Special General Meeting Called for Stoke-on-Trent City Council UNISON members

There are reports coming from inside Stoke-on-Trent City Council that UNISON have called their members to 2 Special General Meetings on Thursday to discuss terms and conditions that they feel are under threat.

The leaflet being handed out to UNISON members states that

  • Essential Car Users Allowance
  • Reduced Mileage Allowance to .45p per mile
  • Charge for car parking
  • Removal of subsistence allowance
  • Removal / Rationalise shift / weekend/ unsocial allowances

are all under threat.

So if you are lucky enough to escape the on-going threat of redundancy then the City Council want to reduce your Terms & Conditions of the staff.

All this on the day that it was reported that the number of officers earning £50,000 or more at Stoke-on-Trent City Council had increased by 24 in 2010/11.

Revolting for 40 years

40 year’s separate the Kill the Bill demonstration against the Industrial Relations Act bought in by the then Tory Government of Edward Heath and the demonstration against the cuts held in London last Saturday. I was on both of them and it is interesting to reflect now in my 50s and as a 15-year-old the great gulf that divides these two events. There are similarities as about the same number of around 300,000 were on both marches and Hyde Park featured in both marches. When I marched through London last weekend I could not one major and telling difference- the music. In the 70s most Trade Unions would have had their brass bands. My fathers union the POEU definitely did. And I recall as we marched through the West End fellow three floors up dressed in a dinner jacket conducting the brass band below him. There were many cheers at this. The only sound that was heard was incessant drums and whistles which reached a crescendo outside Downing St. The demise of the union brass band reflects the decline in the trade union movement which was approaching its high water mark in the 70s with a membership of 11 million. It is barely half that figure today. Another indicator of the changes was the absence of trade union banners. I did see an old ASLEF (Doncaster) branch which must have dated from the 50s, but the magnificent works of art especially from the Miners Union- for obvious reasons- were absent from the demonstration last Saturday. A report of the 71 march recalls the names of the unions that took part that Sunday, the boilermakers, engineers, miners, shipbuilders, and steelmakers. We lined up to start the march in Hyde Park and the POEU found itself close to the actor’s union Equity. I have a photograph union as some of the acting fraternity stood chatting to each other including Robert Morley, Marius Goring and Alfie Bass. The cult of personality was evident then.

But the main difference between the 1971 and the 2011 was the dominance of the public sector unions. I would estimate that there were only public service union banners on display last Saturday although someone told me that they had seen my union USDAW banner on the march.

The General Secretary of the Trade Union Movement that day in 1971 was Vic Feather an affable Yorkshire. I recall him being heckled by the Spartacists. There was no violence back in 1971 but I cannot help but think that the largely middle class memberships of the Spartacists were mirrored by the anarchists that caused mayhem in Oxford St last weekend. I can safely bet that many of the Trotskyists who gave the working class Feather a hard time went on to have successful careers in the City and advertising. One of the leading Trots at York University had a father who had a senior position in Barclays. The son was jailed for throwing a petrol bomb in the Brixton Riots in 1981.

I have been on many demonstrations in those 40 years. I was at the big CND demonstration against Cruise in 1983. I went on a number of the march for jobs in the early 80s. I supported the ANC in the same decade and I went on the anti war march in 2003.

I think such events can change things and I am equally sure that direct action has its place. Both marches went by the National Gallery. About 100 years ago a supporter of the Suffragettes attacked a painting by the Spanish artist Velaquez the Rookeby Venus. Do people think that the Suffragettes cause was not helped by taking the fight to the Government? I rest my case


W(h)ither Trade Unions?

This week sees the start of the Trade Union Conference in Manchester where the debate will be formed around the campaign to fight the cuts. The plans that the Trade Union Movement have to resist the Coalition plans will be fleshed out but a campaign built resistance and strikes is likely to be agreed.

I also noticed a news item in the membership of Unity in North Staffordshire the main pottery union which for many years was known as the Ceramic and Allied Trade Union (CATU) and was one of the principle trade unions in North Staffordshire.

For the first time a figure of under 5,000 members was reported in the Sentinel for 2009. In less than 6 years the membership of Unity has halved.

Nationally membership of trade unions peaked in the late 70s and suffered a long decline in the 1980s levelling out at around 8 million.

A Labour Force Survey of 2004 showed union density in autumn 2003 was 29 per cent for both men and women. It also shows that union density is higher among older employees. Just over a third (35 percent) of employee’s aged 50 and over were union members compared with only 11 per cent of employee’s aged 1624 and 25 per cent of employees aged 25 to 34. Full-time employees are more likely to be union members than part time employees. In 2003, 32 per cent of fulltime employees were union members compared with 21 per cent of part-time employees. Union density for full-time men in 2003 was 31 per cent (3 percentage points lower than for fulltime women whose union density was 34 per cent). Part-time women were almost twice as likely to be union members as part-time men (23 per cent compared with 12 per cent for male part-time employees).

A table shows union density by government office region and country for employees in both full-time and part-time employment. Within England, union density by government office region ranged between 21 per cent in the South East and 38 per cent in the North East. Wales (38 per cent), Scotland (35 per cent) and Northern Ireland (39 per cent) all had higher levels of union density than England, which averaged 28 per cent.

From a personal perspective the supermarket I work in has a trade union membership of around 40%. When I joined the company in November the trade union rep gave a talk to new employees. Of the 12 workers who joined that day on 2 took up trade union membership and significally we were the two oldest workers. My own view is that trade union membership especially working in a strictly regimented environment low paid environment like a supermarket is essential. I would go so far as to say that you would be foolish not to take up trade union membership. Trade union representation can vary but I found that the USDAW reps working in the sore are very good and benefit from the very good training programme offered by USDAW.

But membership and the activities of trade union remain under attack and over the weekend I heard a report from a right wing think tank Policy Exchange.

It recommended that the ballot paper for strike action should contain more information concerning the nature, frequency and length of industrial action to be authorised, including identifying a
specific grievance. At present it need not do so, and material is often circulated alongside the ballot which refers to a whole range of grievances and authorises a range of unexpected industrial action options

Require that a majority of employees in the balloted workplace vote, and/or require that a minimum of 40% of the trade unionised workforce vote in favour of strike action, in addition to a majority of the votes cast. This would avoid strikes based on very low percentage turnouts when only very small numbers of workers are members of a union

Employers should be permitted to use agency staff to carry out the duties which striking employees would otherwise have performed. This would undo restrictions introduced in 2004.

Reduce the period of protection from unfair dismissal during a strike, for example from twelve back to eight weeks, as per the Employment Relations Act 1999, undoing changes made by the Employment Relations Act 2004. This protection should be limited to selective dismissal, as before 1999.

Do Trade Unions have a future? I believe that they have and I will cite one area where the trade union movement has had an impact on the work place and that is in work based learning. One of the things that I do is that I have volunteered as a learning rep for USDAW at the supermarket on individual rights at work and in developing skills I believe that thet trade union movement does have a future.

We’re fighting the cuts- really?

I went to the public meeting held in Hanley tonight on the subject of fighting the cuts in public expenditure. It was well attended meeting chaired ably by Jason Hill. If anything there were too many speakers, but that is a personal view. I did think that they were more or less saying the same thing, with the possible exception of the Stoke Councillor who represented Hartshill.

In many ways it was like a re-run of the 1980s and a number of contributions from the floor were Councillor’s from that decade. Myself, Barry Russell and Arthur Bough who I think made contributions that added to the debate.

Speaker after speaker to denounce the work of the Con Dem coalition and urged the need to resist the cuts. The need for demonstrations and the need to mobilise the trade union movement to take the battle to the enemy was a common theme. A slightly sour note was sounded by the Stoke Councillor who felt that by ducking the cut’s issue that it was playing into the enemy’s hands. Perhaps someone should lend him a copy of George Lansbury’s leader of the Labour party in the 30s biography?

The panel ended by urging the Labour establishment including the trade union leadership to take the fight into parliamentary and extra parliamentary action.

One speaker spoke of the need to increase public service investment. At this I balked. I have a problem with the no cuts at any price tocsin. I actually think that the ending of ID cards and curtailing of the Surveillance State is a good think. I deplore the target culture and if there are cuts. I am quite happy to entertain reductions in the numbers of target setter’s. Would anyone shed a tear if OFSTD ceased to be? I am slightly queasy about the slogan of increasing public investment. I would prefer the cry of more investment in people and communities. After all despite massive public investment the wealth gap has increased and social mobility widened. For me its time for a different approach. I actually think, although it was derided at the meeting, that Cameron might have touched a nerve with the “Big Society”. People seem to recoil from the bossiness that unfortunately all too frequently attends public bodies. Besides my own and my family’s experience of the public sector is less than perfect. I have had a terrible experience of Job Centre Plus, a shocking encounter with staff at Sure Start and a feeling with staff at Connexions that ticking a box was more important than dealing with me as a person. My Mother was told at a City Council Housing Office by a young female member of staff that she ought to be “grateful” at the poor level of service that she received caused me to stop breathing for a few minutes.

On the other I have had good experiences with the CAB and with the Transition Town Movement.

The argument that public is universally good and voluntary cheapskate or in the words of one contributor ” jackshit” rather rankles with me.

It does smack in an Orwelliam sense of two legs- voluntary and bad four legs public and good.

Ideally one system should augment and support the other.

Don’t get me wrong. I think we ought to resist the cuts, but the argument is rather more nuanced than any of the speakers gave credit for.

I thought of the man who made the “jackshit” comment. I presume should he go to the seaside and unfortunately fall into the sea then he would he would refuse to be rescued by the ” jackshit” volunteer crew that man all RNLI boats?

You could argue that the voluntary sector has been around far longer than the State. Thomas Coram’s Children Service was founded in the 18th century and the Salvation Army and Barnado’s predate the welfare state. Does this pedigree make it inferior?

I did make the point that it is important that the local voluntary sector in the shape manage itself carefully and should resist the idea that it replaces public services. The voluntary sector should not allow itself to be cast in the role of “useful idiot” in a cuts driven agenda.

I made a comment that it was important to build a mass campaign that included the trade unions, community, faith groups and other. If you are looking at historical precedents then the Poll Tax Campaign of 1990 is a good example. However, as I pointed out it was a “slow burner”. I recall going to a national demonstration that was poorly attended in September 1989 in Manchester. Things only took off in the spring when bills hit the doormat and there was the riot in Trafalgar Square in April 1990. When you have demonstrations in Tunbridge Wells and Frome then you know you have problems. And, of course, by November Thatcher fell.

It is also too easy and frankly negative to say what you are against. It is important to say what you are for. I would uneasy about fighting for public investment. I would want to fight for community investment. I cavil at the fight for jobs. What about fighting for a liveable income?

A campaign has to be about positive messages as well in my opinion.

I fear that some of the comments made at the meeting mean that it will end messily and in factions which is usually the case with the Left. I might be confounded however

Harriet Ann Kidd- Dedicated campaigner for women and trade union rights

I came across a very interesting tale in the archive of the Leek Post and Times of a formidable woman who perhaps deserves far more recognition in her home town than she gets. The story came from an article in the Post and Times dated January 31st 1980 and is headlined Harriet Ann- a dedicated woman.

It is a very interesting tale, which I will restate augmented by addition information from the Internet gathered in the 30 years since the article was written.

Harriet Ann Kidd was born in Leek in 1865 and at the age of 10 went to work in the silk mills of Leek as a “skeiner” She then went on to become a “marker”, that is someone who ties cottons round the bands to indicate the different colours and qualities needed and in the opinion of the dyers was highly thought of for her abilities.

It seems apparent that she was a very determined woman a quality that shines through her as I will describe. It is written of her that she had a fiery temperament, which evidenced itself in a concern for the welfare conditions of the workers employed in the mills

The article does say that Harriet came from a family that was interested in politics and discussions took place around the kitchen table. Her grandfather was a passionate supporter of Home Rule for Ireland and the story has it that he was expelled from Ireland for his republican sympathies.

One defining moments in her life was a meeting she attended in Stoke where she argued for workers rights for the mill girls with an unidentified MP who bested her in argument, her inexperience led to her being publicly humiliated by the MP.

She was determined to get her revenge and she studied at night for some months before deciding to confront the MP again. She was resolute in her persistence and walked to Liverpool from Leek for another chance to confront the man. (I think that the map would have been George Melly MP who was MP for Stoke on Trent in the late 19th century and was also a Liverpool merchant)

This time Harriet won the argument and the views of the MP were swept aside. After the meeting she was approached by a friend of Emmeline Pankhurst and urged to become more involved in the campaign to get woman the vote. When this person heard also that Harriet had walked the 50 miles to Liverpool she gave her the train fare back to North Staffordshire.

When she was 17 Harriet learnt the way in which the young women were treated in the mills by the owners. She was raped by a factory owner and gave birth to a son. The lot of a lone parent with an illegitimate child in late 19th century Leek must have been extremely harsh and cruel Harriet continued to work in the mill and joined the Co-operative Women’s Movement in 1897. She was a very active Secretary and was able to progress in the Guild .She also built up the trade union movement in the textile industry which quickly reached 2,000 members and was elected its first President.

She also sought a position in one of the few public offices open to women at that time as a Poor Law Guardian polling 484 votes. The first time any woman in the town had stood for public office and a worthy effort given the local prejudice that existed against woman seeking the vote at the time. Some years after the Suffragette campaigner Charlotte Despard spoke in the town and the meeting was broken up by local Tory rowdies.

She continued her political activity in Leek and by the dawn of the 20th century she was a fervent Socialist and connected with some of the progressive individuals in the town such as Larner Sugden. She was involved with the William Morris Labour Church where she acted as a caretaker for a period. She had known William Morris personally.

During this period she must have met many of the speakers that came into Leek during the late to address members of the Labour Church such as Keir Hardie the first Labour MP, Edward Carpenter, Ramsey McDonald the first Labour Prime Minister and WT Stead the campaigning journalist who was to die on the Titanic.

Between 1899- 1901 she was active in the anti Boer War movement which was centred on Larner Sugden.

Her activity eventually led to a full time paid position in the Co-operative Women’s Guild firstly working in the north and then at its headquarters in North London a job, which she combined with working for Women’s Suffrage.

She contracted a fatal illness in 1916 and supported by friends nationally and in Leek she succumbed to her illness in 1917. Her funeral took place at Golders Green Crematorium on July 10th 1917 a headstone was donated by the Guild in recognition of her unstinting work for women and working class issues over many years.

Her friend the writer Virginia Woolf said of her into in the book “Life, as we have known it”

“One could not enter the Guild Office go upstairs without encountering Miss Kidd. Miss Kidd sat her typewrite in the outer office. Miss Kidd, one felt had set herself as a kind of watchdog to ward off the meddlesome middle class wasters of time who come prying into other people’s business. An extra share of the world’s grievances seemed press on her shoulders. When she clicked her typewriters, one felt that she was making that instrument transmit messages of foreboding and ill-omen to an unheeding universe”

And later

“And nothing perhaps embittered us more at the Congress than the thought of this force of theirs, this smouldering heat which broke the crust now and then and licked the surface with a hot and fearless flame, it is about to break through and melt us together, so that life will be richer and books more complex and society will pool its possessions instead of segregating them- all this is going to happen inevitably to Margaret Llwellyn- Davies, Miss Harris and Miss Kidd- but only when we are dead”

Harriet Kidd’s son Arthur Kidd known as “Lew” spent his life participating in promoting local football and cricket and particularly in encouraging young and promising sportsmen in Leek

Harriet Kidds’s life and achievements seem to have passed by her hometown and I feel that it an oversight. The issues that she campaigned for the rights of workers, women’s issue and addressing the structural failings within British Society as evident now as they were a century ago

Tackling the North Staffs low wage economy

The DWP has recently released data on the impact of the recession on the low waged.

The number of children in poverty in working households has increased in recent years. In part, this is the effect of the recession. The employment statistics show a big increase in part-time working up by 45%, and it is such part-working families ““ where either no one is working full-time or where one adult is staying at home ““ that are usually the ones who are both in work and in poverty. I suspect that the problem which I recently wrote about is a dilema faced by an increasing number of households in North Staffs.

Of course North Staffs has historically been a low wage economy but there is evidence that even with the existence of the National Miminum Wage poverty in work remains an intracable problem.

The recession, though, is only part of the story here. With the exception of the period 1999-2004, in-work poverty has been on a rising trend since at least as long ago as the late 1970s. It was the return to rising in-work poverty after 2004-05 that destroyed the last Government’s objective of halving child poverty by 2010.

The way the DWP reports this statistic, six in every 10 children in poverty now belong to a working household. This proportion is broadly similar for the 7.8 million working-age adults in poverty. The increase in this number over 10 years, of 1.1 million, would be seen as a huge policy failure had the previous government ever shown the slightest interest in adults without children.

And perhaps this in truth is why the DWP has said so little about these figures. For it suits politicians of all parties to claim that work is the route out of poverty. But clearly, myself included work, does not necessary end the slipping into poverty.

The truth is very different. Work that does not provide a sufficient income is now much more to blame for poverty than worklessness. One question that has to be addressed is whether wages have been surpressed by the influx of immigrant labour from Eastern Europe.

If the new government is serious about poverty reduction, it will need to direct its reform efforts not just at the world of welfare but at the world of work.

A de regulated economy with a emasculated trade union movement has had a devastating impact upon the working poor of North Staffs.

Personally the solution must lie in building into the tax and benefit system a security that makes work pay and as a Green Party member I am drawn to the Citizens Income model

North Staffs Green Party Relaunch.

North Staffs Green Party is set to relaunch itself following a meeting in Hanley today. The Greens who have fought local elections in the past in the area have decided to organise on the basis of the three district’s that make up North Staffordshire.

It was agreed that the Greens would on campaign on two main issues in the coming months. Firstly to work with others to organise against the coming cutbacks in public expenditure and especially the introduction of Workfare into the area. Secondly, to build alliances with environmental groups, community associations, and the trade union movement to push the idea of a Green New Deal to ensure that the area does not miss out on the potential for green jobs.

The Greens also want to develop a base amongst young people whao are often the most enthusiastic and receptive to the positive messages from the Green Party. It will attempt to build a membership base in local Universities, Colleges and Schools.

It is the intention of the Green party to put up candidates in Stoke, Staffordshire Moorlands and Newcastle in local elections next year.

The Green Party acting Co-ordiantor for North Staffs Bill Cawley said

” It is our intention to be a progressive force in local politics. These last weeks both nationally and locally have seen the emergence of a cosy consensual mush which has taken without any critical thought the need to make cuts that will have the most direst impact on the poor and vulnerable in society. We want to work with a range of groups especially the trade union movement to challenge this conventional wisdom. We think that the area needs a new approach which the Green party can bring to politics in North Staffs”