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

Monday, 15 June 2015

We have to get better organised - Glen Williams

#uLGC15 'I have tried not to focus on the doom and gloom, but to give you a flavour of the struggles that take place every day around the UK, struggles and resistance by you and our members that we need to build on. We have to get even better organised; we have to devise and work within the new structures of devolution and combined authorities, working across the usual boundaries of service groups' said Glen Williams, Chair of the Service Group Executive in moving the 2014/15 Local Government Annual Report.
Full speech below:

"President, Conference, Glen Williams, Chair of the Service Group Executive pleased to be moving the Local Government Annual Report and I promise to be finished by Friday!

Conference, over the next couple of days and beyond you will get hammered …………not just hammered in Glasgow’s wonderful and varied hostelries, but hammered by the bad news, the doom and gloom that existed before the general election and now abounds after it. The doom of the attacks we will face in local government on our jobs, on the financial settlement to our employers, the attack on DOCAS and facility time, on Industrial Action ballots and the lowering of our living standards and the list goes on and on and on. 

These attacks are real, very real and this Annual report details how Region by Region these attacks will harm our members and our Communities, sector by sector the emboldened ideological attacks of local government by the Tory government – put in place by 24% of the electorate, hardly a mandate that would get them a successful ballot by their own new rules – A Tory government who will on 8th July in their emergency budget set out their all-out assault on public sector workers and services and declare almost permanent austerity…….austerity for some that is. An on-going recession that we know is a robbery.

The annual report does provide accurate details of the doom and the gloom and I do not intend to minimise the potential misery and challenges we face, but the report also highlights some of the fantastic work our union in local government has carried out and intends to carry out to fight back.

It is fitting we are in Glasgow – a city of struggle, a history of resistance and sense of collective action. On 14th June, Che Guevara’s birthday, we are in a city twinned with Havana, Cuba. We are in a great city that defends the underdog, is also twinned with Bethlehem, Palestine and a city in which the workers, our members do what it says on the tin.

I would like to pay tribute to the 70 workers from Glasgow’s Council homelessness Service who have been out on indefinite Strike Action since Tuesday 31st March in a dispute over pay. With UNISON density in the dispute area of over 90% and 84% of Members voting for strike action on a 64% turnout this is the sort of news I want our union to be reporting on, supporting and acting on.

That is the sort of Service Group activity I want to be part of….strong leadership, well organised, branches working with regions and Members who are able to say they feel supported by their union…..that is the sort of news that lifts the gloom and sends an alternative message to employers whether Tory, SNP or Labour controlled.

Glasgow sadly has the lowest life expectancy of any City in the UK…….but my goodness they pack a full life into their time here.

So this Conference will make some serious policy decisions about how we face up to the onslaught and how we learn from mistakes and I welcome that…..but I do not want our union to bury its head in despair and we need as the activists and leaders of this Service Group together with officials of our union to ensure we raise our profile, we should take inspiration from the strength of the Glasgow Workers, we should be inspired by Barnet Branch and their incredible campaigns and congratulations to John Burgess the Branch Secretary of Barnet who with Helen….the Branch Chair has sustained a high profile innovative, creative, powerful, community based fight back over privatisation – the Members and residents of Barnet could have accepted the doom and gloom of massive attacks and outsourcing and crawled under a shell, but they continue to fight back because what they are doing and what they believe in is right – basic principles of democratic accountability, people before profits, anti-privatisation and people power.

The saying that ‘if you fight back you might lose, but if you do not fight you have already lost’ needs to become the mantra of all parts of our service group. Petty differences between branches and regions, lay activists and officials need to be set aside and more of the success stories detailed in this report will become a reality for more of us. The choice is easy – fight or flight, fight or flight standing still is not an option as in a fight to stand still you will get defeated.

Camden UNISON fought back are now going to win the London Living Wage for 300 kitchen staff across 51 schools – Congratulations to Camden Branch as it gives the rest of us hope, it provides reasons to be positive and sends important messages to employers…..

So there are reasons to be cheerful – we are finding out who our allies are…..Pickles is pickled and out to graze with the Lords but we have Gove in charge of Justice…..like putting Sepp Blatter in charge of the Fair Play league, …..King Herod in charge of nurseries. 

Cameron is talking to his Cabinet tomorrow, when he gets no sense from his Cabinet he will be talking to his wardrobe and then after that his mantelpiece so you can see what a good judge of character he is?! – Camoron remember has so far personally supported the following:

· Tax Evasion – Gary Barlow
· Fraud (Grant Schapps)
· Violence (Jeremy Clarkson)
· Perjury (Andy Coulson) and
· Phone Hacking (Rebekkah Brooks)…maybe Sepp Blatter will become a Lord after all!!!

So the way it works is if you are dependent on the state for benefits, you are told to get knotted but if you are like Gary Barlow not paying taxes and benefiting from the state you get knighted!

£1.2bn lost to benefits fraud - £30 bn to tax fraud – I do wonder how the war on poverty became the war on the poor?

Get knotted for the poor – get knighted for the rich!!!

Camoron is a millionaire son of a millionaire whose entire life has been spent in political jobs – that is why he does not understand ordinary working people, that is why he forgets what football team he supports!!! That is why he allows privatisation of our public services to line the pockets of his mates and his party – it is a three card trick that works like this –

You take 3 cards

· Paul Ruddock (Chief Exec of Lansdowne Partners Ltd) King of diamonds
· Peter Davies (best friend, lover of the night life and Best Man of the third card) (King of Clubs)
· Gideon Osborne – Chancellor of the Exchequer (joker)

You take 3 steps

· Step 1 - Ruddock gives Davies a job
· Step 2 – Gideon privatises Royal Mail and Lansdowne make £18 million on first day’s trading and
· Step 3 – Lansdowne acquire £50m of Royal Mail shares and make £500,000 donation to Osborne’s Tory party.

3 cards, 3 steps and a three card trick!!! This is how the scam works and it is happening in schools, hospitals, local authorities up and down the country and it is a disgrace we need to continue to expose.

HSBC threatened thousands of job losses if Labour got in…….guess what Labour failed and they still announce 8,000 job losses so we know we have no friends in government, or the banks including now the Royal Bank of Scotland, broke, bailed out, broke, sold off all part of the Banking Bingo farce that costs the country what it would take to pay our 2015/16 pay claim 45 times over!!!!

So no allies in the Tory Government, strained relationships with the Labour Party to put it mildly, Billy no mates with the banks and most Financial powerhouses and sometimes it feels like we do not have an alliance even with our sister unions, but what we do have is 10 times more members that all the main political parties put together, what we do have is long experience of struggle and resistance, what we do have is a determination and energy to campaign and organise and where that is beginning to wilt under the pressure we have a commitment to support local struggles and tackle national threats head on. That is why we will survive the onslaught in local government, but we do need to do things differently. It is not the Rumanians, Bulgarians, Slovakians or Lithuanians we should fear as the Daily Mail would have you believe…..but another different breed of vipers Old Etonians where everyone is called Henry….first name Hooray!

The Annual report points us in the right direction – the Ethical Care charter and the great work done by Assistant National Officer Matthew Egan is making a real difference to the pay and conditions of mainly extremely low paid women as well as the most vulnerable people in our communities and congratulations to those Branches who have campaigned to achieve this charter for their employers, Islington, Southwark, Lancashire, Wirral and most recently Leeds and special mention for Norfolk County Branch who have signed up the first Social Enterprise to the Charter and to all branches working hard to get the employer to achieve the Ethical Care Charter standards. These sort of community and union based campaigns making a real difference are where we need to build in our Service group.

It is appropriate we are in Glasgow, the most vegan/vegetarian friendly city in the UK celebrating the victories achieved by the our Members in the old meat hygiene service, now the Food Standards Agency who are taking on the major European lobbyists who want to do away with independent meat inspection and winning. Our Members fought the FSA over their imposition of a pay policy and took industrial action and won……………Their high profile campaign, brilliantly supported by Paul Bell the National Officer is exposing the risk that some of you who eat meat may want to read about in this report…..or maybe not….so I will give you a flavour (no pun intended) of the risks of removing independent meat inspection:

In the past 2 years our Members have stopped the following from entering the human food chain:

· 560,000 cases of ‘milk spot’ caused by parasitic roundworms larvae in pigs
· 3 million chickens contaminated with faeces
· 2 million cases of tapeworm in red meat

Page 23 of the menu, I mean the annual report is the page to avoid if you are squeamish or the page to publicise and gloat over if you are vegetarian. This is the remedy to the doom and gloom – a fight back bringing the public with us advising them of the health risks and demonstrating that yet again the lowest income families will suffer most if independent meat inspection is not defended….we wish that campaign every success. Next time you eat meat, ask yourself has it been independently inspected………? Enjoy!

We can all learn from Cymru/Wales – where they have campaigned hard and won the argument against Council Tax freezes…this has resulted in an average increase in council tax across Wales in 2015 of 4.3% and not a single Council opting for a Council freeze. Their record year for recruitment is based on organising around the issues that matter to members, linking pay and cuts, campaigning around the Ethical Care Charter and the Living Wage…this is the sort of fight back we need more of in Local Government.

The fight back will grow if we learn from the Public Services Alliance in the Northern region and the area forums that go from strength to strength promoting active campaigning work with other unions and community groups to save our members’ jobs and retaining services in the public sector…again that is the sort of union I want to be part of, engaging, challenging, organising, listening and leading.

This is what helped enormously in Rotherham when our Members were being vilified in the press and the vile EDL were trying to make the entire child abuse scandal one of race, congratulations to the Region and branch whose role was pivotal in exposing the lies and defending our Members – all these examples are detailed in the report I would urge you to all read as a counter-balance to the doom and gloom and to discover organising work we can all copy and learn from.

Glasgow is the appropriate place to be as in Scotland they demonstrated during the referendum on independence that politics does matter to people, including 16 and 17 year olds when engagement takes place and we need to learn about better engaging.

When our own internal national executive council elections produce an average turnout of 4-6% we have serious issues about engagement and democratic deficits that have to be addressed but there is still much to make us strong. In my own region we saw 300 people joining every day in the 2 weeks before the strike on 10th July. The NW was the only region to deliver net growth of membership in 2014, an amazing achievement when you consider we have also endured the most vicious cuts from central government.

Northern Ireland led the way recently with their strike action on March 13th and again are to be congratulated, despite the macro economic attacks and changes to their political structures they are fighting back. With more Branches buying into the organising agenda and the Fighting Fund in Northern Ireland that is the sort of union I hope you all want to be part of.

Fight or flight is our choice as we cannot stand still – the average age of a UNISON Member is now around about 50 years old……and we as activists and leaders are getting burned out. We need extra resources, extra activists, trained activists…we are tired in the Branches of being told to recruit, recruit and then recruit some more as this produces more and more casework for already overworked activists, Stewards and Branch Officers.

We are tired of being told to cover the non-core employer members in our own time, or ‘under the radar’ and the SGE welcomes the cross service group work that is now looking at this but things are and have changed quickly…..we live in times of instant response demands where we are expected to know the answer to questions before they are asked, reply to emails before they have been sent, multi-task on multiple tasks working 26 hours a day and getting up 3 hours before we went to bed……..and when did we start buying bottles of water. £2 for a tiny bottle of Evian …….try spelling Evian backwards and you have the answer! 

We are being ripped off and need to change. Our union is under attack and we need to change but I believe we are more than able to step up to what lies ahead.

For me the secret has to be an honest appraisal of our many strengths and our many weaknesses not least of which is membership density. We have to learn lessons from the Industrial action on July 10th and we have to stop blaming and attacking the regions that did not deliver the level of action they themselves would have wanted.

Is a low paid worker in the North West any different to a low paid worker in the South West – I doubt it but the challenges are different and the national pay bargaining machinery is different and the political make-up the employers is different so we need to think differently and get more creative in our Industrial Action thinking.

What is needed is an honest dialogue with those regions that can deliver Industrial Action and with those who can’t in order to understand why it is not the same in all regions providing relevant support and financial backing where appropriate – we have to be a service group that puts its money where its mouth is and, unpopular as this may be with some, that has to include both the £54 million in Branch accounts as well as the millions in HQ. There can be no more saving for a rainy day, Noah and the Ark are at the door!!!

Special Local Government Conference has started the process of learning the lessons and I want to assure Conference that the SGE has taken very seriously the consequences of decisions taken at that Conference that are now UNISON policy. I will not pretend the process has been without significant disagreements but the SGE, the NJC and the Pay and Service Conditions Working Group have all worked hard to ensure that they key decisions of Special Conference are being carried out and Branches have been sent out two detailed up-dates of these plans that I believe ensure lay participation, transparency and democratic accountability – three key principles of our union.

I cannot do justice in the 7 hours I have left to speak to all the incredible work done by all the Regions, the Officers, Branch Officers and you the activists. You are fantastic and do make such a difference to members and our communities and do not need me to tell you, you do not do it for the praise, salary or thanks.

I have tried not to focus on the doom and gloom, but to give you a flavour of the struggles that take place every day around the UK, struggles and resistance by you and our members that we need to build on. We have to get even better organised; we have to devise and work within the new structures of devolution and combined authorities, working across the usual boundaries of service groups.

Finally I wanted to thank on your behalf the brilliant work done by our Officers and particularly Indira Patel who organises, administers , controls, cajoles and ensures the SGE runs smoothly. 

To Mike Short and John Richards for all their work and the additional work having to cover in the absence of Heather Wakefield as well as putting up with the incessant demands of the Chair and Vice Chair. The Local Government SGE is lucky to have such quality in its Officer ranks and thank you to all of them. 

Our National Officer Heather Wakefield is off sick at present but has sent a message to you all that says, and I paraphrase, ‘I will miss sitting and marvelling at the sea of great faces and listening to the sparking debate…..I hope it goes well and in the spirit of comradeship…our Members face even greater threats and we need to be united, fighting together against the Tory demon. Most of all we need to step up our act to mount a sustained, serious and vocal challenge to austerity…..I’ll be back’!!! As is often the case Heather, even when not here, gets the last word!!!

Thank you to all who contributed to the Annual Report thanks to all of you for what you do, have a great Conference, the united fight back starts here!

I move."