Thursday, May 14, 2009

Politics needs to change – it needs to put YOU first!

I’m on my way home from London at the moment having had three really good and important meetings, the Policy Development and Campaigns Committee, the Campaigns and Recruitment Working Group and National Labour Link Committee.

And the key message from all of these meeting is that in the light of all of the different thing going on in the world, things need to change. At PDCC we agreed the next steps for our response to the global economic crisis, being building a significant campaign around the ‘Putting YOU First: a million voices for change campaign’, the leaflet that has been produced already puts across the message that the PDCC has developed around building a fairer society and the importance of public services in a recession and the recovery. PDCC decided that this would be UNISON’s key campaign priority for at least the next year, if not three.

The Campaigns & Recruitment meeting then had the job of looking at the campaign in more detail. Key issues were raised about how we make this campaign real and meaningful for our members and how we support branches to deliver the campaign locally. It was agreed that materials wherever possible would be adaptable to local circumstances and issues. We also wanted to make sure that the campaign would go along side existing activities branches are being asked to do, so that we don’t increase the burden on branches – activities such as recruitment, talking to members, e-mail and other online communications. We also want it to be a campaign that all the different parts of the union can support, so well be looking for this to be discussed in each region, service group, self-organised group, retired members and of course young members.

Today was the Labour Link Committee and as well as the important topics of European/Local Election and Anti-BNP work, our parliamentary campaigns such as the Equality Bill and the Health Bill, arrangements for Labour Link Forum (where we are supporting every motion!), and Labour Party Conference, there was of course a big issue of expenses (MP’s not mine – I don’t have a moat to clean even if I could claim for it). The anger in the room reflected that in the public, but was also accompanied by disappointment and betrayal. There was a feeling that lessons should be learned from the European Parliamentary Labour Party, who in the light of problems with that expenses system agreed to their own extra provisions for transparency and decency. I put forward that the structures of the Labour Party should take control of this, and our members of the Labour NEC should take that strongly to their next meeting, including provisions for de-selecting MPs where necessary. Only bold action can help Labour recover from this, and I think that we in the party ourselves need to take that action to try and regain some credibility with the public, and recognise that our party and its membership are fundamentally decent despite what our representatives sometimes portray.

For me both these issues are united by the increasing disconnection between a ‘political elite’ and those of us they are supposed to represent. But I don’t think that should put us off from politics, but it should make us get more involved and claim back our political power.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Minimum Wage - some increase better than none and apprentice recommendation some cause for celebration

Today the Low Pay Commission have published their recommendations for the national minimum wage - and the Government have responded.

Against powerful and sustained business lobbying the LPC have recommended increases, though incredibly 'modest'. The increases are a disappointment but the increase at all can be regarded as a moderate success.

So the rates will be: (health warning on percentages - I've worked them out myself so my maths might be wrong)
  • 22 and over can look forward to an increase from £5.73 to £5.80 an hour (7p! - 1.22%)
  • The rate for 18 to 21-year-olds will also rise from £4.77 to £4.83 (6p! - 1.26%)
  • For 16 and 17-year-olds, the rate will rise from £3.53 an hour to £3.57 (4p! - 1.13%)

Disappointingly there has been no movement on the age differentials, other than with the Government finally accepting the LPC's recommendation that the adult rate starts at 21, though this wont be implemented until 2010.

The real good news is the recommendation to include apprentices within the National Minimum Wage. UNISON, together with our campaign partners, have made strong arguments about the protection of these workers and the low pay commission has taken on board many of our arguments. The Low Pay Commission has asked the Government to ask them to look in detail at the arrangements for a rate to cover apprentices and its implementation in its next round. The Government has not yet accepted that recommendation and says it will respond in the summer when it sets the LPC's remit.

This means that there is now an important piece of work UNISON needs to do with our partners to make sure that the Government accepts the recommendation. Then it will be key to make sure that the provisions really support apprentices.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Last young members weekend

This weekend was my last young members weekend, as old age comes ever closer.

It was as always a brilliant weekend, and with record numbers of young members in attendance. One of the brilliant things about the Young Members Weekend is that the delegates range from the experienced old timers like myself to young members for whom the weekend has been their first activity within UNISON.

I helped to organise a fringe with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign were we showed the film which was made about our trip to Cuba last year.

For the first time this year we had a speaker from the Government, with Hazel Blears popping across from Salford. Government speakers at UNISON events are always controversial, and with all that's gone on Hazel was no exception. But she did really well, and it was really interesting to hear about what had brought her into the trade unions (NALGO at the time) and what had got her involved in politics.

A key part of the weekend is for regional groups to come up with action plans we're going to deliver back in our regions. This year these plans were presented back as 'Young Members Got Talent', with the best (though not the winner) was the West Mids with our song about our planned Hope not Hate activity.

As part of the close of the weekend I was asked to say a few words. I was surprised how emotional I got, particularly as I thanked those who have supported me to get more involved with Young Members and helped me get to where I am today. I particularly thanked Fiona Smith (Chair of the National Young Members Forum when I started on it and now NEC member for Scotland), Anne True (the NYMF Chair when I was Vice Chair and going on to be Asst. Regional Convener and then UNISON staff), and Angela Bowen (a fellow NYMF member when I started and now NEC member for the North West) and used them as an example of how getting involved with Young Members can then lead on to getting involved in the mainstream union.

I talked about three important elections and what we needed to do. The first being the NEC elections which close on Friday, emphasising how important participation in our elections are, making sure everyone returns their ballot. Secondly the European and local elections on June the 4th and the importance of voting against the BNP and helping to mobilise the anti-fascist vote. Thirdly, and most importantly, the General Election which is ahead in the next year. I emphasised the danger that the conservatives pose to our members and our services and the need to do whatever we can to keep them out of power; ultimately that means making sure we return the Labour Party to Government.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

10 years in UNISON

I'm not sure sure of the exact date, but it was this time around 10 years ago that I both entered the workforce and joined UNISON.

I was working while at college and knowing that I wanted to be a nurse and needing a flexible job that I could fit around my studies I got a job as a care assistant (or Personal Carer as we were known) with HICA a private sector provider which had taken over care homes across Humberside (as was). I was very much from a family where it came as naturally as anything else that if you had a job, you joined the union, and the only recognised union was UNISON.

Being a member 10 years ago was for different to my experience now. I think I was the only member in the home (though I may not have been), those staff that had been members told me how they left because they felt let down and abandoned when they were privatised. Now I'm sure the local Branch were working hard on behalf these members (though it was about 5 years before I worked there) but rightly or wrongly those staff felt that their union had let them down.

As someone who is now massively involved in the leadership of the union, both at a Branch and National level, I always try and remember that unorganised workplace and the experience of those staff.

I hope in my own Branch that we try and communicate well enough with our members, face to face as much as possible, for them to feel involved and know we're on their side. That challenge is even harder on a national level but the principle's the same.