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

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Remembering Inez

We live in a world of celebrity worship. A world where some people are famous for being famous and the good work and unselfish effort of so many citizens is ignored. But now and again we are able to celebrate the life of someone who made a contribution, one of ours who cared and walked that extra mile. Inez McCormack was such a woman. Trade unionist , human rights activist, first female president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and former UNISON Regional Secretary in Northern Ireland. Inez died earlier this year and some of us who knew her were privileged to be in Belfast on a cold Saturday afternoon where the current President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins was joined by former President Mary Robinson to tell the story of a life well lived. The Londonderry Sentinel reports that the story of our comrade Inez McCormack continues to told around the world. It was said of her that she was loathed in high places and loved in low places - most trade unionists would happily settle for that.
Frank Hont
Former Regional Secretary UNISON North West

A Farewell To Madiba! by Thabo Mbeki

National Assembly, Cape Town, March 26,1999.

Madame Speaker Chairperson of the Council of Provinces Honourable Members Mr President

Isinamva liyabukwa Mhla wasabel'igwijo, Uthwel'uthuli lwezitho zabaphambili, Wadad'emafini nje ngokhozi, Wadelel'inkunzana nje ngemamb'emnyama, Lath'izulu liqulath'indudumo nombane, Ladedel'ilanga nalo lithand'ukubuka libukele, Azoth' amazwe onke ngokuthethelwa ngamehlo, Evulel'ithutyana lwemilozi kubantwana bezulu, Ndlebe zibanzi ziphulaphul'izingqi zekhehle, De wavulek'uqhoqhoqho siyinginginya sisonke, Ngoba namhlanje sifun'ukukhahlela sithi, Sina ndini! Madiba! Dalibunga! Msimbithi we sizwe! Nkom'eduna yomthonyama! Sithwalandwe!

You have walked along the road of the hereos and the heroines.

You have borne the pain of those who have known fear and learnt to conquer it.

You have marched in front when comfort was in the midst of the ranks

You have laughed to contend against a river of tears.

You have cried to broadcast a story of joy.

And now you leave this hallowed place to continue to march in front of a different detachment of the same army of the sun.

Not the comfort of the fond superintendence of the growing stalks of the maize plant or of the Ngunki herd with its milk, its flesh or its hide.

Nor the pleasant chatter of your grand-children with mountains to climb which are but little mounds.

Not the pensive silence of the elderly, whose burdened minds cascade backwards because to look too much into the future is to impose a burden on bones that have grown old.

You leave us here not because you have to stop.

You leave us here because you have to start again.

The accident of your birth should have condemned you to a village.

Circumstances you did not choose should have confined you to a district.

Your sight, your heart and your mind could have reached no further than the horizon of the natural eye.

But you have been where you should not have been.

You have faced death and said - do your worst!

You have inhabited the dark, dark dungeons of freedom denied, itself a denial to live in a society where freedom was denied.

You have looked at the faces of some of those who were your comrades, who turned their eyes away from you because somewhere in their mortal being there lingered the remnants of a sense of shame, always and for ever whispering softly - no to treachery! a thing in the shadows, present at every dawn, repeating, repeating, repeating - I am Conscience, to whom you have denied a home.

You have not asked - who indeed are these for whose lives I was prepared to die!

You have asked who am I, that I too did not falter, so that I too could turn my own eyes away from myself and another, who was a comrade.

You have stood at the brink, when you had to appeal to the gods about whether to win a dishonourable peace or to lose the lives of your people, and decided that none among these would exchange their lives for an existence without honour.

You have been where nobody should be asked to be.

You have carried burdens heavier than those who felt it their responsibility and right to proclaim you an enemy of the state.

You have to convince your enemies to believe a story difficult to believe, because it was true, that your burnished spear glittered in the rays of the sun, not to speak of hatred and death from them, but because you prayed that its blinding brilliance would tell them, whose ears would not hear, that you loved them as your own kith and kin.

You have had to bear the mantle of sainthood when all you sought was pride in the knowledge that you were a good foot soldier for justice and freedom.

But despite it all and because of it all, we are blessed.

We are blessed because you have walked along the road of our heroes and heroines.

For centuries our own African sky has been dark with suffering and foreboding.

But because we have never surrendered, for centuries the menace in our African sky has been brightened by the light of our stars.

In the darkness of our night, the victory of the Khoikhoi in 1510 here in Table Bay, when they defeated and killed the belligerent Portuguese admiral and aristocrat, Dom Franscisco de Almeida, the first Portuguese viceroy in India, has lit our skies for ever.

In the darkness of our night, Autshumato, the Khoikhoi leader who was the first political prisoner on Robben Island, shone on our firmament as our star of hope.

And so these and other since, the kings and queens and generals and warriors who resisted Africa's colonisation, the leaders who, and the movements which fought for African emancipation - these who are, permanently, our heroes and heroines - have come and gone, over the generations, one after the other, each to take his or her place as a star in the African sky.

Among them are our own, whose names we recite to tell ourselves that we are - black liberators, white liberators, human beings, whose only fault has been to strive to live as human beings.

Among these, Madiba, we recite you name, because your fault too, for which your have paid your price, was that yours strived so that you, together with us, could live as a human being.

As these human beings, we have, for five years, traversed the rooms and passages that surround us and occupied this theatre of drama and farce and the birth of the new, carrying on our foreheads the title - the law makers!

The sense of wonder still pervades our ranks that out of the turnult and the babble of tongues, the veiled enmities and the bloodless wars, there could have arisen over our devastated land, out of this house, with its own history, the sun of hope.

Though standing like little giants, because we stand on your shoulders and others of your generation, we must proclaim it to the world that here, in these houses of the law-givers, we have striven to do the right things, because to have done otherwise would have been to condemn ourselves to carry, for all time, the burden of having insulted all the sacrifices you made.

Others, before us, who also had the power to decide how each and all shall behave, according to such rules and regulations they were empowered to set, arrived from Europe at the Cape of Good Hope on the 23rd of December, 1802.

These were the representatives of the Batavian Republic of the Netherlands.

As they landed on the shores of our oceans, only a heckler's shout from where you sit, Madiba, they carried in their heads the lesson they had been taught, on "Methods to Follow when Attending Savage Peoples". And here is an example of their lessons:

Convey to them our arts, but not our corruption, the code of our morals, and not the example of our vices, our sciences and not our dogmas, the advantages of civilisation, and not their abuses, conceal from them how the people in our more enlightened countries, defame one another, and degrade themselves by their passions.

On the 10th of May, five years ago, you stood in front of the Union Buildings in Pretoria to proclaim to the universe that the sun could never set on so glorious a human achievement as was celebrated that day.

Black and white South Africans had, at last, arrived at the point when, together, they could say:

Let us nurture our arts, and not our corruption. Let us communicate morality, and not our vices. Let us advance science, and not our dogmas. Let us advance civilisation, and not abuse.

After a long walk, we too have arrived at the starting point of a new journey.

We have you, Madiba, as our nearest and brightest star to guide us on our way.

We will not get lost

Friday, 6 December 2013

Mandela lives in our constitution - Denis Goldberg

Denis Goldberg fought alongside Nelson Mandela against South Africa's apartheid government. In an exclusive interview with DW, he talks about their joint struggle for freedom. http://www.dw.de/denis-goldberg-mandela-was-a-great-leader/a-17274751
"Were we prepared to give up? No. The manifesto of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) with Nelson Mandela as the first commander in chief said in effect: In the life of a people there come moments where there are two choices, to live on our knees or to stand and fight. Our decision was to fight. I once said to him: "What are we fighting for?" He said: "One person, one vote!".
  Earlier he told the BBC News World Service: "I'm saddened his life has come to an end. But it hasn't come to an end - he lives in our constitution, our society, he lives in the comradeship that he always talked about."

Enough of Austerity - time for a Labour pledge to change course

Leading UNISON NEC member Jane Carolan takes stock of yesterday’s Autumn Statement on UK Government spending plans: Tuesday’s Guardian featured a tale of two constituencies - Tatton, whose local MP is none other than Gideon George Oliver Osborne himself, and Morley and Ottwood, the constituency of his opposite number Ed Balls.

Nelson Mandela: “One of the great men of our time” – UNISON Scotland tribute

UNISON Scotland today paid tribute to Nelson Mandela who has died aged 95. Scottish Secretary Mike Kirby said: “Nelson Mandela rightly received many honours and awards in the course of a long life which exemplified courage and struggle against the odds.
  “One was from UNISON’s predecessor NALGO, who in 1984 gave him Honorary Life Membership of the union.
   “While we were giving Nelson Mandela life membership, the Tory Government of the time were opposing sanctions against South Africa and refusing to talk to the ANC.

Con Dems continue war against workers across the generations

Yesterday's Autumn Statement from Tory Chancellor George Osborne once again bowed to demands from big business for state subsidies with concessions including a cap on business rates, reduced employers National Insurance contributions and tax relief for city speculators.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Liverpool University support staff strike against cuts to T’s & C’s

Hard on the heels of yesterday’s higher education national pay strike, support staff members of UNISON and Unite at Liverpool University are today taking a second day of strike action in opposition to imposed cuts in rates of pay for working weekends, nights, open days etc. Services affected include services such as catering, cleaning and building management:

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Scotland’s Future - Can We Have a Rational Debate?

“Society cannot share a common communication system so long as it is split into warring factions.” Bertholt Brecht
Even the most southerly reader of UNISONActive can hardly have escaped the recent pronouncements from the Scottish Government with regard to independence.

Labour Party Collins Review – UNISON political fund model in pole position

An interesting report in today’s Guardian that the Collins review is likely to recommend a political fund model similar to UNISON’s whereby union members choose between an affiliated and non affiliated political fund contribution from their union membership subscription. The UNISON system has operated robustly for 20 years with remarkably only 13,560 members opting to exempt themselves from contributing to the political fund in contrast with Unite where 169,292 opt out of paying the political levy to Labour.
Of course, constitutional formulas aside, a far bigger question for the future is how levy paying members of affiliated unions exercise our political influence in the Labour Party.

All together now - back today's pay strike in UK Universities

#fairpayinHE Members of UCU, UNISON and Unite across higher education are today staging a second day of national strike action in support of an improved pay offer from the University employers. The 1% offer continues a five year trend of below inflation pay rises which has resulted in a loss of pay between £663 and £3,574 from base earnings. Lunchtime rallies about held across the UK - details here:

NHS 2014 Pay - a test of Review Body's integrity

Almost 10 years on from the introduction of the NHS wide Agenda for Change (AfC) pay system, LRD Workplace Report has published a useful overview of pay in the NHS. It analyses the impact of pay restraint, the Health and Social Care Act, pressures for regional pay and related concessions on the national agreement, pay progression and the systematic downbanding taking place as NHS employers seek to roll back gains made under the AfC agreement. Looking ahead to the 2014 pay award the article concludes that ‘AfC is still highly prized by the unions, but members will also be expecting it, and the system of NHSPRB recommendations on which it rests, to deliver on pay too’

Monday, 2 December 2013

Qatar - built on worker exploitation

It is more tragic than ironic that the state owned Qatari Airways displaced UNICEF on the front of FC Barcelona’s shirt. That the global footballing institution - which styles itself as ‘more than a club’ - compromised its ethics big time is brought into sharp relief by the report of an ITUC delegation into the slave labour conditions of migrant workers building the 2022 World Cup infrastructure for the oil rich authoritarian statelet. Qatar is expected to ship in at least an additional 500,000 construction labourers —mainly from Nepal, Bangladesh and India — in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. According to the ILO, ‘more than 4,000 migrant workers could die between now and 2022 during construction of the infrastructure for the world’s biggest sporting event’

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Britain below the breadline - life on the minimum wage

As pressure mounts for a significant hike in the minimum wage rate, the Guardian reports on a visit by the Low Pay Commission to the West Midlands to hear evidence from low paid workers about life on poverty pay - including powerful testimony from a union steward - 'Having enough to eat and pay the bills is a struggle. The essentials are getting more and more expensive. I haven't had a holiday in years. I've been saving supermarket vouchers to pay for the Christmas turkey and my husband [who is retired] has given me part of his heating allowance for presents'

The month of Katayien is here by Najm Hosain Syed

The month of Katayien is here.
They say cranes arrive in this weather.
Slow wind blows imperceptibly
Certain coolness dissolves in the air