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Monday, 16 June 2014

UNISON up for the fight in Local Government

#uNDC14 At UNISON's local government service group conference, Glen Williams, SGE Chair, gave a wide ranging review of the union's work over the past 12 months: 'If you have had chance to read the Annual Report then you will see how much work goes on in the background by Officers and the Members that you elect. I cannot possibly do justice to the daily resistance that goes on in Local Government and have tried only to give you a flavour of the challenge but a sense we are also up for the fight and there is so much great work going on in Regions and Branches, far too much to mention in this report'.
   Full speech below.

Conference, President, Glen Williams, moving the Annual Report on behalf of the SGE. Conference, make no mistake we are living in times of extremes. This Annual Report gives you a flavour of some of those extremes whether it be the extreme and ever-widening gap between rich and poor, the extreme gap between the Tories and ordinary working people, the extreme pressure on our union, our regions, Branches and you the activists, and specifically the extreme pressure on local government services and our members. So it is right we are in Brighton – a city of extremes. Brighton has produced such famous people as the classical violinist Nigel Kennedy and creator of Body Shop Anita Roddick but at the other extreme it has also created Katie Price (Jordan) and the universe’s greatest ego, the talentless talent predator, Simon Cowell!!! Brighton has over 400 pubs – that’s over 8 pubs to every single page of this report! Now to read one page per 8 pubs would be an extreme challenge indeed.

Conference, This reports highlights the extreme threats we as a union face, it outlines the dangers we as citizens and as trade union activists as well as public servants from across the UK face from a vicious, privateering, profit-making, victim-blaming, vulture-like Tory led coalition. The alleged recession is being used as a smokescreen to push through ideologically driven policies that are intended to break up public services – it is a robbery not a recession and a robbery of criminal proportions!

The scale of the current Government’s ambition to transform British society is becoming more and more apparent.  Cuts in public spending that were initially presented as an emergency response to a financial necessity are now projected to continue and intensify deep into the next Parliament.  We face the spectre of eternal austerity.  

What we are witnessing is an attempt to dismantle the welfare state and our public services.  This is a transformative right-wing project designed to destroy the life chances of working people, to destroy the collective bonds between people in our society, and to fundamentally change what type of country we are forever. 

The idea that cuts are necessary was always disingenuous, and this has been illustrated by the Government finding nearly £1bn for a tax cut for high earners and £5bn for their mates in business.  There’s money around for rich people, for floods and for nuclear weapons, but not for working people or useful public services.  We urgently and desperately need a change of Government and for austerity to be ditched.   

Everyone knows about the rising cost of fuel – everyone that is except the people who are in charge of it! The likes of Mobil (Exxon) have just announced their profits PROFITS for the past quarter- Their profit according to their own figures runs at $5.4million per hour – per hour.

Everyone knows that inflation is running at around 2.5% - everyone except the FSA, TheFinancial Services Association - When the man in charge of the FSA, the same man who failed to spot the trouble brewing with Northern Rock, had his pay review – how did they reward his £400,000 paid job? They gave him an 11% pay rise! 11%....... the same pay rise that MPs are worth apparently, significantly less than the 36% their Special Advisors are getting though and thank goodness Prime Minister Camoron announced that ‘money is no object’ when it comes to sorting out those Tory heartlands recently flooded. So we know the money is there just extremely unfairly allocated.

Everyone knows that the Local Government’s Pay Claims on behalf of poorly paid local authority workers is affordable - When every Local Authority around the UK has made efficiency savings to the value of billions of pounds the money is there to pay local government workers, the majority of whom are women, the majority of whom are low paid, everyone knows that, except our the Coalitin cabinet of and for the rich.

Everyone is told they need to tighten their belts – everyone of course except Chief Executives of local authorities who have enjoyed almost 90% pay increases over the past 10 years when we have trailed behind every rate and type of inflation conjured up by the employers year after year.

Everyone knows the Labour Party is not awash with allies at the moment and yet it seems intent on ostacising its last bastions of supporters within the trade union movement, its own origins.

We do not want crocodile tears and wringing of hands from Labour Councils or Labour MPs – we want them to join us in the fight for fair funding for public services in our communities. We want Labour Councillors and MPs to be standing up to central government and publicly criticising the slashing of the funding. We do not want a National Labour Party announcing, if they get elected, continuing public sector pay restraint and ongoing academisation of our education system matching Gove every step of the way. We do want a Labour Party that works with us not against us and we welcome the Labour Party’s statements about repealing the bedroom tax.

We welcome their promises to repeal the National Health and Social Care Bill, we welcome a Labour Party that seeks to universally implement the Living Wage as it has been implemented in almost 100 Councils in the UK to date and we do want a Labour Party that implements Hilary Benn’s plans of reallocating local government finances on a fairer basis that helps those most in need and not those with the most Tory voters.

We also welcome their policy announcements of intentions to tax the rich. As important as they are tho, we want a Labour Party committed to undoing the damage to trade unions by repealing some of the more vicious anti-trade union legislation about which they did nothing whilst in power. We want Labour to stand with us not against us. We welcome the Shadow Secretary for Health describing the pay ‘offer’ to our Health colleagues as a disgrace, because it is a disgrace, but when oh when will we hear any senior shadow politicians speaking up for the poor relations of the public sector…….. us in Local Government – when will we hear public support for our pay claim? When will we hear criticism of the disgraceful offer of 1% for 90% of our members – a pay cut in real terms………………………………when will we hear criticism of the way in which the pay offer claims to reward the lowest paid with a near 5% pay rise when in fact it does not even hit the Living Wage level and is only enough to avoid being overtaken by the National Minimum Wage statutory uplift due this October – crass hypocrisy but when will we hear that shouted from opposition politicians?

When will we hear criticism of the government’s refusal to negotiate on their pay offer, their refusal to go to ACAS? So far the silence is deafening!

This Annual report identifies many of the ways your SGE has stood against the ravages of the Coalition’s policies and we will discuss motions over the next 2 days that seek to save our services and protect our Members who, in increasing numbers are resorting to food banks and in work benefits – these are indeed extreme times!

We know that local Government has lost nearly half a million jobs since 2010 – cut as a direct result of ideologically driven central government policies – half a million family’s lives thrown into hardship, panic and turmoil. We know, because we deal with it every day, that millions more fear job loss and pay cuts.

The annual report describes the single handed demolition of local government that ‘Eric Pickled’ and his Education Minister, Michael Gove, known as Golem have continued this year – as if it was not extreme enough to be selling off our education system to Academies, Free Schools, Studio schools – they are selling them to companies in which Tories have vested interests!

Our NHS is being sold off and Tory vultures will benefit

Our Education system is being sold off and Tory vultures will benefit

Our Probation service is being sold off and Tory vultures will benefit

They are looking to sell off the Food Standards Agency and I am sure you can guess who will benefit……. but they have indeed reached an extreme low in Golem, sorry Gove’s recent proposals to sell of Child Protection Services.

This is the same Golem who talks about extremism needing to be rooted out and so-called British values needing to be taught in schools – what about fairness, tolerance, solidarity, fighting for the underdog, collective responsibility, people before profits……. are these not values that we should learn in schools and in our communities?

If you want to know what happens to care services when they are privatised speak to Barnet UNISON Branch about ‘Barnet Your Choice’; speak to Rochdale Branch about Future Directions, speak to my Branch Sefton, about New Directions.

Gollum’s proposals to sell of child protection is extreme enough but when you see which companies are lining up it is worse:

ATOS, Capita, G4S Virgin Care, Care UK, Serco will all be able to bid to protect vulnerable children. So the same companies that remove the children will then be able to place them in homes that those same companies also own and run!

Social Work experts say – no, government advisors such as Eileen Munroe have said no, 91% of the public surveyed earlier this week say NO… but not the Secretary of State for Education, he knows best!

G4S are the company that failed to provide the necessary security for the London Olympics in 2012 and the Tories had to bring in the army and the police to cover a shortfall of several thousands of staff. Serco is the company currently under criminal investigation by the Serious Fraud Squad Office for defrauding the taxpayer as they overcharged the government for tagging criminals later found to be dead.

Gove will damage more children with his assault on the education system and his assault on child protection than anyone else in the past 100 years……. equivalent to putting King Herod in charge of nursery provision.

David Cameron is off to a school reunion tomorrow…….or a Cabinet Meeting as he likes to call it…….David Camoron who described Nelson Mandela on hearing of his death in December last year, as a ‘personal hero’ …. a personal hero ….and yet the same man campaigned throughout the 1980s to have the same Nelson Mandela executed for terrorism – such extreme hypocrisy. Camoron also has a new hero…….the tax dodging Gary Barlow – Tax Factor star who saw his tax dodging opportunity and said I will have a piece of that, I will ‘Take That’– was defended by the Prime Minister too occupied on blaming those on benefits rather than clawing back billions of pounds on tax dodgers and tax evaders like Vodaphone who recently announced £42 billion pounds profits – not pre-tax profits cox they don’t pay any!!. David Cameron and his school mates at The Cabinet tomorrow will not be discussing the following:

1/ The fact that 51% of the population are women but only 22% are MPs (and a very small number in the Tory Party). They will not be asking why less than 10% of the Banking sector CEOs are women, nor will they be asking why only 5% of national daily newspaper editors are women and Giddy up Gideon Osborne will certainly not be asking why 0% of the Bank of England monetary Committee are women. No consideration will be given to the extremely low paid women in our Local Government services, their increased dependency on food banks and in work benefits (tho to be fair some concern may be raised about the benefits!!). That is what is reflected in this annual report – we have extreme challenges ahead.

2/ The school reunion Cabinet will pat themselves on the back and quaff another glass of bubbly for bringing unemployment down – since 2010 they have brought unemployment down by a quarter of a million……ignore the fact that they have also introduced 1 million more workers (manly low paid women) on Zero Hours Contracts. This annual report details the SGE’s work against Zero Hours Contracts, but we know it is a battle.

3/ The Millionaires’ club Cabinet will enjoy reading the recent economic advice on how to avoid the need to use food banks issued last week by Tory Peer, Baroness Rawlings:

The aristocrat issued sound advice from her £7m, 13 bedroomed home suggesting people could save money by:

•Re-using linen napkins at lunch (pronounced lanch) that were used at breakfast!

•Instead of hiring a marquee for a summer dinner party, buy everyone a Panama hat for the summer event and her final nugget

•In order to keep warm buy draught excluders, use electric blankets and, if possible, buy an aga!!!!

If it was not so extremely distasteful and patronising it might be laughable but our Members know how out of touch this government is and your SGE has worked extremely hard all year to expose this.

Our members in Wales know they now face significantly less economic protection from their government now that the period of relative security and the Memorandum of Understanding has ended… and yet despite this, take time to speak to the amazing City and County of Swansea Branch Members about their fight over working hours. Speak to Carmarthenshire Members about their campaign to get the Labour controlled Council to reverse, for the time being at least, their cuts in trade union facility time – the SGE will continue to work with those Branches.

Speak to Northern Ireland delegates here about the major economic uncertainty they now face that many in England have faced for years. Housing stock transfers are now threatened and the SGE is working closely to oppose this. Let the delegates from Northern Ireland proudly share stories of their work on the Welfare provision, on the Single Authority for Education and Library Boards. Let them show off about their incredible campaign to get the £250 to our low paid members year on year since 2010 and if you are on Facebook follow Northern Ireland as there seems to be a UNISON event every day which strangely is always followed by ‘a social’!

For inspiration also speak to our Vice Chair of the SGE, Carol Ball from Scottish Region, who led on the very recent dispute in Glasgow schools on the administration of medicines – their strike action was solid and successful and we congratulate them on their victory. Ask them also about the current disputes in Glasgow with Residential Care Workers, Environmental Health Officers, Learning Disability day Support Workers – again the SGE will continue to do everything within its remit and powers to support these groups of workers who are in struggle and resisting the impact of austerity measures.

The SGE also salutes Barnet Branch for its incredible, tireless sustained range of sets of Industrial Action and acknowledges that the fight will continue and their stamina and strength is an inspiration to us all – congratulations.

Your SGE is aware of the amazing amount of hours activists put in above and beyond the call of duty – indeed, imagine if we submitted a claim to the General Secretary for unpaid hours worked on behalf of our union, we would be able to buy those 400 Brighton Pubs!!! I am aware how much of a difference you all make every working day – representing, advising, counselling, cajoling, protesting, preparing reports, sending and receiving emails, letters pigeon post, maintaining accounts and websites and calling and attending endless meetings. I am also aware that, unless it is just in my Branch, some members are not easy to please. Some are quite demanding and some expect a response to their email within seconds!!!

Your SGE is well aware of the pressure Branch Officers and activists, reps and contacts face every day and realise the stress that exists in the workplaces - stress of the activists and the members. Since being elected as Chair of the SGE in October last year along with Carol Ball, the Vice Chair, we have tried to make the Executive more focused on what matters to our members. We have cut down dramatically on Officers’ reports who are now asked to condense their previous 3-40 page reports down to 1 side on A4. Given that we usually receive and have to read 40 reports we are changing the SGE to be more workshop than talk shop – we are trying to reduce meeting time and increase activity time and to ensure we are fit for purpose and also relevant to our Constituents.

If you have had chance to read the Annual Report then you will see how much work goes on in the background by Officers and the Members that you elect. I cannot possibly do justice to the daily resistance that goes on in Local Government and have tried only to give you a flavour of the challenge but a sense we are also up for the fight and there is so much great work going on in Regions and Branches, far too much to mention in this report.

So your SGE has been responding to these extreme challenges. The SGE is

•Challenging the Government’s pay policy

•Celebrating the contribution of workers in public services (such as the Teaching Assistants Day)

•Opposing privatisation and encouraging best practice in employment and service delivery (Ethical Care Charter)

•Representing public service workers in new employment situations (academy recognition agreements)

•Building our union (recruitment and organising)

•UNISON has led the way in being resolute in our advocacy of directly provided public services.  UNISON is without doubt the champion of public services and it needs to be. 

I wanted to finish on a message about Pay - These are extreme times indeed, we face an extremely vicious government, we face cuts, job losses, attacks to facility time, and difficulties in servicing and getting organised in fragmented workplaces within and outside of so-called core employer – but we also have actions planned to fight back. The Pay Campaign in Local Government has to be to win an improved pay offer and not just be part of a longer term strategy to defeat the 1% pay ceiling.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland are balloting in Local Government at the moment and Scotland are likely to follow, Food Standards Agency will follow,(congratulations to the Officer Paul Bell who has worked hard with the SGE Rep and the branches – Paul is the 3rd consecutive Officer to be allocated to what was Meat Hygiene who is a vegetarian!!) We know that Health Members may also follow but everyone in this hall can in the next few days make a real difference by simply texting or calling 10 Members they know are eligible to vote in the pay ballot that closes on 23rd June on Pay – if you text, twitter 10 and they are asked to so the same and tell them to Vote Yes to Strike Action, it will make a difference.

So you know those people who will be part of the over 70% who will not vote – contact them in a break, you know those Members who contact you daily on the hour every hour but will probably not vote, contact them, whilst on the beach or in one of the 400 Brighton pubs wherever and whenever but please text ten and get them to do the same Vote in the Ballot on Pay and Vote YES to Strike Action before 23rd June – that is an example of the SGE I want to be a part of – one that has strategic overview of Local Government, one that supports and provides resources for Regions and Branches but also one that is active, practical, relevant and seeks to make a difference. The first key to getting fair pay has to be a resounding YES to strike action – text ten and help make a difference. As Chair of the SGE I will continue to push at the Service Group Liaison Committee for our own sectors and Service groups to have co-ordinated industrial action – this is not without its own difficulties, but it will not be for the want of your SGE pressing the arguments.

The SGE would simply not function without our Admin Support… and Indira Patel is a real asset to us – on your behalf to Indira I say a genuine thank you. I would to thank the National Officers and Assistant National Officers who now type in such small print on such wide margins to keep to the A4 limit in their reports it is hilarious – seriously though many thanks for your expertise and unstinting work – big thanks to Jon Richards and his team and to the Head of Local Government, Heather Wakefield who breaches all working time regulations with her input on behalf of our union and especially our Members in Local Government - many thanks to all the SGE Members – the work you do does generally go unnoticed and certainly unrewarded but we do it for neither.

I am really proud of the work our SGE does. I am aware we are elected by you and hope you remember that as you get up to speak to the motions – be gentle with us!

Thanks for listening, have a great conference, let me know if you need a panama hat, re-use your linen napkins please text ten….invite me to any of the 400 pubs, but first accept this Annual report.

I move.