UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Online voting - the key to Increasing turnouts in union ballots and elections

#TUC13 Detractors of unions often make reference to low voting levels to imply a lack of mandate for industrial action or to undermine the credibility of elected leaders. The fundamental problem of course is the imposition of postal ballots to preferred addresses (home addresses by default) which prevents participation in union democracy at work and requires the modern day hassle of returning ballot papers by post. An important debate at this week's TUC Congress proposed changes to trade union law to allow online voting. It was unanimously supported but will require legislation before it can be implemented for statutory elections - GS and NEC elections - as well as industrial action ballots.

The public library service under attack

UNISON has published a new report as part of the ‘Damage Series’ which examines the damage done to the public library service in the UK since 2010 as a result of cutbacks in local government funding. The report is a result of a survey of nearly 2000 library staff and reveals a service in jeopardy, with the public paying the price as they lose their local library or face increasing charges, dwindling opening hours and shrinking staffing levels in those that remain.

The Certainty by Roque Dalton

After four hours of torture, the Apache and the other two
cops threw a bucket of water at the prisoner to wake him up
and said: "The Colonel has ordered us to tell you you're to be
given a chance to save your skin. If you guess which of us has
a glass eye, you'll be spared torture." After passing his gaze
over the faces of his executioners, the prisoner pointed to
one of them: "His. His right eye is glass."

Friday, 13 September 2013

Zero Hours Contracts - are Labour's pledges workable?

In his TUC speech on Tuesday Ed Miliband committed a future Labour Government to end the abuse of zero hours contracts rather than an outright ban on this worst form of casualised working. Lawyer Darren Newman examines the practicalities of proposals to ban these contracts in certain circumstances only and concludes it will be the legal equivalent of nailing a jelly to the wall:

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The myth of a workplace compensation culture

In 2010 Tory Grandee Lord Young published a report ‘Common Sense, Common Safety’ following a Con Dem initiated review of health and safety laws. The Prime Minister responded to the report by saying “a damaging compensation culture has arisen, as if people can absolve themselves from any personal responsibility for their own actions, with the spectre of lawyers only too willing to pounce with a claim for damages on the slightest pretext. We simply cannot go on like this.” In 2011/12 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimated that over 600,000 workers suffered a workplace injury or a new work-related illness. Yet the total number of civil compensation settlements for work-related injuries or diseases in 2011/12 was only 87,655 – so fewer than 1 in 7 injured workers received compensation according to a new Hazards report:

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Hey, message to Ed - Shiny Happy Union People

#TUC13 In another boost to union Organising ....... Toronto`s York University has pointed out that the UN `World Happiness Index` has just been published and shows that the most highly unionised countries with the lowest income inequality and the best social spending programmes are top of the list. Denmark is the happiest place in the world, followed by Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden. The UK comes in at 22nd and the USA at 17th - below amongst others Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico. http://lawofwork.ca/?p=6881

Unions are Labour’s greatest asset

#TUC13 In the aftermath of yesterday’s Ed Miliband speech to TUC Congress (which underwhelmed all but the easily pleased), Seumas Milne cautions him against ending the collective role of Labour’s 'greatest asset' in party structures. 'There are multiple compromises that could be reached which would combine greater individual rights for affiliated union members while maintaining the unions' collective role. There's no reason why a basic agreement couldn't be reached in the next few weeks. The alternative could be eventual rupture’

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Miliband – wrong audience, wrong message

#TUC13 Only 15 of the 54 unions which make up the TUC are affiliated to the Labour Party. Although they include the largest unions, trade unionists who pay a political levy to Labour make up a declining minority of the 6m workers represented at Congress. The TUC itself has no constitutional relationship with Labour. Yet rather than delivering a unifying pre-election message about ending the pay freeze, abandoning austerity, reversing the drive to privatisation (including Royal Mail), restoring workplace rights and collective bargaining, Ed Miliband chose to re-affirm his catastrophic proposals to end the collective affiliation of unions to the Labour Party: 'I respect those who worry about change. I understand. But I disagree. It is the right thing to do. Change can happen. Change must happen. And I am absolutely determined that this change will happen. It is the only way to build a truly One Nation party so we can build a One Nation country.'

Future Directions - a strategy of expansion through exploitation

#TUC13 Congress delegates were alerted to the important UNISON dispute at Rochdale during yesterday's debate on local government services. Angela Rayner moving UNISON's motion said: "in the North West, there is ongoing industrial action in Rochdale where UNISON members have come face to face with the consequences of employers using outsourcing to lower costs by paying workers less. Through the Future Directions social enterprise, the local foundation trust can pay care workers less than they would be entitled to as direct health trust or local authority employees. Staff are having their employment transferred to inferior terms and conditions – a strategy of expansion through exploitation'
Full speech below:

Higher Education pay strike ballot underway

This week ballot papers are being despatched to UNISON members working in Britain's universities following rejection of a 1% offer. Lecturers union UCU will also be balloting in a dispute which presents an opportunity to launch a long overdue UNISON industrial challenge to the Con Dem pay freeze. The ballot closes on 8 October:

Stand up for union rights, civil rights, people’s rights

#TUC13 “If unions were denied a political voice: We wouldn't have had the 1944 Education Act; we wouldn't have the NHS; we wouldn't have equal pay for women; we wouldn't have a minimum wage. And remember who first exposed the scandal of tax avoidance? Who first raised the alarm about falling living standards? And who first blew the whistle on zero-hours? You can see why some people want to shut us up. That is why we must now stand up for our rights. Not just union rights. Civil rights. People's rights” said Frances O’Grady in a scathing attack on the government’s Lobbying Bill during her General Secretary’s speech at TUC Congress yesterday:

Monday, 9 September 2013

Prentis warns Labour of Australia scenario in May 2015

#TUC13 The outcome of this weekend’s general election in Australia was bad news for workers with the election of hard right conservative Tony Abbot as Prime Minister and an incoming Coalition Government with manifesto proposals to attack workplace rights. This followed sustained internecine strife in the Australian Labor Party. The Union Labour link dominated media coverage of the opening of the TUC’s annual Congress yesterday and UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis gave a timely warning to Labour’s leadership that they face a similar fate:
    "If the powers that be in the trade union movement and the Labour Party believe that having squabbles and a special conference is going to get people out there to vote Labour they are living in cloud cuckoo land. We look like a disunited party. It’s quite clear that whenever a party is divided, the people don’t vote for it. We have seen only yesterday what happened in Australia. It will happen to the Labour Party in this country if it doesn’t get its act together."

A Manifesto for Collective Bargaining

#TUC13 The first and probably most important fringe meeting at this year's TUC Congress set a high standard for those that follow. At a packed joint IER, CTUF and CLASS event, Professor Keith Ewing and John Hendy QC launched a new publication ‘Reconstruction After the Crisis: A Manifesto for Collective Bargaining.’ In 1978 82% of in the UK were covered by collective bargaining but workforce coverage is now down to 23%. The demise of collective bargaining structures in the UK has been the most significant factor in widening inequality, low pay and poor working conditions such as zero hours contracts:

Sunday, 8 September 2013


David Cameron bangs on about trade union donations to the Labour Party. He says it proves that Labour is in hock to the unions. Some may say if only. What then does Cameron call a £17000 bung from Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) to his party’s coffers? The Electoral Commission records show that the huge US health corporation has donated £17000 to the Tories since August 2010.

We could not understand by Evin Okçuoğlu

They came this time without the guns.
Without bombs they destroyed homes.
Without boots our rights were trampled.
Without force we were evicted,
not suddenly, but over years
and no doors were shouldered open.
It was our traditions that they routed.