Bristol Politics, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes, Uncategorized

Why we need unions! #HeartUnions

Alice Right to Strike

We are often told that unions have become irrelevant to modern society, or worse that they are in some way negative.

No institution is perfect, but trade unions do amazing work standing up for their members in the workplace and increasingly in the community (see for example the role unions played locally in helping block the environmentally and medically damaging biomass facility in Avonmouth).  Many of us are given negative perceptions of trade unions because of how they are portrayed in the press (usually only ever mentioned if they’ve been forced into industrial action and then only described as militants needlessly causing trouble) and the legacy of the 1970s.

People who are against unions often argue that in the past ‘over mighty union barons’ ‘held the country to ransom’ and would strike ‘at the drop of a hat’. There may be some small germs of truth in this, but this is a gross exaggeration and is in part the result of attempts to undermine the legitimacy of unions and collective action.  Even if this had been the case the situation in modern Britain is so far removed it makes such comparison meaningless.

Today union membership is at a historic low (though it has moderately increased in recent years), as is the power and influence of unions in our society.  They’re even marginalised in the Labour party these days (though this could change under Corbyn).  We already have some of the most restrictive trade union laws in the ‘democratic’ world which are about to get even more restrictive with the governments draconian new strike legislation, making union action very difficult.  Furthermore, no worker ever takes the decision to strike and lose pay lightly (especially with the financial hardship of recent years), and with unions so comparatively weak and increasingly defensive the situation has to be pretty bad before they feel forced to resort to striking.

The decline of union power seen in terms of membership and coverage of collective bargaining agreements

This has been the nature of the industrial action I have been involved in as a steward and branch officer for my hospital’s branch of UNISON.  Continued pay freezes and rises below inflation have seen the value of NHS pay fall by between 10-16% since 2008.  At the same time Government policies – like cuts to community care and other public services – have led to a huge increase in hospital usage (by 10% between 2013 and 2014 alone), whilst we have lost 35,000 staff (and 10,000 beds) since 2010.  Those of us who are left are doing more work, for less money, whilst our pensions are attacked (we pay more in each year, for more years, and get less out at the end) in a health service with an increasingly insecure looking future.

Yet it still took until the winter of 2014 for our unions to decide enough is enough and resort to nationwide strike action.  Even then it was only two 4 hour strikes over two months (and the threat of further action), as they wanted to minimize the impact on patients and were scared of being portrayed as too militant in the press.  A far cry from the irresponsible militant image peddled by the Government and mainstream media.

My above example also highlights the pivotal role unions still continue to play in protecting the interests and wages of their members at work.  By actively asserting the rights of employees to the fruits of their own labour they can act to restrain excessive pay at the top.  Stronger unions advancing the interests of their members provided a strong check on the growth of inequality (which has exploded since the 1980s).  In the 1970s the richest 1% in the UK owned around 5% of all wealth.  Today the richest 1% own more than 15% of all of the wealth in Britain.


The decline of union power was just one of many factors that have seen Britain experience the fastest growth in inequality of any OECD country.  But we should not ignore the important role unions can and do play in the fight against inequality.  Rebuilding the union movement expanding into the precarious industries like social care, temping agencies call centers etc, and giving it the confidence to fight, could go a long way checking the insecurity and low wages so emblematic of work in modern Britain.  It’s doing it that’s the hard thing.

Screenshot (8)

As the number of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements negotiated by unions has fallen – the pale blue line) income inequality has increased exponentially

That’s why we need to ensure all of us active in political and social movements not only join but also get active in unions in our workplaces.  And if there isn’t one, try and set one up (a hard task alone but local unions and trades councils and unions already organising in that industry elsewhere will be only too happy to help you).  We also need to encourage as many of our coworkers, friends and people we know in general to do likewise.

Unions have always had a larger social role beyond the ‘bread and butter’ issues of jobs and wages. Time and time again their financial and organisational support has been essential for the success of campaigns from the fight to win the vote for men and women to the anti-war and the now the anti-asuterity movement. Increasingly through initiatives like the Campaign Against Climate Change and A Million Climate Jobs Now unions are getting involved in the central challenge of our time; the fight to stop global warming and the destruction of the habitability of our planet.

As individuals we are almost powerless to overcome the status quo and effect change in our society.  But collectively we are strong.  Unions allow us to come together to stand up for ourselves and provide an organisational structure for that collective strength. For all these reasons and more, we need unions and we have to work together to defend them, especially in light of the government’s most recent attack.

Next week the TUC will be launching its #HeartUnions campaign to highlight the amazing work trade unions do in our society.
There’s a fair bit going on in Bristol.  The Trades Council has a list of some of this activity.  If you can, make sure you get involved:

love unions week

NHS, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes

#NHS execs speak out against #TUBill #KillTheBill

At my UNISON branch meeting this month we were discussing the impact of the end of ‘DOCAS/Check-off’ (the process of taking trade union subscription fees directly from wages) on our local union membership.

Afterwards our secretary forwarded me this email of 32 NHS directors and executives emailing government minister Matthew Hancock outlining their support for the current arraingments.

The more alarming parts of the bill like enforced arm bands for picketers (or massive fines), and (the now scrapped) clause to force trade unions to send all their facebook and twitter messages during a dispute to the police two weeks in advance, and the hugely undemocratic voting thresholds have understandably taken most of the focus when its discussed.

But (as well as the attacks on facility time and the legal obsticles it places at every level of organising) it is the financial aspects of the bill that will probably have the biggest day to day impact on our unions.  This bill also seriously hamstrings the ways unions are funded (and their ability to fund opposition to the Conservatives).  As such I thought it was worth reprinting the NHS directors letter out in full below.

As it shows these changes are not only completely unneccessary but are also against the wishes of employers who get tangible benefits from the current payment system, and recognise this nakedly political assault on unions ability to organise will have negative ramifications for working relations.

The bill may have passed through the commons, but it has not become law yet.  We need to lobby and put pressure on the Lords and the Government to try and stop as much of this bill as possible.  And if it does make it to law, we need to do what we can to circumvent it.  Unjust laws must be opposed.

Over the week of 8th to 14th of Feburary the TUC is organising a national week of action against the bill.  Find out whats going on in your area or organise something yourself through your union and trades council and get involved.  Together we can beat this.

Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike against the TU Bill, with me and Green comrades in the background.  November 2015

Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike against the TU Bill, with me and Green comrades in the background. November 2015


7th October, 2015



The Rt. Hon. Matthew Hancock, MP,

Minister for the Cabinet Office

   & Paymaster General,

Cabinet Office,

70 Whitehall,
London, SW1A 2AS


Also by email to:




Dear Sir,


Public Sector Check-Off


We write as a group of public sector HR Directors in relation to the recent announcement about deducting trade union subscriptions through salaries.


You will appreciate these are challenging times across the public sector with significant challenges ahead and this will involve significant consultation and negotiation with trade unions.  We have worked with trade unions over the last few years often in partnership arrangements both locally and nationally (such as the National Social Partnership Forum in Health) to bring about change.  These discussions require good will and transparency on both sides.  Although we understand the government will want to explore all elements of cost avoidance (as we do), we want to highlight the cost savings we achieve through effective consultation and communication with and through trade unions.  It is also helpful for us to easily understand our union density, particularly when we work with multiple trade unions.


We believe the announcement on deductions will challenge and change relationships and the partnership approach many of us have worked to develop and ask that you consult extensively with employers about the potential impact before taking a final decision.


Effective relationships with trade unions will help us expedite the changes we need to make in ways that minimise the disruption to patients and service users.


Yours faithfully,

Dean Royles,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust


Anita Pisani,
Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Workforce and Service Re-Design,
Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust


Susan Tyler,
Director of Workforce Development,
Leeds and York Partnership NHS Trust


Marie Fosh,
Director of Workforce & Transformation,
Lincolnshire Community Health Services NHS Trust


Ros Edwards,
Director of HR and OD,
The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals


Amanda Oates,
Executive Director of Workforce,
Merseycare NHS Trust


Jon Restell,
Chief Executive,
Managers in Partnership (MiP)


Bernard Scully,
Director of Human Resources,
Mid-Essex Hospital


Jeff Crawshaw,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Colchester Hospital


Ruth McAll,
Interim Director of Human Resources,
East of England Ambulance Service


Ian Crich,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Trust


Ann McIntyre,
Director of Workforce and Organisational Development,
Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust


Jon Lenney,
Director of Workforce and Organisational Development,
Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust


Tracy Hill,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Isobel Clements,
Director of People,
Taunton and Somerset NHS Trust

Mark Appleby,
Director of Human Resources,
Yeovil NHS Trust


Tracey Cottam,
Director of Transformation and Organisational Development,
Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust


Colin Hague,
Director of Human Resources,
Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust


Carol Sparks,
Director of Organisational Development and Human Resources,
2gether NHS Foundation Trust


Jenny Turton,
Head of Human Resources,
Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust


Darran Armitage,
Interim Director of Workforce and Organisational Development,
Devon Partnership NHS Trust


Mark Warner,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Dorset County Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust


Tina Ricketts,
Director of Human Resources,
Gloucestershire Care Services NHS Foundation Trust


Dave Smith,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust


Oonagh Fitzgerald,
Director of Workforce and Education,
Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust


Paul Jones,
Interim Director of Human Resources,
North Bristol NHS Trust


Darryn Allcorn,
Director of Human Resources,
Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust


Martin Bamber,
Deputy Director of Human Resources,
Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust


Charles Summers,
Director of Engagement and Development,
NHS Dorset CCG


Marianne King,
Head of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
NHS Somerset CCG


Martin Ringrose,
Director of Workforce and Organisational Development,
South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust


Emma Wood,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
South Western Ambulance Services NHS Foundation Trust


Sheridan Flavin,
Director of Human Resources,
Weston Area NHS Trust

Bristol Politics, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes

#Bristol #KillTheBill – #NHS #Right2Strike Speech

Bristol KillTheBill protesters send their solidarity to victimised UNISON steward Sandy Nicole

Bristol KillTheBill protesters send their solidarity to victimised UNISON steward Sandy Nicole

Green Party mayoral candidate Tony Dyer gives an impassioned speech against the bill

Green Party mayoral candidate Tony Dyer gives an impassioned speech against the bill

Tonight in Bristol we had a very inspiring rally against the Trade Union bill with some rousing speeches from people across the movement.  I’d been asked to speak and had prepared a short piece on our NHS strike last year, but in the end there wasn’t time so I thought I’d put it on here so it didn’t go to waste.

My friends I wanted to speak tonight about the strike we had in the NHS over pay last winter, and how this draconian anti-democratic Trade Union bill would have effected it and me and my fellow NHS workers.

The NHS and its staff have taken a hammering since the Conservatives first got in with their Lib Dem enablers back in 2010.  Putting aside the backdoor privatisation and the continual outsourcing of staff and services – which is undermining the very foundation of the NHS and is a huge drain on resources – times for NHS workers are bleak.

Between 2010-214 we lost around 35,000 NHS staff (including around 7000 front-line nurses).  At the same time hospital usage is continually going up, by 10% between the winter of 2013 and 2014 alone.  This is because cuts to social care and care in the community are forcing into hospitals more and more people who would have been kept well at home.  Less and less staff are being asked to do more and more work.  All the while our pensions have been attacked (we now pay in more each year, for more years, and get less out at the end) and we haven’t had an above inflation pay rise since the reckless gambling of the banks crashed the economy back in 2008, reducing real incomes by up to 10%.

Even with all this, it wasn’t until last winter that enough was enough and our unions felt able to go on strike after the government refused to give us a 1% pay rise (whilst MPs gave themselves an 11% raise).  NHS workers are not militant by nature.  This was the first national NHS strike since 1982. None of us got into this line of work to get rich (over 77,000 of us didn’t even get the living wage before the strike – me included – and many staff have had to resort to food banks to survive), but to care for people.  This duty of care makes staff feel uneasy taking action, and is why unlike most strikes we try to cause as least disruption as possible to essential services.

As a result of our action the government came back to the negotiating table with a new offer.  It wasn’t perfect (excluding staff at the top of the pay scale from the pay rise), but it did give a 1% rise to most staff, and staff on the bottom of the pay scale like me received a raise of up to 5%. A 5% raise hasn’t been revolutionary in my life, but it has had a significant impact on helping me cope with the continual spiralling cost of the basic necessities of life.  This is one of the many reasons we need unions.  They’re our voice at work and stand up for our interests across society.

If this bill had been in place our strike simply could not have happened. The new law puts a 50% minimum turnout threshold on all strike ballots.  But because the NHS is an ‘essential’ public service a minimum of 40% of all members of the union must vote yes for the strike to go ahead.  On a 50% turnout that would mean you’d need 80% of staff to vote yes.  Almost impossible in an industry with over 1 million staff in vastly geographically dispersed workplaces.

Even if we did manage to strike, the new law would have allowed hospitals to replace us with agency staff, making action pointless (and possibly endangering lives of patients).  This isn’t even the most ridiculous part of the bill, which would make picketers wear armbands (or face a £20,000 fine) and force unions to inform police of all strike related communications (including facebook and twitter) two weeks in advance (not to mention attacks on facility time, and the financial basis of unions).

This is a full on assault on our ability to organise to defend our interests at work and resist the Conservative austerity drive that is so impoverishing both our communities and our planet.  It is a travesty, a partisan attack motivated only by the desire to clampdown on resistance to the Conservative attacks on ordinary people and our welfare state.

We have to unite to resist the passage of this bill, and should it become law, work together to defeat it.  If this bill becomes law, we need to be prepared to break that law to defend our interests, and we need the whole movement to rally behind any union that does so.  Only together can we overcome.  Thank you for listening to me, and thank you all for coming out to support this demonstration this evening. You all give me hope that this isn’t over, and together we can win.  Solidarity!

Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike, with me and Green comrades in the background

Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike, with me and Green comrades in the background

Green Politics

Reflections on Peter Pinkney’s Green Party candidacy for Redcar and Cleveland

peter pinkney

Peter Pinkney the president of the Rail and Maritime Transport union has just announced that he’s standing for the Green Party in the Redcar and Cleveland consistency.  Peter joined the Green party last year after a meeting with our national trade union liaison officer Romayne Pheonix; but had initially not wanted to publicise his membership until after his term of presidency ended.  Evidently he’s changed his mind. Perhaps persuaded by the growing awareness of the Green party as a party of the left, committed to social (as well as environmental) justice and improving the lives of ordinary people. This has led to our membership surging to over 60,000 across the UK as people search for an alternative to the different shades of austerity offered by the Westminster parties and UKIP.

Peter’s reasons for standing for the party express the sentiment of many recent converts.  “I spoke at the Green Party Conference in 2013, and I was impressed with the ideas that were being put forward. The ideas of the Greens resonated with a lot of my beliefs. Obviously the Greens commitment to bring railways back into public hands struck a chord, but also policies to invest in the NHS, build social housing, institute higher taxes for those who can afford it, and put forward progressive policies on immigration informed my decision to stand.”

Like many looking for an alternative to the economically illiterate and socially damaging austerity policies of the current government, Peter has been disappointed by Labour’s failure to offer real opposition.  Whilst certainly the lesser of the three evils of our political establishment, Labour have pledged to continue austerity and have signed up to conservative budget cut.  In essence they offer voters a slightly watered down version of Conservative economic policy.  As Peter said “Labour is no longer the working class party. They have betrayed us time and time again. They should remember that it was the unions who formed the ‘party of labour’ not deny our links.

“The radical Labour Party of 1945 is long gone. No longer do they champion nationalisation, social housing, the NHS, education etc, they are a sort of reddish Conservative Party.

“In my opinion the party of the left is now the Green Party.”

Social justice has always been a core pillar of green politics. To Greens the questions of how do we create a more equal society, and how do we restructure society so that we’re no longer destroying the environment, have always been two sides of the same coin.  Reducing our resource usage and consumption of carbon dioxide cannot be achieved by forcing austerity on the poorest who use the least of our resources; but must focus on the unsustainable consumption of the profligate super rich.  At the same time we need to ensure a more equitable distribution of the finite resources of our planet to enable everyone to live decent and sustainable live.  As Natalie Bennet has recently said we need to change society so that the green sustainable option is the easiest option, not concentrate on small scale individual change.

Recently the party has been making a more conscious effort to stress its social side.  This can be seen by conference resolution to support the labour movement; our increasing involvement in the People’s Assembly; the establishment of a trade union liaison officer (TULO) on the national executive, and developing regional and local network of TULOs; and the increasing prominence of social policy.  Greens are increasingly likely to be seen on picket lines, outside train stations and in the streets; supporting campaigns for fair pay, to protect pensions, to renationalise the railways and to end the housing crisis.  We still have a long way to go, but we’re making a promising start.

Peter’s candidacy reflects a growing awareness of the overriding similarity of the majority of the aims of Green politics and the labour movement.  The RMT have been attending our conferences since 2004. In recent years they’ve been joined by the NUT and the PCS – who’s campaign for 1 million climate jobs closely matches our own thinking on investing in a carbon neutral society to create jobs and security for all.  Individual Green local and even general election candidates (most notably Caroline Lucas) have received union backing and funds for their campaigns.   This growing involvement with the labour movement is very important to us. Trade unions represent over 6 million working people and through negotiating pay and conditions in many workplaces they indirectly represent million more. Though not perfect (no human institution is), they are the largest set of democratic organizations in the UK and do immensely importing work both in our workplaces and increasingly in our communities. Trade union campaigns for the living wage, for social housing, for renationalisation, and against discrimination match many of our own core aims and are central to improving our society.  Furthermore, the involvement of the trade unions is essential if the transition to a carbon neutral society is to be accomplished in a just and equitable manner; especially in high carbon emitting industries.  Whilst other parties take trade union money but give little in return, we support them because it’s the right thing to do.

There are still many decent and wonderful members, activists, and even a few MPs in the Labour party that do fantastic work supporting ordinary people; but their influence on the party leadership is completely marginal.  The influence of Blairite economic, social and political thinking that deregulated the financial sector (contributing to the financial crash) and oversaw spiralling inequality under the previous Labour government, still dominates party policy, and commits Labour to continuing austerity today.  Whilst this remains the case, Labour will continue to be a block to progress and be antagonistic to the interests of ordinary working people.

Pete surmised how this had led him and his union to abandon placing their hopes in the Labour party; and outlined the policies we need to make and more equal and more sustainable society.  These are the kind of policies that historically Labour would have supported (and some of its candidates still support), but has now sadly been abandoned by the party as it chases votes from the right and centre of the political spectrum.

“If Ed Miliband is [more supportive of unions] then he is doing a strange impression of it. He might say that he is to his paymasters at Unite and GMB, who make hefty donations, but our members will not affiliate to Labour or any other party ever again.

“The press calling him ‘Red Ed’ is a joke. A minimum of 75% of people want to see the railways renationalised. He has never once said he would take the railways back into public hands – not even East Coast.”

“We need to look after our elderly, build social housing, repeal anti-trade union laws, scrap bedroom tax, renationalise railways and utilities (and any profit reinvested), but most of all we should give the young hope.

“We are definitely handing on worse conditions than we inherited. My generation should hang our heads in shame for letting this happen. Instead of complaining about young being on streets, and using drugs, we should be asking why.

“Redcar and Cleveland has seen a massive decline in my lifetime. We need proper investment, and not just paper over cracks. I believe the Greens are only large party (as surely they can now claim to be) that wants to put things right.

“I am a left wing socialist, but I am pragmatic. I have seen what Syriza have done, and we can learn from that.”