Speech: Croydon Labour fundraising dinner

I want to thank you for the invitation to this Gala dinner.  The CWU is proud to be able to support Croydon Labour.

The union has numerous personal ties to the town. Not least with Pat and Gerry Ryan. We also had a CDP with Malcolm Wicks, whilst he was in Parliament.

These are difficult times for the citizens of Croydon, as for the rest of the country. The Coalition government insists that a recovery is underway.

But even if Croydon is benefiting from a more rapid economic growth in the South-East, we know that inequality is also growing.

Those without work, and those in work, both face a continued squeeze in living standards.

We need a recovery that is led by an increase in employment and a rise in wages. This will not come from the Coalition, which is presenting the majority of the population with the prospect of “permanent austerity”.

Even where there is renewed activity, such as in the housing market, we see all the signs of a bubble rather than deep rooted growth.

Like Croydon Labour, the CWU looks forward to the return of a Labour government in 2015. This is not least because it will restore a proper and constructive relationship between national government and local councils.

In our small way, the CWU will do what it can to ensure that Croydon has a Labour Council after May 22nd.

We too are “ambitious for Croydon”. We believe it should be a great place to live and work.

It was particularly gratifying to know that in your manifesto you aim to turn the council into London Living Wage employer.

In early March, the CWU received its full accreditation as a London Living Wage employer – something we believe all employers should emulate.

So once again, thank you for inviting me tonight. Be certain that you have the CWU’s support for a Labour Croydon.  Thanks for listening.

Posted in Labour Party, Speeches |

CLASS debate: Can the European Union deliver for working people?

The think-tank, CLASS, has launched a debate about the future of the EU – this is my contribution.

Can the European Union deliver for working people?

Yes, the European Union can deliver for working people

Since the onset of the great economic stagnation in 2008, it is clear that the European Union (EU) has lost its attraction for many people in Britain. Lord Ashcroft’s poll of 20,000 people, in March, showed a split of four in ten wishing Britain to stay in, and four in ten wishing Britain to leave. One in five said they didn’t know.[1] It seems that the public is more confused about Europe than ever. In these circumstances it is vital that the labour and progressive movement, defends the case for our positive engagement with the EU.

This is particularly important in the UK. Historically, up to the 1950s, British foreign policy was premised on keeping Europe divided, with no single power being allowed  to challenge Britain’s world role. The decline of empire led many in ruling circles to favour a strategic alliance with the US as a substitute for empire. By the 1970s it was clear how this was failing to stem the decline of British power and influence.

British governments have since that time been the most reluctant, and right-wing, participants in the European project. The establishment’s nostalgia for empire, and an over-inflated military policy, continued to poison social attitudes towards the EU. This has had an impact upon UK policy-making, even after joining the EU. Most European governments were seeking closer cooperation. Yet successive British governments were anxious and ambiguous about the EU, shaping the course of public opinion in the process.

At the same time British governments pioneered the liberalisation and privatisation agenda. They constantly pushed for the adoption of such programmes by the European Commission and European Parliament. For the most part, the EU was more progressive on issues like employment rights and social legislation – embracing the neoliberal agenda later, and more reluctantly, than British governments, who remained under the sway of US politicians and political economists.

The crash and stagnation since 2008 changed that. The IMF reinforced all the tendencies of the European Commission and European Central Bank to embrace austerity as the sole solution. In these circumstances, there seem few arguments for greater engagement with the EU. But addressing the extent of the economic problems requires coordinated, expansionary policies from all the governments in Europe.

There will be no sustained economic recovery without avoiding competitive devaluations, protectionism and national autarky. Now, more than ever, we need national governments in Europe to work closely together to solve common economic problems.

The scale of the problem is daunting. 26 million Europeans are not working, 10 million more than in 2008. Of these, 7.5 million are young people out of work, out of education, and out of training. Living standards are collapsing, with 120 million Europeans living in, or at the risk of, poverty. The European TUC estimates that €250 billion invested over 10 years would create 11 million new jobs.[2] Governments across Europe could provide this as public investment, which would raise living standards in every country.

Of course, while austerity is being sustained at an EU, and a national level, such solutions will not be embraced. But, arguably, the dominance of neoliberalism in EU institutions is in opposition to the key principles of the European Treaty. In particular, the Treaty’s principles to promote better living conditions and social protections have been ignored by the European Commission in applying the deflationary policies of the IMF and European Central Bank.

The contribution made by trade unions and the left parties needs to be to promote an alternative to austerity at both the national and EU wide level. Austerity is also promoting an international reaction which needs to be fought. That reaction takes the form of a vicious hostility to migrant workers, and ethnic minorities – particularly Muslims and the Roma.  This new search for scapegoats runs in the opposite direction to a multinational, multicultural Europe.

The racist wave, to which no European country appears immune, is not only morally wrong in principle. It also threatens to turn the EU, and the nation states, inwards when the solution to economic stagnation is found in a more outward looking policy.  The EU’s future has to lie with the fast growing economies of the BRICS countries, and the rest of the developing world.

Multiculturalism is a practical aid to such engagement, where the EU’s diversity allows it to speak to new markets using their own language. The racists threaten not just national domestic harmony, but also our long-term economic welfare.

In the current international political situation, it is easy to despair of social progress being possible at all. Yet coordination is possible across the EU both in unions and parties. It is then not too much of a stretch to achieve it between governments.

Left and progressive parties in both the Party of European Socialists and the GUE/NGL grouping, inside the European Parliament, remain focal points for campaigns and policy discussions at a European level.

The ETUC, and the various company European Works councils, are bodies which allow unions to cooperate across national borders in the EU in pursuit of more expansionary economic policy, and for the specific industrial goals of unions.

There are, and have been, many campaigns across Europe which have involved activists from different countries. These include, the struggle for peace and against imperialist wars; the defence of the environment and for tackling climate change; and opposition to the growth of racist and fascist forces.

Alongside these, we have seen the emergence of activists in Spain, Greece and elsewhere who stand up for those being impoverished by the impact of austerity. Even in Britain we have some experiences of the new, young, movements such as Occupy. In the coming years we can expect new creative initiatives from young activists against the current squeeze on living standards. There is nothing to suggest that they will want to do anything other than co-operate at an international level.

The future of the EU is in the hands of the people of Europe.  We can let it break up in a mass of damaged and embittered politics. Or, we can fight to defend the principle of pan-European cooperation on the decisive issues facing the peoples of Europe. Nothing is guaranteed – it all depends on the activity of people like us across the EU.

If we simply allow the monopolies, arms dealers, financiers, landlords, and trans-national companies to set the agenda then the outlook is indeed bleak. But a better Europe can be forged by the left in Britain and the EU demanding change, and organising for it across the EU.


[1] Lord Ashcroft (2014) Europe on Trial http://lordashcroftpolls.com/2014/03/europe-trial/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europe-trial&utm_source=Lord+Ashcroft+Polls&utm_campaign=e2adbe3a5d-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b70c7aec0a-e2adbe3a5d-71625629

[2] ETUC (2014) Falling wages casts doubt on recovery warn trade unions http://www.etuc.org/press/falling-wages-casts-doubt-recovery-warn-trade-unions#.UzqehGfz2M1

Posted in Articles, Other |

LabourList: Legal loophole used to exploit agency workers must be closed

Published on LabourList, 26th March 2014

Legal loophole used to exploit agency workers must be closed

Day-in, day-out agency workers doing exactly the same job as their colleagues are receiving up to £500 less in their pay packet every month. Why the gaping disparity? Because employers are using a clever legal loophole to undercut permanent employees and exploit temporary workers.

This week is part of Fair Pay Fortnight and the Communication Workers Union – who represents over 200,000 postal and telecoms workers – is shining a light on the injustice facing workers on the little known ‘Pay Between Assignment’ (PBA) contracts. These contracts are as appalling as zero hour contracts, permitting employment agencies to pay workers from as little as one hour a week when not on assignments.

The EU’s Temporary Agency Workers Directive was originally passed to protect the rights of agency workers. Yet, the UK’s interpretation of the Directive has turned the intention of the European legislation to work against agency staff instead of for them.

In 2010 the UK Government decided to include two ‘derogations’ (exemptions) in the Agency Worker Regulations (AWR). The first, which was agreed by the TUC, the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI) and the Government, allowed a 12 week qualifying period in the UK before agency workers qualified for equal treatment. In many other countries, equal treatment applies from day one of employment. The second exemption allows for workers on PBA contracts to be exempted from equal treatment on the grounds of pay.

In its truest form, the AWR – based on the EU Directive – was supposed to give a new generation of agency workers hard won rights to equal treatment. It was hailed as an essential piece of legislation. Yet the UK Government’s attempt to evade EU employment law has proved extremely successful. The loophole allows employers a legal framework to exploit agency workers. As a result PBA contracts, previously unheard of in the UK, have now become commonplace.

The union has appealed to offending employers to stop using legal loopholes to reinvent exactly the unequal treatment that European lawmakers intended to ban. However there are still a number of major UK companies who can take their place on the roll call of shame – companies across all industries including telecommunications, food production, logistics firms and manufacturing.

The British loophole was based on the Swedish model, which allowed recruitment agencies to employ workers on a permanent basis, whilst guaranteeing they will be paid between assignments. However, in Sweden agency employees on permanent contracts are guaranteed up to 90%t of their salary when not working. This is patently not the case in the UK.

Critics such as the CBI will continue to claim any change to the status quo will result in a loss of jobs. It’s a familiar argument and one that gets wheeled out anytime there is a call for an improvement in the pay or conditions of low-paid workers. We heard these arguments 15 years ago against the introduction of the national minimum wage but now it is felt to have been a resounding success. As we will be arguing during Fair Pay Fortnight, decent wages benefits workers, the economy and society.

Low-paid agency workers are being used to undercut and undermine permanent employees, who, as union members, have organised to secure higher wages and better conditions.  The number of agency workers in the UK is increasing faster than any other type of employment. In the run up to the 2015 election all political parties will be taking a stand against zero hour contracts. But let’s fight for those workers on PBA contracts as well who are all too often sidelined.

Posted in Articles |

Speech: ‘Stand up to Racism and Facism’ rally, Hackney

Congratulations to all who took part in organising tonight’s meeting in support of the national “Stand Up to Racism” demonstration on March 22nd.

We have only a few days now to build the rally, so let’s make every last effort we can. Tonight is a welcome chance to discuss the significance of our forthcoming action.

The great stagnation in the economy has prompted politicians to sniff out opportunities for directing the blame from themselves and their wealthy friends.

The massive drop in private investment, the wild speculation by financial institutions, and the removal of all restraint upon profit grabbing – somehow these are the responsibility of the disabled, the unemployed, the low-paid, public sector workers, and immigrants.

In the name of “an honest debate”, corrupt politicians and opinion formers pile abuse and lies upon those least deserving it.

They assume that in such desperate times, voters, and the general public, will be heartened by having weak and vulnerable culprits to berate.

And, unless there is a fight against this, they will get away with their monstrous fabrications. After all, they have the power.

But we have the numbers, the facts and our determination to stand up against them.

The progressive and labour movement can turn over the racists – if we promote broad-based, united activity.

Now the facts are clear and speak against the Coalition government and its allies in their racist offensive.

Cameron is refusing to publish an official report on EU migration. That is because it demonstrates that EU migration is broadly good for the UK.  It also demonstrates that there is no hard evidence of “benefit tourism”.

Coward that he is, he intends to publish this report after the Euro elections.

In fact, European migrants contribute a third more in taxes than they receive in benefits and are less likely to claim benefits than British people.

Or, how about the contribution from Robert Chote, head of the government’s Office of Budget Responsibility?   He told the Treasury Select Committee that government plans to cut net immigration to below 100,000 could push Britain’s debt up to 120% of GDP over an extended period.

But why should the government let a few facts get in the way of racist populism?

Cameron is bending to the even more right-wing populism of UKIP.

Certainly, Nigel Farage’s speech to the UKIP conference should end any doubt about the racist character of the UKIP project.

He delivered his speech under the banner of “Love Britain – Vote UKIP”.  This is a paraphrase of the old National Front slogan “Love Britain – Vote NF”.

His pitch is that “only UKIP will stand up and defend working men and women in Britain”. This is a bit rich coming from someone whose background is in City financial circles.

He goes on to explain that: “In scores of our cities and market towns, this country, in a short space of time, has, frankly, become unrecognisable. … In many parts of England you don’t hear English spoken any more”.

Now, this does not stand up to a moment’s scrutiny.

He is saying that at least 40 of our cities and market towns are “unrecognisable”. Is this a joke? Or is it that he is playing up to those who find black people alien?

And where are all those “many parts of England” where English isn’t spoken anymore?  He doesn’t name one, because they don’t exist.

So this drivel is offered to satisfy those with a bigoted view of England.

There is no logic or evidence in this. But it comes from the leader of a party which could gain the largest vote in the forthcoming Euro election.

We must register how serious the problem is – and how energetically we must respond.

The trade union have a particular contribution to make to the anti-racist movement. We have to organise to ensure that our workplaces are free from racism.

This means we have to stamp down on open racism. We have to ensure that there is no indirect racism in recruitment and staffing arrangements.

Further, we have to ensure that our own organisations have systematic equality policies, to ensure that black and Muslim members are not prevented from taking part, or becoming representatives.

Soon we are likely to have another task. The government’s proposed Immigration Bill is yet another attack on the black community and migrant workers, particularly.

It contains some spiteful provisions to try and limit access to health services and benefits.

Alongside this is a proposal for employers to undertake spot checks on the citizen status of workers. This will result in unscrupulous employers using this threat to super-exploit workers without resident status.

It will also result in employers becoming more cautious about employing workers from ethnic minorities. This would reinforce the already existing discrimination against black and minority ethnic people in the labour market.

In these circumstances, it is important that the unions ensure that there is not an increase in discriminatory practices covering recruitment and working practices.

We also have to look at negotiating agreements to ensure employers who make spot checks do not do so in an intrusive or embarrasing ways against migrant workers.

Now, we have much work in front of us. Building a strong action on March 22nd is a vital contribution to slowing the current racist offence.

The work of the UAF was pivotal to blocking the growth of the fascist BNP and EDL. We must continue this work.

But we must also stand up to the growth of racism and Islamophobia.

Let’s make March 22nd a success.  Let’s make it a springboard for a wider campaign against racism.

Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Left Futures article: Stand up to racism – support March 22nd rally

Published on Left Futures website, 8th March 2014

In the run-up to the European elections it is vital that the labour and progressive movement takes a stand against racism. The Tories are adapting to UKIP’s efforts to make immigration the central question in the election. Large sections of the media are only too happy to fuel and facilitate this agenda.

Yet the whole move is transparently racist – despite all the lofty denials from David Cameron and Nigel Farage. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than Farage’s speech to UKIP’s Spring Conference.

He spoke under the banner “Love Britain. Vote UKIP” a paraphrase of the old National Front slogan “Love Britain. Vote NF”.

His pitch was “… only UKIP will stand up and defend working men and women in Britain”. A little rich coming from someone with a City background!

But the real nub of it came with this: “ In scores of our cities and market towns, this country, in a short space of time, has, frankly become unrecognisable … In many parts of England, you don’t hear English spoken anymore”.

Now, this does not stand a moment’s scrutiny. He is saying that at least 40 of our cities and market towns are “unrecognisable”. Is this a joke? Or is it that he is playing up to those who find black people alien?

And where are those “many parts of England” where English isn’t spoken anymore? He doesn’t name one; because, they don’t exist.

So this drivel is offered to satisfy those with a bigoted view of England.

There is no logic or evidence. Yet it comes from the leader of a party which could gain the largest vote in the forthcoming Euro elections.

UKIP’s rise has been one of the by products of the austerity policies being adopted by the British government and by the EU. They are merely being the most adept at turning people’s vision way from the root causes of the great economic stagnation –the collapse in private investment, the huge financial speculations, and the removal of all restraints upon money-grubbing.

UKIP’s favourite explanation is the impact of “uncontrolled” immigration upon the labour market or in short hand, immigrants. This is despite all the evidence illustrating that migration into Britain raises economic activity and living standards.

Robert Chote, head of the government’s Office of Budget Responsibility, told the Treasury Select Committee that government plans to cut net immigration to below 100,000 per year could push Britain’s debt up to 120% of GDP over an extended period.

Cameron is refusing to publish an official report on EU migration. According to Jonathan Portes, who runs the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, “It’s not surprising that the government’s review of the evidence should have concluded that EU migration is broadly good for the UK economy; and that it should have failed to provide any hard evidence that “benefit tourism” is a problem. That is what the research shows. What I would say is that having taken the trouble to commission a comprehensive review of the evidence on this topic, which is clearly one of great public interest, the government has a duty to publish it in a timely fashion.”

Cameron, acting like a complete political coward, is refusing to publish this until after the Euro elections.

The lack of factual evidence will not deter the racist, populist campaign.  It is vital that labour and progressive movement stand up to this racism.

Such an opportunity takes place on March 22nd, in support of the UN Anti-Racist Day. A major rally is assembling at Parliament Square, London from 11 a.m., with rallies also taking place in Cardiff and Glasgow at the same time that day. These actions are supported by, amongst others, the TUC, Unite Against Fascism, the Muslim Council of Britain, Migration Rights Network, Unite, Unison, GMB, PCS, NUT, NASUWT, CWU and the National Union of Students.

Posted in Articles |

Speech: Glasgow Amal Branch AGM

Thank you for this opportunity to address your branch meeting. The Glasgow Amal  branch is seen as one of the largest and most influential branches in the union. Your contribution to the national union is important, and strengthens the whole CWU.

Perhaps the biggest impact upon the working life of postal members in the recent period has been the privatisation of Royal Mail.

Some people have suggested that privatisation makes little difference. This is untrue. The public sector offers accountability through the mediation of elected politicians.

Before privatisation, the union was meeting regularly with government ministers. Immediately after the sale, the ministers informed us that they no longer wish to meet with the CWU.

Now we can organise a lobby of the shareholders AGM.  This we will do when necessary.  But this is a much more difficult way to apply the pressure of the workforce on the direction of the company.

We’ll use all available tactics to promote our members interests in the privatised company. Yet we are also supporting the campaign for the re-nationalisation of Royal Mail.

No one should be in any doubt that this is a longer term perspective. Re-nationalisation has been rare in the UK in recent decades, usually as a result of a market failure in a private firm.  The East Coast line on the railways is an example.

Incidentally, it has returned to profit in the public sector.

The national leadership remains convinced that this is the best way to run the postal industry in support of the public, and the workforce.  Perhaps this is the only way we can guarantee the universal service.

We took a first step last September when we got the Labour Party conference to unanimously agree our motion on re-nationalisation.

The Labour leadership is most concerned about its credibility with business, so is refusing to promise that it will act on this policy.

We will continue to press on this issue including in discussions around the General Election manifesto.

It is unlikely Miliband will be willing to give such a commitment in the manifesto. But we may get a commitment from an incoming Labour government to examine options, or something similar.

Our anti-privatisation campaign was very strong, and may well have succeeded, but the government took a very risky option.

It found itself forced to engage in a fire sale of Royal Mail, rather than risk losing the possibility of selling.

As a result, we had Royal Mail sold at a scandalous price.  60% of the shares were sold for £3.2 billion.

17 of the 21 banks asked for an estimate placed Royal Mail’s value considerably higher.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, put it well when she described the sale as the equivalent of “selling tenners for fivers.”

We will continue to draw attention to this mis-selling. We believe that the political careers of the ministers involved should be end abruptly.  That applies to the Lib Dem Vince Cable and the Tory Michael Fallon.

Despite this setback, the national union has concentrated on defending members interests in the privatised firm.

The new agreement covering wages and conditions is terrific achievement.  This was recognised in the extraordinary 94% vote in favour in the members ballot.

Securing the continuation of existing staffing and negotiating agreements was a big win. Getting above inflation pay rises is also a big win.

Some unions would be happy to secure an agreement covering just one of the policies of no zero-hour contracts, no outsourcing, no two-tier workforce and no compulsory redundancies.

So, well done to the national negotiating team for this. Of course, the agreement is not going to guarantee that management will not be difficult in future. But it has given us a very good platform upon which to defend ourselves.

Undoubtedly, the union’s campaign against privatisation played a crucial role in ensuring such an agreement could be reached.

Difficulties remain across the working class today, as a result of the Coalition government’s policy of austerity.

Despite all the talks of recovery, the British economy is not yet as large as it was in 2008 when the crisis first began.

With continued cuts in public services and benefits, and wage freezes many workers – there will be no “feel good” factor for the Coalition government before the General Election.

All the opinion polls indicate the likelihood of a Labour government in 2015.

Lord Ashcroft, former Treasurer of the Tory party, conducts the most comprehensive polling of anyone. He is very wealthy, and uses large amounts of money to support the Tories.

His opinion polls cover up to 25,000 people whereas YouGov or  Mori may only poll 1 or 2 thousand.

His poll of the marginal constituencies indicated that Labour is on course for an overall majority of around 85.

That’s a very strong basis for government – if correct.

His most recent poll of 8000 gave Labour a lead over the Tories of 7% amongst men and 11% amongst women.

We will know for certain 2015 – but signs are strong for Labour.

I understand that many CWU members have mixed feelings about the prospect of an incoming Labour government.

Probably very few people will want a continuation of the Coalition.

But many CWU members have been disappointed by some of the Labour leadership’s  policies.

A Labour government will be better for the working class – but it won’t be everything we need or deserve.

Our aim to be to organise around the issues and policies which are in line with the needs of the poor and the working class.

You only get the rights and concessions that you are prepared to fight for.

So, for example, we cannot accept that Labour should continue with the Tory cuts.

We want Labour to expand the economy, not shrink it.  It is investment that will bring the economy out of stagnation.

An expanding economy means that living standards are able to rise.  We want a jobs and wages led recovery.

All the Coalition is promising is, according to George Osborne, permanent austerity.

But this is only austerity for us.  The Tories rich friends are doing fine from austerity with profits and dividends to shareholders growing very strongly.

The incoming Labour government must invest to ensure that the next generation is educated, employed and housed.

This has been done in far worse conditions that today – that was the great achievement of the 1945 Labour government after the Second World War.

We are a wealthy society. Our wealth needs to be used to raise living standards of the majority, not just a few rich people in the City of London.

As you will have seen in the press and media, there is going to be change in the relationship between unions and the Labour Party.

These changes are not welcome, and reflect a strong lobby that wants to end any influence that organised workers have in Labour politics.

But, we will work with these changes.  We refuse to give up on defending our members, and the working class.

The new constitutional arrangements are complex. But every CWU member who pays the political levy will get an opportunity to say whether they wish to contribute to the Labour Party in the  future.

We will continue with the political fund – assuming we get positive vote in the political fund ballot later this year.

There are many important issues which require a political solution.  We cannot do without a political fund.  I am sure your branch will strongly support its retention, as your branch leaders follow these questions carefully.

With the changes inside Labour we will have to look at more ways to exercise our influence.

That means that we will support progressive think tanks, websites, social media, etc.  We will also have to concentrate of training up a new generation of working class political leaders from amongst our members.

However the rule changes work in the Labour Party, we will get our message out, and defend the needs of CWU members in the political arena.

Finally, the union is undertaking a major programme to ensure that the CWU leadership is more proportionate to its membership.

The workforce and the union’s membership is changing in composition.

We have a growing proportion of women in membership. This is also true of members from black and ethnic minority communities. A higher percentage of the union is under the age of 30.

Union headquarters commissioned a report which identified a gap between these changes and the balance in the national and local structures of the union.

We are therefore changing the way in which we do our business.  We want to ensure that any obstacle in the way of women, black members and young members becoming reps are removed.

A more diverse leadership gives us better decisions – as it reflects all the different experiences of CWU members. We want to make the union stronger for everyone.

In the Glasgow Amal branch the balance of your membership is:-

4644 members of which 697 are female that is 15% or 1 in 7.

We only know of the ethnic background of 2001 members of which 97 are from black and ethnic minorities. That is nearly 5% or 1 in 20.

433 branch members are under the age of 30. That is 9% or 1 in 11.

Your branch leadership, like every other branch, will be engaged in discussions around this question. It is a matter of changing our organisation by discussion and agreement.

A more representative union makes us stronger – whether that’s in dealing with the employer, the government or any organisation that affects the lives of CWU members.

Now I know that the referendum is as controversial as any issue can be.  But the union has an obligation to help clarify the debate, where it can.

The union is engaging in a substantial consultation of membership.. Our work has been headed up by Andy Kerr., Deputy General Secretary (T&FS) and a former member of the Scotland No 1 branch.

To date the union has organised a launch meeting in Perth, 6 branch forums at different locations around Scotland, and a summary meeting of the branches in Glasgow.  All of these meetings have taken speakers from both of the major campaigns.

The NEC is taking representation from all branches in Scotland, and will propose a motion to CWU conference in April. Whatever decision is made, branches in Scotland will still be free to campaign in support of the position demanded by your branch members.

Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: CWU Gloucester Amal Branch AGM

The Gloucester Amal branch has a reputation as a campaigning organisation with a progressive outlook.  Your branch’s contribution to the national union is greatly valued.

Perhaps the biggest impact upon the working life of postal members in the recent period has been the privatisation of Royal Mail.

Some people have suggested that privatisation makes little difference. This is untrue. The public sector offers accountability through the mediation of elected politicians.

Before privatisation, the union was meeting regularly with government ministers. Immediately after the sale, the ministers informed us that they no longer wish to meet with the CWU.

Now we can organise a lobby of the shareholders AGM.  This we will do when necessary.  But this is a much more difficult way to apply the pressure of the workforce on the direction of the company.

We’ll use all available tactics to promote our members interests in the privatised company. Yet we are also supporting the campaign for the re-nationalisation of Royal Mail.

No one should be in any doubt that this is a longer term perspective. Re-nationalisation has been rare in the UK in recent decades, usually as a result of a market failure in a private firm.  The East Coast line on the railways is an example.

Incidentally, it has returned to profit in the public sector.

The national leadership remains convinced that this is the best way to run the postal industry in support of the public, and the workforce.  Perhaps this is the only way we can guarantee the universal service.

We took a first step last September when we got the Labour Party conference to unanimously agree our motion on re-nationalisation.

The Labour leadership is most concerned about its credibility with business, so is refusing to promise that it will act on this policy.

We will continue to press on this issue including in discussions around the General Election manifesto.

It is unlikely Miliband will be willing to give such a commitment in the manifesto. But we may get a commitment from an incoming Labour government to examine options, or something similar.

Our anti-privatisation campaign was very strong, and may well have succeeded, but the government took a very risky option.

It found itself forced to engage in a fire sale of Royal Mail, rather than risk losing the possibility of selling.

As a result, we had Royal Mail sold at a scandalous price.  60% of the shares were sold for £3.2 billion.

17 of the 21 banks asked for an estimate placed Royal Mail’s value considerably higher.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, put it well when she described the sale as the equivalent of “selling tenners for fivers.”

We will continue to draw attention to this mis-selling. We believe that the political careers of the ministers involved should be end abruptly.  That applies to the Lib Dem Vince Cable and the Tory Michael Fallon.

Despite this setback, the national union has concentrated on defending members interests in the privatised firm.

The new agreement covering wages and conditions is terrific achievement.  This was recognised in the extraordinary 94% vote in favour in the members ballot.

Securing the continuation of existing staffing and negotiating agreements was a big win. Getting above inflation pay rises is also a big win.

Some unions would be happy to secure an agreement covering just one of the policies of no zero-hour contracts, no outsourcing, no two-tier workforce and no compulsory redundancies.

So, well done to the national negotiating team for this. Of course, the agreement is not going to guarantee that management will not be difficult in future. But it has given us a very good platform upon which to defend ourselves.

Undoubtedly, the union’s campaign against privatisation played a crucial role in ensuring such an agreement could be reached.

Difficulties remain across the working class today, as a result of the Coalition government’s policy of austerity.

Despite all the talks of recovery, the British economy is not yet as large as it was in 2008 when the crisis first began.

With continued cuts in public services and benefits, and wage freezes many workers – there will be no “feel good” factor for the Coalition government before the General Election.

All the opinion polls indicate the likelihood of a Labour government in 2015.

Lord Ashcroft, former Treasurer of the Tory party, conducts the most comprehensive polling of anyone. He is very wealthy, and uses large amounts of money to support the Tories.

His opinion polls cover up to 25,000 people whereas YouGov or  Mori may only poll 1 or 2 thousand.

His poll of the marginal constituencies indicated that Labour is on course for an overall majority of around 85.

That’s a very strong basis for government – if correct.

His most recent poll of 8000 gave Labour a lead over the Tories of 7% amongst men and 11% amongst women.

We will know for certain 2015 – but signs are strong for Labour.

I understand that many CWU members have mixed feelings about the prospect of an incoming Labour government.

Probably very few people will want a continuation of the Coalition.

But many CWU members have been disappointed by some of the Labour leadership’s  policies.

A Labour government will be better for the working class – but it won’t be everything we need or deserve.

Our aim to be to organise around the issues and policies which are in line with the needs of the poor and the working class.

You only get the rights and concessions that you are prepared to fight for.

So, for example, we cannot accept that Labour should continue with the Tory cuts.

We want Labour to expand the economy, not shrink it.  It is investment that will bring the economy out of stagnation.

An expanding economy means that living standards are able to rise.  We want a jobs and wages led recovery.

All the Coalition is promising is, according to George Osborne, permanent austerity.

But this is only austerity for us.  The Tories rich friends are doing fine from austerity with profits and dividends to shareholders growing very strongly.

The incoming Labour government must invest to ensure that the next generation is educated, employed and housed.

This has been done in far worse conditions that today – that was the great achievement of the 1945 Labour government after the Second World War.

We are a wealthy society. Our wealth needs to be used to raise living standards of the majority, not just a few rich people in the City of London.

As you will have seen in the press and media, there is going to be change in the relationship between unions and the Labour Party.

These changes are not welcome, and reflect a strong lobby that wants to end any influence that organised workers have in Labour politics.

But, we will work with these changes.  We refuse to give up on defending our members, and the working class.

The new constitutional arrangements are complex. But every CWU member who pays the political levy will get an opportunity to say whether they wish to contribute to the Labour Party in the  future.

We will continue with the political fund – assuming we get positive vote in the political fund ballot later this year.

There are many important issues which require a political solution.  We cannot do without a political fund.  I am sure your branch will strongly support its retention, as your branch leaders follow these questions carefully.

With the changes inside Labour we will have to look at more ways to exercise our influence.

That means that we will support progressive think tanks, websites, social media, etc.  We will also have to concentrate of training up a new generation of working class political leaders from amongst our members.

However the rule changes work in the Labour Party, we will get our message out, and defend the needs of CWU members in the political arena.

Finally, the union is undertaking a major programme to ensure that the CWU leadership is more proportionate to its membership.

The workforce and the union’s membership is changing in composition.

We have a growing proportion of women in membership. This is also true of members from black and ethnic minority communities. A higher percentage of the union is under the age of 30.

Union headquarters commissioned a report which identified a gap between these changes and the balance in the national and local structures of the union.

We are therefore changing the way in which we do our business.  We want to ensure that any obstacle in the way of women, black members and young members becoming reps are removed.

A more diverse leadership gives us better decisions – as it reflects all the different experiences of CWU members. We want to make the union stronger for everyone.

In the Gloucester Amal branch the balance of your membership is:-

Branch Membership is 1205, of which 274 are women. That is 22% of 1 in 5.

We only know the ethnic background of 544 of which 39 are from black and minority ethnic communities. That is 7% or 1 on 14.

81 of your members are under 30 years old. That is just under 7% or 1 in 14.

Your branch leadership, like every other branch, will be engaged in discussions around this question. It is a matter of changing our organisation by discussion and agreement.

A more representative union makes us stronger – whether that’s in dealing with the employer, the government or any organisation that affects the lives of CWU members.

Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Please support Voices for the Five

The CWU is supporting a a major new online campaign for the Miami Five and I am asking  you to add your voice to support it too.

Voices for the Five a major new campaigning website bringing together international personalities trade unionists and campaigners from all corners of the world to call for freedom for the Miami Five, five Cuban’s imprisoned in US jails for fighting terrorism against their country

I have added my name together with international personalities including accademic Noam Chomsky, Trade Unionists including Frances O’Grady, actress Emma Thomspon, former archbishop of Canterbury Lord Rowan Williams, actors Martin Sheen, Peter capaldi and Danny Glover, and author John Le Carré who have already signed up to this online call for justice for the Five. You can add yours alongside theirs and mine today on the link below.

http://www.voicesforthefive.com/upload/

It takes less than 10 seconds to add your name, and in just a few seconds more you can leave a personal message and picture, or video message too.

Visit http://www.voicesforthefive.com/voices/today to see the full list of endorsers and messages from international supporters, to add your own name, and to find out how you can also attend and support the International Commission of Inquiry in to the Case of the Miami Five  at the Law Society in London on 7-8 March 2014.

Although one of the Five, Rene Gonzalez, was released earlier this year after completing his sentence, the remaining four prisoners have been in US prisons for more than fifteen years. International campaigners need to join together today so that our voices are heard in the White House and the men are reunited with their families in Cuba.

Please add your name today and support the International Commission of Inquiry in March 2014. You can also add a simple message of support and a photo or image too.

http://www.voicesforthefive.com/upload/

“In the court we know we will never find justice. This is a political case. But we trust in the power of solidarity. Only a jury of one million people, people like you, can bring justice to these men.” – Elizabeth Palmiero, wife of prisoner Ramon Labaniño

Thank you.

Posted in Letters |

Speech: CWU South Central Postal branch AGM

I welcome this opportunity to address your AGM. The South Central Postal Branch has a reputation for being progressive, controversial and prepared to make a stand. All of these qualities contribute towards making a stronger union for us all.

Perhaps the biggest impact upon the working life of postal members in the recent period has been the privatisation of Royal Mail.

Some people have suggested that privatisation makes little difference. This is untrue. The public sector offers accountability through the mediation of elected politicians.

Before privatisation, the union was meeting regularly with government ministers. Immediately after the sale, the ministers informed us that they no longer wish to meet with the CWU.

Now we can organise a lobby of the shareholders AGM.  This we will do when necessary.  But this is a much more difficult way to apply the pressure of the workforce on the direction of the company.

We’ll use all available tactics to promote our members interests in the privatised company. Yet we are also supporting the campaign for the re-nationalisation of Royal Mail.

No one should be in any doubt that this is a longer term perspective. Re-nationalisation has been rare in the UK in recent decades, usually as a result of a market failure in a private firm.  The East Coast line on the railways is an example.

Incidentally, it has returned to profit in the public sector.

The national leadership remains convinced that this is the best way to run the postal industry in support of the public, and the workforce.  Perhaps this is the only way we can guarantee the universal service.

We took a first step last September when we got the Labour Party conference to unanimously agree our motion on re-nationalisation.

The Labour leadership is most concerned about its credibility with business, so is refusing to promise that it will act on this policy.

We will continue to press on this issue.

Our anti-privatisation campaign was very strong, and may well have succeeded, but the government took a very risky option.

It found itself forced to engage in a fire sale of Royal Mail, rather than risk losing the possibility of selling.

As a result, we had Royal Mail sold at a scandalous price.  60% of the shares were sold for £3.2 billion.

17 of the 21 banks asked for an estimate placed Royal Mail’s value considerably higher.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, put it well when she described the sale as the equivalent of “selling tenners for fivers.”

We will continue to draw attention to this mis-selling. We believe that the political careers of the ministers involved should be end abruptly.  That applies to the Lib Dem Vince Cable and the Tory Michael Fallon.

Despite this setback, the national union has concentrated on defending members interests in the privatised firm.

The new agreement covering wages and conditions is terrific achievement.  This was recognised in the extraordinary 94% vote in favour in the members ballot.

Securing the continuation of existing staffing and negotiating agreements was a big win. Getting above inflation pay rises is also a big win.

Some unions would be happy to secure an agreement covering just one of the policies of no zero-hour contracts, no outsourcing, no two-tier workforce and no compulsory redundancies.

So, well done to the national negotiating team for this. Of course, the agreement is not going to guarantee that management will not be difficult in future. But it has given us a very good platform upon which to defend ourselves.

Undoubtedly, the union’s campaign against privatisation played a crucial role in ensuring such an agreement could be reached.

Difficulties remain across the working class today, as a result of the Coalition government’s policy of austerity.

Despite all the talks of recovery, the British economy is not yet as large as it was in 2008 when the crisis first began.

With continued cuts in public services and benefits, and wage freezes many workers – there will be no “feel good” factor for the Coalition government before the General Election.

All the opinion polls indicate the likelihood of a Labour government in 2015.

Lord Ashcroft, former Treasurer of the Tory party, conducts the most comprehensive polling of anyone. He is very wealthy, and uses large amounts of money to support the Tories.

His opinion polls cover up to 25,000 people whereas YouGov or  Mori may only poll 1 or 2 thousand.

His poll of the marginal constituencies indicated that Labour is on course for an overall majority of around 85.

That’s a very strong basis for government – if correct. We will know for certain 2015 – but signs are strong for Labour.

I understand that many CWU members have mixed feelings about the prospect of an incoming Labour government.

Probably very few people will want a continuation of the Coalition.

But many CWU members have been disappointed by some of the Labour leadership’s  policies.

A Labour government will be better for the working class – but it won’t be everything we need or deserve.Our aim to be to organise around the issues and policies which are in line with the needs of the poor and the working class.

You only get the rights and concessions that you are prepared to fight for.

So, for example, we cannot accept that Labour should continue with the Tory cuts.

We want Labour to expand the economy, not shrink it.  It is investment that will bring the economy out of stagnation.

An expanding economy means that living standards are able to rise.  We want a jobs and wages led recovery.

All the Coalition is promising is, according to George Osborne, permanent austerity.

But this is only austerity for us.  The Tories rich friends are doing fine from austerity with profits and dividends to shareholders growing very strongly.

The incoming Labour government must invest to ensure that the next generation is educated, employed and housed.

This has been done in far worse conditions that today – that was the great achievement of the 1945 Labour government after the Second World War.

We are a wealthy society. Our wealth needs to be used to raise living standards of the majority, not just a few rich people in the City of London.

As you will have seen in the press and media, there is going to be change in the relationship between unions and the Labour Party.

These changes are not welcome, and reflect a strong lobby that wants to end any influence that organised workers have in Labour politics.

But, we will work with these changes.  We refuse to give up on defending our members, and the working class.

The new constitutional arrangements are complex. But every CWU member who pays the political levy will get an opportunity to say whether they wish to contribute to the Labour Party in the  future.

We will continue with the political fund – assuming we get positive vote in the political fund ballot later this year.

There are many important issues which require a political solution.  We cannot do without a political fund.  I am sure your branch will strongly support its retention, as your branch leaders follow these questions carefully.

With the changes inside Labour we will have to look at more ways to exercise our  influence.

That means that we will support progressive think tanks, websites, social media, etc.  We will also have to concentrate of training up a new generation of working class political leaders from amongst our members.

However the rule changes work in the Labour Party, we will get our message out, and defend the needs of CWU members in the political arena.

Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Letter in the Guardian: Violent protest will not help Venezuela

Along with many others I’ve added my name to this letter published in the Guardian, 23rd February 2014

Violent protest will not help Venezuela

We deplore the wave of violence from minority and extremist sections of Venezuela‘s opposition, that left three dead, 60 injured and saw physical assaults on government institutions, including shots and Molotov cocktails attacks on the state TV channel and a state governor’s residency (Jailed López tells his allies to keep fighting, 22 February). This followed a recently launched campaign by Venezuela’s extreme right for La Salida (the ousting) of the government of President Maduro before his constitutional mandate ends in 2019. La Salida is led by extremist politicians Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado, who were both implicated in the 2002 coup in Venezuela. This is not the first time that the sections of the opposition have sought to oust the elected government by unconstitutional means, having lost at the ballot box.

We believe that while people in Venezuela have the right to protest – and that the Venezuelan constitution guarantees these and other democratic rights – this must be done peacefully. There is no justification for violent opposition to the elected government in Venezuela. We strongly support the statement of the Union of South American Nations that violence to seek to overthrow the elected, constitutional government is unacceptable. We join them in both condemning the wave of violence and in supporting calls for dialogue and peace.
Grahame Morris MP Chair, Labour Friends of Venezuela, Colin Burgon Chair, Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, Ken Livingstone, Tariq Ali, Billy Hayes CWU, Peter Hain MP, Professor Doreen Massey, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Sandra White MSP (SNP), Ken Loach, Professor Julia Buxton, John Pilger journalist & filmmaker
Bruce Kent peace campaigner
Dave Anderson MP Labour
Michael Connarty MP Labour
Richard Gott writer & journalist
Andy De La Tour actor
Paul Flynn MP Labour
Roger Godsiff MP Labour
Ian Lavery MP Labour
Elfyn Llwyd MP Plaid Cymru
John McDonnell MP Labour
Chris Williamson MP Labour
Mike Wood MP Labour
Baroness Gibson APPG on Latin America
Murad Qureshi London Assembly Member, Labour
Professor Julia Buxton academic & consultant
Dr Francisco Dominguez Head of Centre for Brazilian and Latin American Studies, Middlesex University
Tim Potter Barrister & Haldane Society

Posted in Letters |