanted). I missed much of this (sadly including his answer on public sector pay and the local government dispute) because I was being ‘interviewed’ in the loosest sense of the word by a very odd journalist who was out of the closed session with the PM. I was impressed by how Gordon was received by delegates, who while disagreeing with him on much felt that he ‘came across much better than he does on the telly’ and that he really wanted to listen and engage with members. This was shown by his desire to stay with us, having to be practically dragged out of there by Anne Keene MP, a Health Minister.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

New President elected for UNISON

Pretty much straight after the close of National Delegate Conference the NEC met to elect the new Presidential Team.

Sue Highton was elected President, Gerry Gallagher continues as in his second year as Vice President and Angela Lynes joined the Presidential team as Vice President.

I'm looking forward to working with them over the coming year to take forward our agenda.

I'd like to say a huge personal thank you to Norma Stephenson who has been a phenomenal President, she really supported me during my first year on the NEC.

EU Embargo on Cuba ended!

The EU’s support for the American led blockade of Cuba with their own embargo has been overturned. Clearly our own Government had been listening when I called on them to normalise relationships with Cuba at UNISON’s National Delegate Conference on Wednesday.

This is an important step but there is much still to do:

  1. Support the Miami 5 and their families

  2. Resist the American blockade being enforced in this country (such as it causing Barclay’s Bank to stop providing bank accounts)

  3. Campaign for a full end to the illegal American Blockade

A great week at UNISON’s National Delegate Conference

Well I’m just on the train back from Bournemouth after a really good week at Conference. It was great to see lots of young delegates and I had a really good time at bowling (especially when I got a strike!). I was disappointed that I couldn’t spend more time with the young members there or in fact my own branch who I really neglected.


I had two speeches to do on behalf of the NEC. I moved the NEC’s motion on the NHS at 60, I really enjoyed this speech and it seemed to go down well. The debate was generally excellent but I did need to use my right of reply when a delegate criticised the campaign for celebrating the Government’s agenda (which it doesn’t), criticised the NEC for welcoming all Government proposals (which we don’t) and attacked our members in health for their decision to reluctantly accept the NHS pay offer.

I also spoke on Friday morning on Composite G, Gun & Knife Crime. This was a moving and passionate debate with real experiences being told from the rostrum and I was glad to be able to give the NEC’s clear support to this agenda.

On the fringe

I was also asked to Chair the Equality Matters fringe. This was used to Launch UNISON’s draft Equalities Scheme with action plans for every head office department and every region. These are now out for consultation so get involved! We had Kim Silver NEC member who sits on NDMC, Bob Aberley Assistant General Secretary (who sponsors the Scheme) and Gloria Mills National Secretary for Equalities. The Fringe was packed to the rafters with people, which while being great also meant problems from overcrowding and not being able to get everyone in even though we over ran.

I also contributed to the Latin America fringe with my experiences of Cuba and encouraging those there to send members on the brigades.

Young Members Forum business

The National Young Members Forum did really well this year in getting business on the agenda, heard and passed. Our Motion, Celebrating, defending and improving the National Minimum Wage as it reaches it’s 10th year, was the second motion to be heard at conference. In a really excellent debate speakers young and old talked about the minimum wage and the effects of the discriminatory exemptions for apprentices and the youth rates. A particularly powerful speech came from a delegate from the Retired Members Organisation, who are always keen to support the Young Members’ agenda.

The Forum’s amendments on Organising Young Workers and Education & Skills both had great contributions again highlighting issues for apprentices as well as our relationship with the student movement and the HE funding issues around the 2009 review.

Our rule amendment to add environmental sustainability also passed easily and was marked by the planting of a shrub in the nearby gardens by the Forum’s chair Stuart Reeves and General Secretary Dave Prentis.

Rules Debate

One of the most exciting sessions of conference was the Rules Debate on Thursday afternoon. There were a few contentious issues including adding in Disability Officers into the rule book (mostly controversial on the way it would be done rather than the principle) and this failed to get even a simple majority. But the highlight was the amendment on the rules for qualifications for legal assistance which was to change it from 13 weeks membership to 4 weeks. Backed by the NEC and National Young Members Forum this has been attempted for a number of years as it’s a real disincentive to recruitment and a bigger problem for young members. I’m glad to say this achieved a clear two-thirds majority so we finally did it!

Political Funds Debate

The last session of conference on Friday afternoon is used for re-prioritised motions, so motions that the NEC, Regions, NYMF and SOGs prioritise at the conference on things that haven’t been prioritised high enough in the initial stage to get timetabled. Probably looking for a bit of controversy at what was otherwise a very consensual week, a motion on our political funds and the Labour Party was prioritised. A debate pushed by those with no real support for our movement or our members and rather an agenda of supporting their own fringe party the Socialist Party.

The NEC had submitted an amendment to make a review of political funds not about whether we should have them, but about how effective we can make them for our members. Many speeches against this were full of misinformation trying to mislead delegates about our affiliated fund. This included talk our members money lining the pockets of our sponsored MP’S, when UNISON HAS NO SPONSORED MP’S and NO MONEY GOES TO INDIVIDUAL MP’S. Another delegate talked of not million, but millions of millions going to Labour, which while that money would be lovely, is nowhere near the truth (though we all enjoyed asking the chair of Labour Link what he’d done with all these millions). We had great speeches supporting the platform, all telling of their anger with Labour, but of the need to change from within and not be locked out.

Though when the hands went up I had some doubt, our Gen Sec was confident that we had won, which was confirmed when the card vote came back with a clear majority in favour. I’d like to hope then that we can put this issue to bed for a while, however I wouldn’t be surprised if the Socialist Party attempt the very same motion next year!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bournemouth here we come - NDC 2008

Well I'll soon be off to Bournemouth for UNISON's annual National Delegate Conference. The conference starts on Tuesday morning and I'll be in Bournemouth from Sunday for pre- business.

As always, NDC is a a great opportunity for activists from across the country and across all the areas of our work to come together and set our common agenda. I just wanted to highlight some key issues ahead of conference.

NYMF Business

Clearly I will be supporting the business of the National Young Members Forum at conference.

This year the forum has submitted a motion called, Celebrating, Defending and Improving the National Minimum Wage as it reaches it's 1oth year. This motion highlights the importance that the NMW has had for the lowest paid, but resolving also to campaign for it's equalisation and end to the exemption for apprentices.

The Forum has submitted a Rule Amendment which seeks to add environmental sustainability in the objectives in the rule book.

The Forum's amendment to the Education & Skills motion highlights issues around apprenticeships and higher education funding.

The amendment to the motion on Organising stresses the importance of recruiting young members and in particular highlights recruitment of young apprentices and students.

Other Key issues

Rule amendment - Qualifications

This amendment from a number of branches seeks to change the length of time you need to be a member to qualify for legal assistance for 13 weeks to 4 weeks. This is a real barrier to recruitment, and for young members it has a big impact, as if it's your first job it's not like you've been able to join a union before.

Funding the Equal Pay Challenge

This motion will be heard in closed session (ie only delegates and member visitors will be entitled to stay and hear the debate) because of the legal sensitivities. It's important that conference backs the proposals to fund our work on equal pay litigation.


The social side of conference is always important and this year will see the first Young Members Social as we head off Bowling on the eve of conference on Monday night. All registered delegates and visitors who are under 27 should have received details in the post, but if not then get in touch!
So if you're going to conference, see you there

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Don't worry I did come back from Cuba!

Apologies for my blogging absence!

Since getting back from Cuba I've been mad with union stuff, work and my friends leaving to live in New Zealand! (and am now on nights though work has decided to block blogger!)

Cuba was an amazing experience. The time was spent with over 100 young people from across the globe, with lots from the UK. We spent a lot of our time visiting places and seeing what the Cuban system had to offer as well as meeting with trade union and other leaders. This included a really inspirational trip to a Polyclinic where I was able to spend time talking to the staff (with the help of Kendal to interpret). Seeing what they can deliver in a community clinic was amazing, from ultra sound to endoscopy!

We also did our share of agricultural work. Which even though was in the morning the heat made doing manual work very difficult.

One of the highlights of the trip was being guests at the central May Day rally in Havana. Over half a million Cubans marched in celebration of socialism there, with over half the population taking part in activities across the country.

From my trip I have committed my self to work on three key areas:
  • The Miami 5 - supporting these Cubans arbitrarily detained in the US for trying to PREVENT terrorism!
  • End the blockade - the illegal US blockade (supported b EU sanctions) is having a devastating effect on Cuba, limiting the people's achievements
  • Learn from the health service - The Cuban system is amazing with it's focus on prevention, local delivery and of course free and delivered by the state

Also, I'm on a personal crusade against Bacardi! They not only massively support the US boycott, but have actually been linked with terrorist organisations who murder Cubans and tourist. So if you see me in a bar asking to speak to the manager, that's probably why.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Off to Cuba - but missing so much back in the UK

So I'm taking a break amidst packing and sorting for my trip to Cuba. We'll be flying in the morning. I will be there with around a 40 young trade unionists from the UK, from lots of different unions. There will also be young trade unionists from across the world there together.

One of the sad things is that I'll be away at such a key time, so I thought I'd leave my blog readers with some key messages.

Vote Labour!
Local Elections taking place in various places across England and Wales, and of course the all important London elections. People may feel like giving the government a kicking at this election, but remember the power of that vote and think of the effect on our public services and our members with Tory and Liberal administrations.

Stop the BNP!

If there's any BNP candidates near you then get out there and make sure the anti-fascist vote is mobilised against them. Important everywhere, but with PR it's hugely important in London.

Support striking workers

With other unions in national action on Thursday and of course UNISON's biggest branch here in Birmingham on a two day strike tomorrow and Thursday.

I was able to get to the picket line in February for Birmingham's 1 day strike, and sorry I can't make it again this time. If you're near Birmingham find a picket line and go and give your support, which I'm sure will be welcomed by our members on the picket line.

Off the plane then straight back to it

When I get back it will be straight up to Glasgow for the National Young Members Weekend, which I hope to see you at. Apologies in advance if I'm a bit jet-lagged!

Monday, April 21, 2008

National Young Members Forum sets its agenda for National Delegate Conference

The National Young Members Forum met on Friday, and as with most of UNISON's structures at the moment much was taken up with National Delegate Conference. For the NYMF, NDC is an important opportunity for young members to take our agenda to the rest of the union and get our message across to one of Europe's largest gatherings of trade unionists. We previously decided to submit the motion 'Celebrating, defending and improving the National Minimum Wage As It Reaches Its 10th Year' and a rule amendment to add environmental sustainability into the aims. Both of these were successful in reaching the agenda.

We decided to submit 2 amendments (which is our limit), amending Motion 46 - Education & Skills and Motion 1 - Organising, our amendments highlight young members priorities in these areas. On Education & Skills we add stuff on the 2009 review of higher education funding, and include more on apprenticeships (a key issue with the Government's aim to increase there use within the public sector).

The National Young Members Forum also gets to prioritise 4 motions and 2 rule amendments.

Motions (in order of priority):
  1. Motion 12 - Celebrating, Defending and Improving the National Minimum Wage as it Reaches its 10th Year (NYMF)

  2. Motion 46 - Education & Skills (NEC) NYMF Amendment

  3. Motion 01 - Organising (NEC) NYMF Amendment

  4. Motion 76 - Opposing the Far Right (Newcastle City Branch)

Rule Amendments (in order of priority)

  1. Rule amendment 01 - Including environmental stability in aims (NYMF)

  2. Rule amendment 06 - Reducing length of membership needed to qualify for legal representation from 13 to 4 weeks (Bury St. Edmond's District Health Branch; Croydon Branch; Haringey LG Branch)

We also discussed that all important issue of The First Annual Young Members at NDC Social!

The NYMF has previously decided not to have a newsheet at conference, and instead fund a social for Young Members at the conference to have a get together. This year we will be going bowling! We will be having a get together at the conference centre and then getting bussed to the bowling ally. Details will be coming out to those delegates and visitors registered and identified as young - I will post details here closer to the time too.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Health Conference 08

When I first became active in UNISON a few years ago (rather then just carrying the card and paying the subs), my first event outside my branch was Health Conference. Although a great deal more sedate and consensual than the student movement I had been used to, I really enjoyed it and so Health Conference is always a bit special.

This year was no different, but having had the pay offer go out last week this year was certainly tenser. A pay offer which falls woefully short of our claim for a substantially above inflation increase, but clearly the best so far in the public services worth 2.75 overall in the first year, then 2.5 in following year. Though the rate is too low, there are some significant improvements within the offer on other issues. UNISON has consistently argued for the removal of Band 1, the lowest pay band in the A4C scale. By removing the lowest pay point this offer would take us a significant step forward to that aim. It would leave the starting point on Band 1 being the same as Band 2, and increase the already relatively high minimum wage in the NHS. The offer also includes extra for the lower paid bands (1-3) which is clearly an achievement for UNISON’s negotiators, the only ones representing a significant number of low paid staff. The deal will also benefit many staff on Band 5, which with be restructured to be shorter, a step towards UNISON’s policy of reducing the length of the long pay bands.

Having had the Service Group Executive (SGE) exactly split on whether to recommend acceptance or rejection of the offer, the SGE put an Emergency Motion to the conference to ballot without recommendation. There were also emergency motions to reject the offer and go to a strike ballot, and to recommend acceptance of the first year and not following years (which isn’t even an offer on the table).

After some very vigorous debate, there needed to be a card vote which came out in favour of the SGE motion to ballot without recommendation.

The rest of the conference was less heated. Health Minister Ivan Lewis MP addressed conference to a rather sedate reception (the easiest ride we’ve ever given to a minister when I’ve been there). I was there as a delegate from the National Young Members Forum, having submitted a motion on student health professionals and jobs on graduation. I’m glad to say that the composite it was within passed (and it was a miracle it was heard being the last item of business on the agenda.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

UNISON Branch Funding

The funding of equal pay litigation is a significant issue for trade unions at the moment, with many thousands of claims being taken forward. The NEC has been grappling with how to fund these costs over a number of years, previously putting forward passing some of the cost onto successful claimants but this was, I think rightly, rejected.

At a previous NEC meeting we agreed to fund this by having a standstill budget across the union, which would include Branches by allocating funding without the increase in subscriptions (which results from members progressing up the subscription bands and paying more). I believe that the standstill budget approach is a fair and equatable way of funding this, which shares the burden across national, regional, and branches.

It was the NEC's desire to put this in a motion to National Delegate Conference,. However anyone that knows anything about motions to UNISON conferences know that you cannot get it passed the standing orders committee is it mentions equal and pay (due to legal advice caused by the activities of less than savoury lawyers).

However, the NEC will be putting it's decision in it's report to the conference. This gives delegates the opportunity to submit questions (which must be done in advance) and if not satisfied with the answer the NEC gives, to ask supplementary questions at Conference. If then still not happy with the answer, they have the opportunity to move reference back, which if supported by conference means the NEC have to go back to the drawing board.

I do hope we have that discussion at National Delegate Conference, but also urge branches to support the NEC in this decision. After all, this money is to support our women members in their quest for equal pay. Whatever happens this must be funded appropriately and I'm sure you agree we must share the burden across the union.

If young members have any questions or comments on these proposals please get in touch (details in the UNISON diary).

Friday, April 4, 2008

Supporting equalising the National Minimum Wage - Fringe at NUS Conference

Well this week I went up to Blackpool to speak at a fringe meeting at NUS Annual Conference. I was speaking at a Fringe sponsored by UNISON on NUS's Citizen 16 Campaign.
I was particularly asked to talk about the National Minimum Wage and talked about the issues relating to age rates and the exemption for apprentices. They are two major issues of discrimination against young workers which we must continue to challenge and NUS and their affiliated student unions can be an important part of this fight. I was joined by Raj Jethwa from the TUC and Shane Chowen, President at City College Plymouth and the Chair was Beth Walker NUS Vice President (Further Education) (who's name I got wrong to much embarrassment). The fringe was packed full of activists from student unions and gave us a great opportunity to discuss the issues and put across a positive image on UNISON.

UNISON also sponsored a fringe on transgender issues organised by NUS LGBT Campaign. Louise Ashworth, C0-Chair of UNISON's National LGBT Committee spoke to the fringe, which again went very well and was a very full meeting.

Overall it seems that UNISON's involvement in the conference was very positive, engaging with student activists on issues that they clearly cared about.

It was also interesting for me to see NUS Conference again after some absence. and catch up with some old friends, both activists and NUS staff. I have to say a highlight (other than our fringes) was seeing one of my contemporaries and an excellent activist Wes Streeting elected as the next NUS National President. I'm sure he will continue to prioritise working with Trade Unions, including UNISON.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

TUC Young Members Conference

Well I’m currently speeding up to the north west to speak at NUS Conference at a UNISON sponsored fringe (which I’m sure I will be blogging all about) and thought I’d let you know the goss from the TUC Young Members Conference at the weekend (Well not all the goss as I’m discrete but you know who you are!).

The conference ran from Friday to Sunday with delegates from different TUC affiliated trade unions, differing in size based on membership. UNISON had a great delegation of Stuart Reeves, Sarah Lewis, Matthew Egan, Karen Reid, Daniel Robertson, Jodi Rule, Amy Griffiths, Raymond Owens and me. I would like to thank them all for their excellent contribution throughout the weekend and I believe the whole delegation did UNISON proud.

The policy bit of the conference consisted of four statements submitted by the TUC Young Members Forum (after submissions from affiliates) for which there were policy workshops lead by TUC staff and then opportunity for delegations to submit amendments which were debated and voted on in the final session. The statements were on Housing, Apprenticeships and the NMW, Global Unionism, and Organising Young Workers. The UNISON delegation decided to submit a number of amendments which strengthened the statements.

The key issue for debate was within the Apprenticeships and the NMW statement, which originally called for the minimum payment for apprentices to increase to £110 a week, which is broadly in line with the youth rate of the NMW. All delegations were agreed that this should go further and that our policy should be for full inclusion in an equal national minimum wage. I’m glad to say that after a comprehensive discussion the conference voted to back the UNISON amendment which left in the bit about increasing the rate to £110 but stated, ‘That while this would be progress, conference demands that apprentices are brought within the National Minimum Wage and calls on the General Council to campaign for an equal National Minimum Wage for all.’ The conference also passed an amendment which was submitted by the GMB, and supported by the UNISON delegation, criticising the TUC General Council for failing to support the position of the Young Members Conference on minimum wage rates for young people. The General Council’s position remains a difficulty, and I will be discussing this with our members of it to see what progress can be made.

The statements now go forward to the TUC General Council, I look forward to hearing their comments.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

New Minimum Wage Rates Announced

The Low Pay Commission has today published it's report, including recommending the new NMW rates from October.

Adult rate will go up from £5.52 to £5.73

18-21 rate will go up from £4.60 t0 £4.77

16-17 rate will go up from £3.40 to £3.53

On the Youth Rates, the LPC again failed to agree with us that the youth rates should be phased out.

However they did recommend that the adult rate should start at 21 (whereas it starts at 22 currently), but the Government have again rejected that recommendation.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Exciting plans to end age discrimination in the National Minimum Wage

After Labour Link Committee this morning I chaired a meeting UNISON had organised between organisations outside the trade unions we thought might be interested in working on the National Minimum Wage age differentials and apprentice rate.

We had representatives from a really broad range of organisations; which were National Union of Students, Child Poverty Action Group, and Young Women’s Christian Association. Sadly the British Youth Council didn’t attend.

It was really interesting to look at the affects of the NMW from different perspectives, from it’s implications of child poverty to the costs of a working students.

There was a consensus that the up coming 10th anniversary of the National Minimum Wage would be a useful opportunity. We identified the October submission date to the Low Pay Commission as a key point as well, Apprentices Week early 2009 (blink and you’ll miss it), and then around the actual anniversary in April 09.

We’re all now going back to our own organisations to develop our plans and ideas and are coming back together in May to take the next steps.

Labour Link in positive mood

There was a positive feeling in the UNISON National Labour Link Committee today, perhaps because of the success of the Temporary and Agency Workers Bill (which goes to show why our link with Labour is so important).

We received updates on this an a number of other issues that UNISON Labour Link is taking up in Parliament. The UNISON Group of MP's have been helping us get our message to Government on the pay campaign, and we are doing a great deal of work across Government departments on the Single Equalities Bill, which is not long away from being published.

We received UNISON's submissions to the Labour Party policy process (called Partnership in Power). These are strong submissions reflecting UNISON policy in a number of areas, including some important policy for young people around apprenticeships and reducing the voting age to 16.

This was also the meeting which deals with a lot of the issues around UNISON National Labour Link Forum which is taking place in Gateshead in July. We discussed our position on the motions submitted by regions, self-organised groups and the National Young Members Forum. There were some excellent motions on issues that are affecting our members and how the Labour Link can tackle them, with just a few that we were not happy with without improvements.

And as the last meeting before the may elections we had to talk about them. Labour Link will be working with the GPF to get the vote out against the BNP. We will also be supporting Labour in the elections for the London Assembly/Mayor, and English (some councils) and welsh local government. A Key election this time is for London Mayor, and we believe Ken Rocks!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

GPF approves funding for anti-BNP election campaigning

I went to the GPF (UNISON’s General Political Fund) Committee today where we agreed funding for a number of things to tackle the BNP in the run up to the local and London Assembly elections in May. The BNP are a threat to all of us in society, particularly our members who work for those local authorities where they are an electoral threat. UNISON has stood against fascist parties since our formation and has a proud record of exposing them and mobilising the anti-fascist vote, and this year will be no different.

The GPF have funded work in partnership with Searchlight and The Mirror newspaper taking the Hope not Hate message out to key target areas as well as a supplement in the Mirror. UNISON will be supporting these events at a regional level and funding for this will be approved by the GPF when more details are known.

The GPF will also be funding national anti-BNP literature, and the committee looked at possibilities that have been put together for leaflets/posters. This will be agreed by the Chairs of GPF and PDCC (Policy Development & Campaigns Committee) and should be available for regional and branch use shortly.

The GPF will also be funding regional activity across the organisation, but as one of our branches in the West Midlands rightly points out leaflets etc. don’t deliver themselves. So as well as resources it’s important that we get UNISON members out delivering leaflets, knocking on doors and getting the anti-fascist vote out in the elections on May 3rd.

We also approved other bids for political funding and sent some back for further work.

Pay Matters and Motion Sickness - NEC meeting 13/02/08

Afraid this is being posted over a week after the event but I've been busy with some workplace issues, sorry!

This was a slightly unusual meeting of the NEC, which started with a presentation on the environmental provisions of the design for our new head office building (which is in the planning process at the moment). Safe to say it will be VERY green!

We also had visitors from Southern African trade unions who addressed the NEC. They have been brought together by UNISON to look at the trade union responce to HIV/AIDS and help to help UNISON plan it's significant help for their efforts.

It was also the meeting where the NEC decides which motions we are submitting to National Delegate Conference, which come from the committees. Most of the motions had been developed by PDCC which I sit on so most weren't new to me. The motions agreed where on Education and Skills, Employment Rights, Green UNISON, NHS at 60, Housing, Local Services and Public Services. I very much hope that the Education and Skills motion gets prioritised as this is a debate we seldome get to and one which is vital. We also have an extra one on the economy, which I'm sure everyone agrees is vitally important to our members at the moment.

We had strong motions from International on Palestine (which was built on by amendments about working with palistinians and isrealis across the borders) and South Africa and the region (which I'm glad to say the NEC didn't accept amendments to critisise the ANC as we should take our lead from South African trade unionists). We also had motions from Development & Organising on Organising, and Equality through Learning.

We also heard updates from both Local Government and Heath on this years pay round. Both service groups were expecting details in March, though the barganing machinary is quite different between the two groups. The Pay Matters campaign is up and running with a large amount of information having gone out to members.

The union remains in a sound financial footing, with membership income having increased again last year. However there are significant financial risks which is why we have put in place the standstill budget for this year.

This meeting was interesting, but it has to be said very long. It was quite draining and lots of NEC members had to be off for their trains home before the meeting ended which was a shame and led to some members attempting some shenanigans!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Supporting striking workers at Birmingham City Council

Today I stopped off on my way home from nights to give my support to striking workers at Birmingham City Council. UNISON members are striking along with members of Unite, GMB and UCATT, over an enforced deal which cuts the pay of some workers by thousands and not delivering what is necessary for others, while at the same time attacking the terms and conditions of all staff (apart from the most senior managers of course).

I joined the picket outside the Council House in the city centre (which is on my way home). It was great that Labour Councillors joined the pickets today. The mood of the members I spoke to was upbeat and determined to win, with many on strike motivated by the desire to support their colleagues who would be loosing out. Early report look that the Birmingham Branch have been very successful in getting their members out. I wish I could be there at lunchtime in Victoria Square as thousands of members will rally outside the Council House, but sadly I have to get some sleep before my shift tonight.
Further strike action is on the cards if today fails to force an agreement and our members in Birmingham deserve our support and solidarity.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

National Young Members Forum meeting

Today we had a very productive meeting of the National Young Members Forum, the forum agreed in principle to campaigning around the national minimum wage in the run up to the 10th anniversary of its introduction. We can now start work on putting together the plan for this campaign so watch this space. We also agreed to submit a motion on this to National Delegate Conference and Labour Link Forum.

On NDC motions we had some discussion around rule changes to propose. We have decided to submit a rule change to add environmental sustainability into the union’s objectives in the rule book. There was also some discussion about whether to submit a rule change to bring the length of time you need to be a member of UNISON before you are entitled to protection down from 13 weeks to 4 weeks. This has been debated at NDC before but has failed to get a two-thirds majority. This is a crucial issue for young members who may well be new to the union and to the workplace. On the basis that we know that other branches will be submitting this rule change to NDC this year we have decided not to submit it but the forum will be actively supporting it at conference to try and get the two-thirds majority required for the change.

And of course we talked about pay and the Pay Matters campaign, I have asked the regional reps to go back to their regional young members forums and get them to consider how they can support the campaign in their regions.

Young Members Go Green

Yesterday I attended an event that the National Young Members Forum organised together with the Yorkshire and the Humber (sorry just can’t call it Humberside) on the union’s green agenda. It was a great day with young members from across the region engaging in the issues and looking at how we can get our workplaces to reduce their impact on dangerous climate change.

We were lucky enough to have the Rt. Hon. Hilary Benn MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs speaking (helped by the fact that it was in his constituency on a Friday). He spoke well and is clearly passionate about the issues, and we can rightly be proud of the UK Government for the leadership we have shown the world on climate change. There is still much more to be done and the young members at the event pressed Hilary to do more.

I had a little slot in the afternoon to talk about young members in UNISON and how we work.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Young Members off to Cuba

The UNISON West Midlands Regional Young Members Forum along with our Education Committee and International Committee here in the West Midlands are supporting 5 young(ish) members to take part in a solidarity trip to Cuba with other young trade unionists.
To apply to be one of them then you need to fill in the application form and get the support of your branch. (I have to declare an interest as I will be applying myself)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Pay Matters - Fighting for decent pay for public sector workers

There must be no doubt that Pay will be the big issue for the union in 2008, and will be the focus of much of our work. Yesterday I attended the Campaigns and Recruitment Working Group where we fed into plans for the pay campaign, which looks really exciting. We made it clear that we must use every opportunity to talk about our pay as it is linked to pretty much everything, whether it’s fuel prices or affordable housing or pensions or the quality of public services. The campaign website is now online at www.unison.org.uk/paymatters which I would recommend visiting.

We must not sit back while the Government attempt to limit our pay to 2%, a real terms cut in our standard of living as rents go up, fuel goes up, council tax goes up by higher amounts. The Government point to the CPI (Consumer Prices Index) as their preferred measure of inflation (well they would) because this doesn’t include things like house prices and fuel costs, but these are costs that our members still face. UNISON argues that the RPI (Retail Price Index) is what we need to use which is currently around double the CPI. Now the Government are happy to use the RPI to link student loans to, which means that the interest of my student loan last year was at a rate double my 1.9% I got as a health worker.

Many of our workers are low paid, and they are mainly women workers. If the Government is serious about it’s child poverty agenda then cutting the real terms pay of these women is not the way to do it.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Support the opt-out for organ donation

In a brave move the Prime Minister has given his support to a review of the law on organ donation so that there would be a presumption of consent for organ donation.

As part of my day job I look after patients that are being assessed for or awaiting heart transplant. I've known people waiting for a suitable organ and dying in the wait and people getting the organ and having an amazing lease of life. There are currently 7,560 people are currently waiting for a transplant here in the UK. I wholeheartedly support changes to the law, too many people have their organs go to waist because they never got round to joining the organ donor register.
It's time to change the law so transplant can change more lives, but until then if you haven't joined the register do in NOW online, and please discuss your wishes with your family so they can support you to safe life when you've gone.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Apologies for absence!

Well sorry to those readers (there must be a couple) who have missed my regular blogging. I seem to have fallen out of the habit, and then there was the festive period.

And believe it or not I had plenty to blog about since I last posted. I had a festive three day stint in London with the NEC Christmas Drink prior to the December NEC meeting, a GPF (General Political Fund) Committee meal prior to that meeting and dropping into the Co-op Party Christmas drinks (as it was a very good comrade's Birthday drinks as well). But with all this socialising there was some work too!

The NEC meeting was an interesting one, in which we were delighted to hear about improvements in our recruitment, which is much needed. We heard an important update on equal pay (which I'm afraid we're still fairly restricted by the lawyers from sharing), look out for the roadshows making their way around the regions. We had an important discussion about the Pay Campaign 2008, which has kicked off since then. I contributed to say that we must avoid industrial action as part of the campaign being seen as 'bringing down the Government' or a 'winter of discontent'. This is language which drives people away from our course, and is the sort of thing many young members have told me put them off from unions. 2008 will be a key year for pay and UNISON will be working with others unions, especially within the sectors we organise, to co-ordinate our pay campaigns. It sees the possibility of industrial action in a number of our service groups, a possibility that all branches and members need to be preparing for.

So then it was GPF Committee, which approved some very good bids indeed, but sent back some others which didn't meet what we are asking for. We also had an interesting session with the GPF Contacts within each region. The biggest issue highlighted from the day was some misconception about political funds, and the need to be clear that political campaigning (which is campaigning which seeks to influence the voting public or elected officials) needs to be funded by our political fund, and that Branches and Regions could be acting illegally if using funding other than political funds. We also heard about the implications of proposals to limit donation to political parties would have on the GPF, not only the APF (Labour Link). It could even prevent the GPF from political spending during a general election, which would severely damage our anti BNP campaigning.

My third day in London was with Labour Link where I attended a meeting of Constituency Labour Party (CLP) Youth Officers along with other key young activists. It was a well attended meeting and showed the party is really looking seriously about including young people more. At the event both a new £1 rate for labour party membership for young people (which UNISON has been promoting) and a new Young Labour Toolkit for Young Labour Groups to use in building Labour's young members. I was asked to do a workshop with TULO on trade union's in the Labour Party and involving young members. It was interesting to hear real concerns about unions from young people, one who in the construction industry had been told if he was in a union he wouldn't get any work! It just shows that despite legal protection there is still so much more to do to educate people of their rights to union membership. This young member now works in local government and took away a membership form.

I have also become an uncle over Christmas! I'm sure he will be another good democratic socialist and trade unionist in the family. Those who are friends with me on Facebook will know how cute he is!

So there's a quick update, more to come soon!