Ian Rez – Funeral Arrangements

June 30, 2008

Ian is to be buried this Thursday, July 3, at 1pm in Waltham Cross. All his friends and colleagues are welcome.

Western Jewish Cemetery

Bulls Cross Ride
Waltham Cross
Hertfordshire
EN7 5HT

For map:
http://www.mns.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=169&Itemid=28

There is no public transport directly to the cemetery. The closest bus stop is almost one mile away. The nearest railway station is Turkey Street, however, there is no taxi rank there (although there is supposed to be a notice giving the phone numbers of local taxi firms). Enfield Town station is further away but does have a minicab firm on the station premises. Both stations are accessible by trains from Liverpool Street. The 12:00 noon train to Enfield Town arrives there at 12:33 pm. The cemetery is about 10 minutes by taxi from the station.

Unite/Amicus London Regional Council is planning to organise a gathering after the ceremony with food and drink for Ian’s friends to share memories and celebrate his life. This will be at the Pied Bull, 1 Bulls Cross, Enfield EN2 9HE, immediately after the funeral. The pub is close to the cemetery.

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Speech and Language Therapy Report

June 30, 2008

I’m attaching my report on this month’s Speech and Language Therapy Occupational Advisory Committee – the national committee representing speech and language therapists and speech and language therapy assistants in Unite. This is obviously a personal report rather than a formal record of the meeting.

The concerns for speech therapists in England are pretty much the same as for other health workers: pay, privatisation, endless re-organisation, and the erosion of clinical services. In Northern Ireland and Scotland, Agenda for Change continues to be the major issue.


Pay: Where next?

June 26, 2008

It’s easy as an NHS worker – battling with over-work, privatisation, skill mix and the like – to lose sight of the big picture. Activists in the NHS have done a terrific job in looking at the small print of our (now imposed) pay deal, and we’ve been right to do so. The three year deal is an absolute disgrace – it means not only pay cuts this year, compounded by a rapidly escalating rate of inflation, but another two years of pay cuts after that. That’s if we let the Government get its own way, of course.

 

There’s a big picture, though, that’s starting to look quite inspiring. Remember the Shell tanker drivers? On 21st June, these Unite members accepted a two year deal. This was the kind of multi-year deal that’s worth looking at! Their deal is for 14% across the two years – 9% this year, and 5% next year. Probably just a tad better than our three year deal of 2.75%, 2.4% and 2.25%. This was a clear and unequivocal victory for the strikers.

 

My belief is that the Government intervened to get the dispute settled. The drivers had struck for four days, and were quite prepared to go on striking. Very importantly, the dispute was effectively spreading across the industry. Reports from depots at Stanwell, Ellesmere Port and at Plymouth were of drivers from other companies respecting picket lines and refusing to make deliveries. This was a high profile dispute, with the petrol pumps already running dry. The Government cuts its losses and exerted pressure for a deal – but it was a deal on our terms, not theirs.

 

Business Secretary John Hutton rushed to say, The settlement reflects particular conditions within this sector’. The only ‘particular conditions’ here were that a powerful group of workers used their industrial muscle, asked for support from other workers and got it – and won hands down.

 

What else goes on? RMT tube cleaners will be on strike on 26th and 27th June, to win a living wage – after voting for action by an extraordinary 125-to-one margin. If that doesn’t sort things out, they’ll be out again between 1st and 3rd July.

 

Local Government workers will be on strike on 16th and 17th July, against the Government’s attempts to impose ‘discipline’ on public sector workers. Isn’t it nice to see Unison supporting its members’ fight for fair pay?

 

PCS members will be taking further industrial action. Teachers will be on strike again in the autumn.

 

In Health, the ‘agreement’ has been imposed – but the fight is most certainly not over. What we fight for and how we do it will probably vary from union to union.

 

Unite members have given a clear mandate to our leadership for industrial action to overturn a rotten deal. Unite has approached the GMB, PCS and NUT to discuss a possible joint approach. There’s huge potential here to be part of a wider public sector fight back. It’s also worth noting that Unite organises some key groups of workers in the NHS. We have real power, if we choose to use it. And Unite of course has a ‘Cut My Pay – No Way’ day of action on 18th July. – it would be great to get real support and weight behind this.

 

All of us in Health who have read the ‘agreement’ know that the re-opener clause isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. But if health workers are willing to take industrial action to force the re-opening of pay negotiations, that’s rather more significant. Dave Prentis had to promise that Unison will ballot for industrial action – if prices continue to spiral and the Government refuses to re-negotiate. As prices spiral away, now might be a good time!

 

I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, and when, and by which groups of workers. But a few things are becoming very clear indeed. When you pay a pound or more for a loaf of bread, pay ‘discipline’ isn’t on. A whole range of different groups of workers, across different unions, are starting to realise that we have the power to change things for ourselves. There are a lot of fights ahead. Some of them are going to win. This could be a good time to be a trade unionist.

 

A final point: we’ve got a nasty Government, a Government that attacks workers, pensioners, people with disabilities, asylum seekers. We’ve also got a weak and shambolic Government – to the extent that if we all sneezed together, we could blow away ‘pay discipline’. And it’s a Labour Government, at a time when the Labour Party is sliding into bankruptcy and dependent on our unions for almost 90% of its funding. Maybe its time for union members to start asking why we go on paying them to kick us?


Ian Rez

June 24, 2008

My friend Ian Rez died this morning. He was rushing to get to a meeting. He had a massive heart attack, and died shortly afterwards.

Ian was one of those amazing trade unionists who keeps going, and going, and going. He was a Left activist in ASTMS, MSF, Amicus and most recently in Unite. Ian told me sometimes, ‘You’ve got to slow down, Gill, or you’ll burn out’ – but he probably didn’t take his own advice.

I first met Ian probably in 1996, when I started working in the NHS and joined MSF. Ian at the time was an absolute stalwart of the union: in the Left at regional and national level, in the NHS, and in London. There were rival Left groups in MSF at the time – Ian, typically, was active in both of them.

Ian had worked in the NHS for over 40 years. He pretty much retired about a year ago, but couldn’t bring himself to stop his union work. He carried on working part time at North Middlesex Hospital, mostly to keep Staff Side going and to build Unite. He got his 30 year badge at Health Conference 2006. Ian could be cynical sometimes, and downright furious when he saw corruption or political cowardice at the top of our movement – but he was so proud to be recognised for his 30 years of union activity. His speech when he was given the badge was along the lines of, ‘Amicus is a brilliant union, but we must never lose sight of our members. Go back and recruit more reps!’

Ian was never a passenger in the union movement. He was a fighter, someone who had been involved in every battle going over a very long time. He used to joke about Clive Jenkins, former General Secretary of ASTMS. Jenkins made some particularly nasty attack on the Left at a union conference many, many years ago, denouncing Ian and others as ‘the termites of our movement’. Ian was tickled pink. He called himself ‘Terry the Termite’, and cheerfully used this as a by-line in union publications.

I’ve been thinking today about all the different campaigns that Ian was a part of. There were different strands to his activity: socialism and social justice, a relentless battle for lay control in the union, and simple, straightforward, passionate industrial trade unionism.

We argued about politics sometimes. Ian was a Labour Party member for a long time, but left in disgust as Blair and New Labour triumphed. He rejoined the Labour Party to support John McDonnell’s bid for Labour leader. I argued you could support John McDonnell outside the Labour Party, Ian strongly disagreed – but actually it didn’t matter. Ian was never sectarian. He had an open and honest approach to politics and to all his work in the union. People really liked and respected Ian – partly because of his conspicuous honesty and unwavering principles, and also because he was just a really nice bloke.

Another of Ian’s big fights was around Ken Livingstone’s initial bid to become Mayor of London. Back in 2000, the Labour Party stopped MSF members having a vote on who to nominate – Blair, of course, backed Frank Dobson, and didn’t want union members to overturn his choice. Ian was one of a group of prominent MSF members who took legal action to try and force Labour to allow us a vote. The case failed, and there was a savage witch hunt inside the union against those who had dared to challenge. The hostility faced by Ian and colleagues would have destroyed many of us. Ian just got on with being a trade union activist.

Ian had absolute contempt for General Secretaries and National Executive members who get caught up in the trade union ‘gravy train’. He was scornful of Roger Lyons, former General Secretary of MSF, and Lyons’ questionable use of the union credit card. He stood by those who were victimised by Lyons. More recently, he expressed real fury at the Amicus NEC members who voted themselves a ‘jolly’ in Cuba at the members’ expense. I could not in a million years imagine Ian being personally corrupt.

Ian hated injustice, and did so not passively but as an activist. I remember marching with Ian on countless demonstrations, and he kept on marching even as his health deteriorated over the last couple of years. In particular, Ian steadfastly opposed the war in Iraq. He was also appalled by the Government’s attacks on the NHS, and a stout defender of a publicly owned and controlled health service.

Above all, Ian was a trade unionist. He believed that unions belong to their members – a belief that was central to his vision of trade unionism.

Ian was victimised for trade union activity, and sacked from his job many years ago. It didn’t stop him. He got another job, picked up the pieces, and carried on as a union rep. He did all the practical boring day to day work that doesn’t get you any glory but delivers for members in the workplace.

I found an old posting from Ian on a union email list. It was about the Agenda for Change pay deal in the NHS. This was sold to us with the claim that only a few union members would lose, but most of us would gain. Ian’s comment? He said, ‘As trade unionists we cannot just be concerned with our own self-interest. The principle that the strong always protected the weak still holds true in 2004. That’s why the AfC deal must be rejected’. It was that belief that inspired Ian across 30 years as a trade unionist.

Ian was a comrade – a socialist and a trade unionist, and a very decent human being. I’ll miss him.


Defence of the NHS: An issue for all trade unionists

June 22, 2008

I had the pleasure of speaking last week at a Unite branch meeting in South London. This is a new branch, rather belatedly bringing together former MSF and AEEU members.

I was asked to introduce the ‘Healthcare for London’ proposals – supposedly written by Lord Ara ‘I’m a doctor not a politician’ Darzi. Except, of course, Darzi is now a Health Minister in Brown’s Government, and the shoddy proposals for London’s healthcare were written by private consultancy McKinsey.

I ran through the nastier elements of the proposals. Obviously this included the plans to close down GP surgeries and replace them with polyclinics – reducing access to primary care for the most vulnerable users, destroying the doctor-patient relationship that is central to the family doctor service, and introducing the widespread privatisation of community NHS services.

I also talked about the plans to run down District General Hospitals, with a majority of these set to become ‘local hospitals’ without intensive care beds, and losing their A&E departments and maternity provision.

I talked about the loss of paediatric hospital provision, and the grubby proposals to privatise end of life care.

The discussion was brilliant – thoughtful, and sometimes challenging, but above all reflecting a passionate desire to defend our health service. People thought very carefully about polyclinics – understanding the convenience of getting all your services under one roof, but very clear that we don’t want this if it means closing down existing GP surgeries, and letting big business take over. We discussed how changes to end of life care should build on what we already had – GPs and district nurses, obviously, but with most people also accepting a role for the voluntary sector through MacMillan nurses, for example. We talked about the impact of ‘marketisation’ on the voluntary sector, though. If MacMillan nurses win a contract against United Health, they end up forced to compete on a cost basis and will compromise on the quality of care. ‘Competition’ is as destructive for voluntary agencies as it is for the public sector.

One Unite member in the meeting I knew well – but I’d had no idea that she was a member of my union! I’d met her before at Keep Our NHS Public meetings, and when she invited me to speak to a 500-strong meeting of older people organised by the National Pensioners Convention. Decades of activity as a trade unionist flowed quite naturally for her into defence of the NHS and a fierce fight to defend health services for older people.

I came away from the meeting feeling genuinely inspired. I had expected a ten minute slot in the meeting, but we talked about the NHS for over an hour before the Chair insisted we move on. Everyone in that meeting understood the importance of a publicly owned and publicly accountable NHS. Everyone in the meeting was committed to defence of the NHS.

It’s easy as a health worker to feel a bit beleaguered sometimes, given that every week seems to bring another loopy ‘reform’ as a failing Government digs itself deeper and deeper into a hole. It’s well worth talking to trade unionists who aren’t health workers. If we fight on pay, we’ll have their support. If we fight to defend the NHS, we will also have their support. There’s real potential for a fight here. One of the tasks for the trade union movement is mobilising that mood for resistance.


Government imposes pay deal rejected by NHS workers

June 20, 2008

A quote from Unison’s Pay Matters website:

“Mortgages and rents are increasing; fuel bills are increasing; food prices are on the rise. That’s why pay is important. The government says you must get 2% for the next three years, but inflation is over 4%. At a time when pay rises in the private sector are running near 4% the government is asking you to take a pay cut and accept half the going rate. We say ‘No’. You deserve a fair deal for improving public services and making a real difference to local communities. We want to make sure our members are respected and rewarded with fair pay.”

I couldn’t agree more. It’s a shame, then, that Unison’s lead negotiator Mike Jackson has gone to the Government to ask that it imposes a pay award that will mean three years of pay cuts.

My criticisms here are emphatically not of Unison’s lay members or elected lay representatives. Many of the Unison members I have spoken to over the last few weeks are disgusted by the behaviour of their own senior officials. Pay cuts are not in the interests of any health workers, whatever union we belong to.

On 4th April, Unison and RCN negotiators walked out of joint union pay talks and signed their own deal with the Department of Health and the NHS Employers. This makes a mockery of having a Staff Council that is there to represent every union.

The deal was – and is – an absolute disgrace. The Government loves it; the NHS Employers love it. This is hardly surprising. Inflation currently stands at 4.3%. The Bank of England predicts that it will go far higher than this. Inflation for staple food items is now around 19%. Household energy costs are now predicted to increase by 40% by the end of this year. Petrol costs are set to soar.

What did Unison and RCN negotiators get for us? 2.75% in the first year; followed by an even more pathetic 2.4% in year two and 2.25% in year 3. Forget the minor tweaks to pay bands. This pay deal means pay cuts for NHS workers – this year, and almost certainly for another two years after that.

There was worse to come. After a consultation characterised by an extraordinarily high level of hostility towards other unions, lead negotiator Mike Jackson circulated an immensely damaging email on Friday last week. This included an explicit threat to go to the Government and ask for the deal to be imposed:

“If the statement is agreed it will provide for the pay circular to be issued later next week which will allow for payment of the new rates in July and for the issuing of the new Trade Union Time Off and Facilities agreement (Section 25) If it is not agreed, the unions that have voted to accept (UNISON, RCN, SOR, CDNA, BAOT) will ask the DH/Employers to issue the circular.”

Mike Jackson has done just that – asking the Government to impose the deal over the objections of Unite. The Government imposed the deal this afternoon.

I have been a union activist for 25 years. I have never seen a union behave like this at national level. Unions do have differences – and the place to resolve those differences is within our movement. For a union to go the employers and ask for a deal to be imposed is genuinely shocking.

Are Unison’s lay members responsible for this? Of course not. Unison’s Service Group Executive wasn’t even consulted.

So is this democracy? I don’t think so. Mike Jackson’s email states, “unions representing the majority of staff have accepted the agreement.” If this logic applies, then Unison and the RCN can dictate to all health workers and the rest of us might as well pack up and go home. Those unions who rejected the deal, but then accepted the right of the RCN and Unison to impose it, have done a disservice to their own members – what is the point of being in a union that accepts it has no say on pay and conditions.

But it’s interesting to look at the actual ballots that took place. Unison’s officials have kept very quiet about the ballot turnout, but members tell me of informal reports of 10 to 12%. I’m assuming 12% here. Unison’s claimed membership in health is 452,000. Unite (Amicus) some time ago reported a health membership of 88,000; the actual membership will be higher now. The Unite turnout was around 27%.

So just looking at the Unison and Unite ballot results, based on the reported acceptance percentages of 65% and 5%, around 36,444 health workers voted in favour of the deal. Around 41,556 voted against.

Who else had a ballot? The CSP did – with 98% voting to reject. An impressive 9144 members voted to reject, with only 127 voting to accept. So that shifts the overall ballot totals to 36,571 to accept, and 50,700 to reject.

The GMB balloted, with 96% voting to reject – I don’t know the turnout, so I’m not including the figures here. The RCM and UCATT rejected the offer, I believe without balloting members. Unite (TGWU) rejected, again without a full members ballot. The RCN and CDNA accepted, again without balloting members.

So was there a democratic decision by health workers to accept this deal? No – absolutely not. A clear majority of health workers who were given a vote chose to vote against acceptance.

I’m proud that the members of Unite voted by 95% to reject pay cuts – and proud, too, that our negotiators have followed the very clear mandate given to them by members. Our members also voted to progress now to a ballot on industrial action. That is a decision that I absolutely support.

Why should health workers pay for the Government’s economic crisis? It isn’t acceptable for Brown and Johnson to try and force us to bail them out. It isn’t acceptable for union officials to help them do it.


Pay: a fight THIS year

June 18, 2008

Yvette Cooper, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said on TV last night that public sector pay was being held down as a key element in the Government’s strategy to control inflation. The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, went further, in speech to the City tonight at Mansion House, attacking unions seeking to defend their members’ wages. The Governor of the Bank of England went on to say that people should expect a cut in their real pay this year.

With inflation running at 4.3%, and expected to rise, it is not surprising that public sector workers are unwilling to accept the Government’s arguments and accept a 2% pay rise limit – or, for that matter, the three years of pay cuts planned for NHS workers.

The Government is proudly trumpeting three year pay deals as the way to tackle inflation. For whom? Three years of pay cuts may help the Government and their friends in the City, but they don’t help us.

Food price rises are cutting into our pay – that’s the real cost of inflation. So why are the Government attacking unions not the supermarkets? Tesco have announced that their profits last year were £2.8 billion. That is well over £1,000 profit for every worker in the NHS. Where is the “redistribution” of wealth so that we don’t suffer from inflation and Tesco can’t increase their profits because of it.

Today has been a good day in the fight against pay cuts, though, for my union, Unite.

It has been announced that the taker drivers have won a 14% pay increase over two years, with 9% in the first year. Shell can afford it. With billions in profits, their shareholders can afford to take a small cut in their dividends.

In the NHS, Unite has announced that we will be balloting our members for industrial action to prevent the Government imposing a below-inflation three year pay deal. There will be a real campaign and I believe we can win a strong vote for industrial action. On the consultative ballot, 75% of members vote for a formal industrial action ballot.

As I have said before, with 100,000 members we are not the largest union in the NHS. But we are the dominant union in many of the groups we organise. If we win the ballot, we will be able to mount effective industrial action. I don’t believe the Government can withstand that sort of pressure from within the NHS.

The General Secretary of Unison, Dave Prentis, has also been getting a lot of press today. He has announced that if the Government refuse to renegotiate the three year deal next year, Unison will ballot their members for strike action. This comes just a couple of weeks after Unison members voted to accept the three year sub-inflation deal pushed by their lead negotiators. The phrases “stable door”, “horse”, and “bolted” come to mind.

I welcome, though, the recognition from the Unison leadership that this is a bad deal. What we need is a united campaign to reject it. Why wait a year when even the Bank of England is expecting the Retail Price Index to be close to 6 per cent by the end of the year.

The elections for Unison’s Health Service Group Executive saw some gains for the Left. The newly elected Unite Health Service National Committee meets for the first time on July 2nd. What better message to health workers than that all our unions will resist three years of wage cuts? I agree with Dave Prentis – let’s reopen the negotiations. I just think we should do it now – not in 2009.