Nov/Dec ’14 Voice column: Another Day

Slumped in the back of the cab, exhausted. Another day in the life of the union!

“I’ve picked you up before,” the driver said. “How’s life in the CWU?”

Taken by surprise, I replied: “It’s not called ‘the struggle’ for nothing.”

The driver went on to explain he was a CWU member and that he thought the union had done a great job. He added that his local CWU representative had just signed off a transformation of the duties in his office. It wasn’t perfect, but he was happy.

The experience made my day. Most of the time, as a union rep, you’re subjected to complaints about the union’s activities or claims that we’re somehow in the pockets of the political establishment, or even the bosses.

It’s understandable, given the pressures our people are subjected to. They vent their anger on their local rep or senior leaders within the union.

Holding leaders to account is in the CWU’s DNA. It makes our union strong. The wisdom of crowds is crucial to making the union increase its power and reach.

So, given the difficulties all CWU members face, why does one member react in a positive way while others become dispirited?

We live in difficult times for working people. Falling living standards and overt hostility to trade unions by many employers.

Strong workplace organisation and good reps are two of the ways in which we can fight back.

The union’s job is to deal with immediate matters but also to tackle the underlying issues.

Local representation is not just key but essential for the health of our union – and recognising the pressure that those reps are under is crucial. We need to be more mindful of this, and the CWU is currently reviewing the support it provides.

The recent Mandela film shows how, when he entered prison, Nelson made a small and seemingly innocuous demand for short trousers for the prisoners, which was eventually won. He built solidarity with his fellow prisoners and showed them to take little steps at first. Small successes matter.

In exactly the same way, CWU members across the country need to have the immediate issues of concern addressed in their workplaces.

Sometimes the CWU isn’t successful because of constraints around the context of the problems we face.

Our strategy has to be building a perspective that involves short-term success, followed by medium-term and long-term strategies.

The CWU has a good record on both. Our job is to continue to build strong workplaces while having a broad strategy – to think globally, but act locally.

Quote

Talk doesn’t cook rice.

Chinese proverb

Posted in Columns |

Speech: ULR Networking event, Belfast

I’m delighted to be here in Belfast for this the CWU’s 11th National ULR Networking Event.

And how appropriate that, with Martyn Lynch, David Kendall of the Reading Agency and the launch of the “My Family, My Town” book, we find ourselves discussing the power of language.

We’ve all sat in meetings where so-called experts in management, economics and social science talk in a language of their own.

This year has seen the publication of books from our own Norman Candy and Phil Chadwick which between them tell the story of postal workers as it was lived from 1839 to the present day.

That’s important because despite what the history curriculum might say, working class voices are as valid as anyone’s. Working class writers, poets and song smiths expressing themselves, making their voices heard.

And despite what the papers would have you believe, young people are at the heart of that as much as ever. There are poetry slams and rap battles in every town.

But in every age group we should be seeing an explosion of self-expression. Blogs and online self-publishing makes it easier than ever to get your ideas out there.

You can even create your own TV channel – if you have the IT skills.

Learning and education can’t be reduced to being about being work-related or hobby-related (as Margaret Thatcher, then Education Secretary, famously dismissed the Open University as being about the hobbies of housewives).

People are more than their job – so the skills they learn ripple out to affect every aspect of their lives – and the lives of the people they come into contact with.

A 20-year international study by the University of Nevada identified that having books in the home has as much influence on a child’s education as having university educated parents.

That’s why our work with the Reading Agency is so important in helping to break the inter-generational cycle of educational disadvantage, which has been identified, not just by theorists on the left such as Pierre Bourdieu but has been repeatedly proven by academic reports and even Government reports.

The recent Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission study found public school old boys and Oxbridge graduates massively over-represented from board room to parliament to the courts and senior ranks in the military.

And, just last week a report published in the British Journal of Sociology showed that social mobility has not just stalled but is actually going backwards, there is plenty for us to do.

This is the terrain that ULRs fight on.

Because the establishment has a nasty habit of blames the victims of inequality rather than addressing the causes.

So we find that the poor are to blame for their own under-employment, their own ill health, their own inability to find the extortionate rents driven by the property bubble.

They are prevented from accessing education by ever increasing fees (which can see the cost of a degree now reaching £27,000) and the closure of libraries (which the Library Campaign calculates will have reached 1,000 closures by 2016) and the cuts in museum funding (the Museums Association predict that by 2016 national museums may have had their government funding cut by almost 30%.)

Then employers blame the workers for lacking skills, lacking motivation and even being lazy. They should try swapping places and see how superior they feel then!

It’s ironic that we currently live in a society that supposes itself to be superior, not just to nature but to other people of the world, primarily based on the knowledge and culture that politicians try and appropriate as a product of specifically British values.

Increasingly, anthropologists and biologists identify culture as an engine of human evolution.

Yet in Britain our society narrows participation, effectively narrowing the intellectual gene pool to an ever more distant elite, who often gain their wealth on short term speculation rather than long-term development.

This is not just a personal tragedy for those involved. It is a tragedy for us all.

Our civilisation faces massive challenges that require us to draw on all of our collective skills and imaginations – not abandon education and knowledge to corporate self-interest.

Right now, the cure to cancer, the production of clean energy or solutions to any number of other world issues could be fading away in the mind of a disheartened child in an under-resourced school, who has already resigned themselves to never being able to afford a university education.

We are not satisfied to see our comrades disadvantaged, our progress stifled by the marketisation of education.

We are out there negotiating free and affordable courses for our members and their families.

Be they tutor-led, formally accredited, informal or online, our ULRs have maintained learner numbers at over 6,000 per year at a time of an ideologically driven assault on education.

Our interventions promise benefits not just for this generation but for those that follow.

The future is unwritten lets write it.

Thank you for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: Unite the Resistance Conference

Session – “How can we beat the austerity agenda?”

The prime objective of austerity is to place the burden of the economic crisis upon the working class. It involves a transfer of wealth from the poorer to the wealthy.

Living standards for the vast majority have fallen since 2008.  Meanwhile the richest 1% have grown wealthier.

The crisis of 2008 was above all a failure of private markets.  Economic activity fell because profitable outlets for investment had been reduced. Those outlets which remained became very speculative – such as the financialisation of mortgage debts.

Even now, critical market conditions remain largely in place.

The Office of National Statistics found that at the end of 2013 there was a hoard of £501.9 billion un-invested cash built up by private firms in the UK.

This is because these firms prefer the steady interest rates return instead of productive investment.

Presumably these people are just waiting for wages for plummet further before moving their capital.

To address this, requires a good deal of political will from an incoming government.

But it is through investment that the economy will achieve genuine growth again.

What we are must aim for is a recovery based on rising wages and benefits, and the creation of good jobs.

This week, the TUC found that only 1 in 40 jobs created since 2008 have been full-time.  The market is not correcting itself.

We need public investment by the government – or government direction of private capital from bank funds.

This investment also has an impact on the public spending deficit.

Increasing economic activity allows government spending on unemployment to naturally fall, and increases revenue to the government as tax is paid from the newly employed.

The result is clear.  Investment expands the economy, raises living standards, and reduces the public deficit over the investment cycle.

Even the IMF is beginning to promote this in their recent report on infrastructure investment.

The IMF found that between 2015 and 2023, a one percent of GDP increase in infrastructure investment would raise GDP 2.8 percent and reduce government debt by 1.75 percent.

Now, I’m not expecting an incoming Labour government to race down this path.

The leadership’s stated goal is to maintain Tory spending plans for two years and achieve a budget surplus by the end of the parliamentary term.

If adhered to, this will not expand the economy, raise living standards or close the deficit. No more than Osborne has been able to do with similar policies.

So, I believe we must popularise the alternative in order to have the prospect of having a government that is prepared to carry it out.

As activists, we have the responsibility to seek broad-based, united actions against the impact of austerity.

This means action on issues from the freeze on public sector pay to the defence of the Independent Living Fund for people with disabilities.

We therefore need alliances which are broader than just the unions. We have to connect with local communities; and with every social group who are being assaulted by austerity.

Unite the Resistance can play its part here – particularly in arguing for the unions to see the need for this wider unity.

The obstacle to this unity is not simply the Westminster consensus on austerity.

It is also the reactionary social programme which follows the adoption of austerity.

If you’re going to cut the benefits of the disabled, you have to convince those without disabilities that the disabled can do without.

If you are going to cut unemployment benefits then you have to convince the employed that this will resolve unemployment.

If you going to lower wages, you have to convince a large number of workers that they are in competition for declining wages because of migrant labour.

Hence, all the bigotry that is being spewed out by the media, opinion formers, and main-stream politicians.

If we want to defeat austerity, we also have to make the essential arguments in defence of the rights of the disabled, the unemployed and migrant workers.

This is becoming especially important given the growth in UKIP. They are Powellism for the 21st-century.

They are just as racist as Enoch Powell, but today this has to be presented in a more coded language.

Decades of antiracist work has influenced what may be said or not said in contemporary politics.

But UKIP’s blaming of immigrants and hostility to the EU is fuelled by racist scapegoating. Every so often the mask slips – as in Mike Read’s poisonous ditty.

Their supporters are being driven to the right in the panic of those facing greater insecurity.

These are people who despair of answers, and are looking for someone to blame.

Nigel Farage is not going to blame his mates in the finance industry, or the capitalists sitting on cash piles. No, he’s going to blame immigrants, legal and illegal.

Perhaps it is natural for Tories to lean in this direction.  But there is no reason for Labour leaders to bend towards this muck.

Let’s be clear. We must stand up to UKIP. We must oppose racism and defend our multicultural society.

Now, things are difficult in Britain and the EU.

The biggest parties opposing austerity are becoming more popular, such as Syriza in Greece, Podemos and the left in Spain, and Sinn Fein in Ireland.

But even in these cases, we are talking about the growth of minority parties.  In Britain we are a long way from such developments. Austerity still has its claws in all the major parties.

We are in a defensive position. We must hold the line where we can, and elaborate an alternative.

I believe that we are going to have a Labour Government in May.  All the major polls of the marginals point in this direction.

I also believe that the Labour Government will begin by strongly defending austerity policies.

But I think this can be changed when enough people take part in united action against austerity.

Today’s conference is one arena for us to debate out the work ahead. I congratulate Unite the Resistance on pulling this together.

We need many such events, if we are to overcome austerity.

I’m convinced that united action lays the basis for a progressive alternative to austerity. Together, we will win. Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: CWU Disability Conference, Leeds

I am privileged to be able to address you today. The work of disability activists within the CWU is essential to the future of this union.

From your activity, and through your eyes, the problems facing disabled workers become clear and can be addressed.

The whole union needs to bear in mind the slogan of the disabled people’s movement- “Nothing about us without us”

Your struggle for inclusion and equality is needed now more than ever.

Opposition to the Coalition Government austerity policy is well founded. It has deepened economic stagnation. It has widened the inequalities within our society. It has resulted in deteriorating public services and rising poverty.

And, it hasn’t even ended the public spending deficit that was supposed to be its key target.

Yet, despite everything that has been said and written, it is still astonishing the degree to which austerity has become a war upon disabled people.

11.5 million people in the UK are covered by the disability premises set out in the Equality Act.

According to the “Inclusion London” organisation, disabled people lose nine times more than other people under the Coalition’s austerity measures.

Indeed, the nature of the assault upon disabled people has created a unique achievement for this government.

In August, we learnt that the UK has become the first country to face a high-level enquiry by the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

This enquiry will investigate the potential “grave or systematic violations” of the rights of disabled people by a country signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Now, the enquiry proceedings are confidential. The enquiry is also unlikely to report before the General Election. Both of these restrictions are a great pity – the Coalition Government needs public exposure in a timely manner.

But, we should take this development as a spur to step up the work we are doing – our arguments are beginning to register.

Let’s take the issue of Work Capability Assessment, as an illustration.  Even the governments own research demonstrates that it is employers’ attitudes that prevent disabled people from being employed.

Still the government insists that it is disabled people who are the problem.

By ignoring the facts, the government is violating the human rights of disabled people.

Between January and November 2011, 10,600 WCA claims were ended and a date of death was recorded within six weeks.

This is an incredible figure.  No wonder the Department of Work and Pensions stopped publishing this particular statistic.

Or take a single piece of research published by the Northeast Region of Unite. This found that in 2013, in their region, 28,702 unemployed disabled people with were refused Employment and Support Allowance – the replacement for Incapacity Benefit.

Where the claimants appealed against the Atos assessment – 90 percent won their appeals.

The misery inflicted upon unemployed disabled people is glossed over as the government says it terminated Atos’s contract because “significant quality failures”. Management speak to hide vile actions.

Equally, the closure of Independent Living Fund is assault upon disabled people with the most profound needs for support.

18,000 severely disabled people have been helped by this Fund to maintain a greater degree of control over their lives.

With it removed these people now either become trapped inside their houses, unable to work, or be forced into residential care.

The DWP, reluctantly, and belatedly, carried out an impact assessment on the abolition of the Independent Living Fund.

If found that the impact of the closure of the Fund upon disabled people would be severe. But, it announced the closure anyway.

Such vicious actions are the less publicised side of the Coalition’s austerity policy.  But we can find ways to respond to these outrages.

One contribution you can make on this issue is to make sure your MP signS EDM113 which opposes the Fund’s closure.

And remember, this is a government that refuses to dispense with the services of Lord Freud.

He, who suggested that some disabled people aren’t worth the minimum wage. He, who wants to consider a two pound an hour wage rate.

No wonder hate crimes against the disabled are increasing. The Crime Survey showed 62,000 disability hate crimes in 2012/13.  Only 1,800 of these were reported.

The facts and figures on hate crimes are atrocious. I’ll just give you a couple from the Disability Hate Crime organisation:

  • 90% of those with learning difficulties say they have been bullied or harassed in the previous year.
  • 20% of people with learning disabilities have experienced being attacked every week or more.

NACRO discovered that people who were disabled were four times more likely to be violently attacked in comparison to the non-disabled.

And in these times of cuts to Legal Aid and the introduction of Tribunal fees, justice is harder to achieve.

I have not mentioned the 30% gap in employment rates, nor the Bedroom Tax.  This litany of outrages becomes exhausting.

We have a chance to get rid of the authors of these policies next May. That is some small comfort, and a stimulus for our activity in these next few months.

As you know, the national leadership is making a big focus on achieving proportionality in the leadership of the union, of both the national and local levels.

Since the Branch Forum in January, we have been pushing this forward. Certainly, CWU Annual Conference gave a big boost, with a raft of equalities resolutions carried.

Although the immediate priority is to ensure better proportionate representation of women and black and minority ethnic members, we are also charged with improving the unions work for members with disabilities.

One change from Conference I want to draw your attention to is the new rule under which Branches have to ensure that sufficient funds are made available for participation in the Equality Conferences.

I hope that you will check that this has been discussed in your branch committee. Our aim is to double the size of this, and the other equality conferences in the next few years.

Our monitoring figures for members with disabilities are very poor.  Any suggestions on how these can be improved will certainly be considered by the leadership.

There are many challenges facing members with disabilities, both inside and outside the workplace. It is vital that the union develops a more rounded, active approach to confronting these challenges.

Your work today, and throughout the year, helps to light the way to a better union for all.

Good luck with your debates and decisions. Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: Greek Postal Congress, Rhodes

I want to thank you for the privilege of addressing your conference.

These past few years we have watched with great concern the struggle of the people in Greece to deal with austerity.

Many people in the labour movement in Britain have been inspired by your defence of your basic rights and living standards.

I bring you best wishes from the CWU in this continuing fight.

The CWU in Britain has been campaigning against privatisation since the early 1990’s.

During this period, the CWU’s campaign has resulted in the defeat of 2 Parliamentary Bills in 1994 and 2009; the defeat of a management lobby for privatisation from 2004 – 2007; and the failure of other less public attempts to privatise the industry.

Last year, the Conservative-led Coalition Government succeeded in selling 60 percent of Royal Mail on the London Stock Exchange.

Obviously this was a great disappointment.

The union had been on campaign alert when the Coalition was elected in 2010.

Following a Government announcement, we commenced our campaign from 2011, which ran the Government very close.

The Government majority in Parliament proved too strong for the union to defeat the 2011 Act authorising a sale – they had a majority of 85 at the time.

But the strength of our campaign threatened to wreck the sale.

In 2013, we were utilising three main tactics:

  • continuing to engage with the government,
  • organising a political campaign against any sale
  • negotiating with the employer to secure protection for postal workers in the event of a sale.

We were meeting with government ministers regularly.  There were few concessions, but it did allow us to understand the issues better. This in turn allowed us to sharpen up our anti-privatisation work.

Our political campaign involved some distinct tactics.

We became part of an alliance of organisations in the “Save Our Royal Mail” campaign.

They could present the arguments free from the accusation that the union faced of being a “vested interest”.

At the same time the union took its independent political initiatives.  This was particularly true inside the Labour Party.

As the official Opposition to the Coalition Government, Labour could raise matters before a wide audience and really press the government.

So we discussed many tactics and policies which wouldn’t stop privatisation, but could secure the industry, and our members, in the event of privatisation.

This approach came to a head when we put forward a motion to Labour’s Annual Conference that an incoming Labour Government should renationalise Royal Mail in the event of a sale being carried through.

This was carried unanimously by delegates.

This position wasn’t supported by the Labour leadership, which didn’t come as a surprise to us.

At the same time, we were trying to negotiate a new pay and staffing agreement.

In order to carry this through, we had to organise a strike ballot. After an intense campaign, the membership voted for strike action with a 78% majority on a 64% turnout.

With this result management began to negotiate very seriously. The result also seriously rattled the Government. They could see a dangerous combination of our political initiatives alongside a campaign of strike action.

The Government therefore took the gamble, rather than risk them missing the tight timescale it had to set for privatisation.

On 11th October 2013, the shares were sold below their value.

The sale achieved £1.98 billion. The market immediately understood the shares were cheap and valued them at over £3 billion.

The scandal around this has continued for some time.

Earlier this year, the National Audit Office revealed that the Government sales strategy had failed in a number of ways.

These included:

  • the shares were sold nearly half their real value
  • investors that the Government had given priority to as long-term investors sold off shares within weeks at a huge profit
  • financial advisers to the Government did not defend the interests of the general taxpayers in the country.

So, even though successfully selling the company, the Government still paid a price for their unpopular policy.

We had hoped that a combination of political campaigns and a strike would defeat the sale. But this could not overcome the market’s rush for cheap assets.  The sale was oversubscribed 25 times.

Once the sale went through, Management were keen to settle down industrial relations.

Consequently, they made major concessions and came to an agreement with the union.

The agreement was very innovative – giving the workforce legal guarantees on its existing terms.  The agreement includes:

  • a 9.8% increase in pay over a three-year period
  • guarantees against outsourcing, selling or transferring any part of the business
  • no franchising out any part of the business
  • no introduction of self-employment
  • no two-tier workforce – new employees take up same conditions as established staff
  • existing staffing agreements maintained – only to be amended by agreement
  • no compulsory redundancies
  • employment model to remain primarily full-time
  • no zero hour contracts and…
  • a variety of guarantees on other benefits, including pensions, expanding the industry and the governance of the industry.

The legal protections are extended to the time of the first review in January 2019.

This agreement was carried by a 94 percent “yes” vote one in the members’ ballot. This was an extraordinary result for a complex major agreement and shows how strong it is.

Overall, our assessment is that the agreement does not solve all our problems – but it gives us an excellent platform from which we can defend the workforce in a privatised company.

Before finishing, I want to make some remarks about our defensive tactics in the run up to privatisation.

Privatisation separated the Royal Mail from the Post Office Counters, which remains a publicly owned company.

Post Office Counters is simply the local post offices, and their administrative centre.

It is loss-making service and receives a government subsidy to maintain the network of 11,500 branches.

In the run-up to privatisation, we campaigned hard to get a long-term commitment for Royal Mail to use Post Office Counters for its services.

Our concern was that a privatised Royal Mail would prefer to use commercial retail chains, rather than the publicly owned post offices.

Through a great deal of political campaigning, we got a 10 year contract to guarantee Royal Mail use of Post Office Counters. This runs until 2022. We will be looking to extend this when, as is likely, Labour is returned to government in 2015.

We also fought hard to ensure that the existing provisions of the universal service in the UK are not subject to an easy change by government, or management.

We have a six-day delivery service and a uniform tariff – even though these are not in the EU directive.

Again through our political campaigning, we got a commitment that the universal service could only be changed by an act of Parliament. We are considering how to further strengthen this in 2015.

Such defensive tactics are not a substitute, or a diversion, in the fight against privatisation.

These, and other safeguards we secured, mean that conditions in the industry for the workforce, and services for customers remain on a high level. This is better than if we’d simply accepted the market will now dominate all the functions and outlook of the industry.

Following hard on the heels of privatisation, we are now having to address the problem of delivery competition to Royal Mail.

Since 2004, we have been addressing the issue of competition in access mail. At that time, the regulator rigged the market, which resulted in Royal Mail subsidising competitors who had access to its network.

By long-term pressure we got some relief on this, but it took around five years work.

We now face similar problems with deliveries. The regulator is refusing to act while a competitor is selecting profitable areas in cities like London, Liverpool and Manchester within which to organise a delivery service.

The competitor – TNT – delivers three days a week, pays its staff the minimum wage rate, and hires on zero hour contracts.

We are engaged in a political campaign to press the regulator for measures which ensure that Royal Mail continues to be able to fund the universal service.  So we are raising questions like:

  • a cap on competition
  • customer protection which forces competitors to publish details of their quality of service
  • a living wage in the sector for all postal workers.

Doubtless this is going to be a difficult campaign – but we will press hard because that is what our members and the public need.

Thank you for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: CWU Black Workers Conference, Leeds

Thank you for this opportunity to address your conference. It is always a privilege to have this platform.

Last year, when I addressed this conference, I referred to the decline of the EDL – highlighted by the resignation of Tommy Robinson.

This year we must register the terminal state of the BNP, as Nick Griffin loses not only his MEP’s seat, but also is expelled from his party.

It’s been a long slog but we beat them.  Well done to everyone, inside and outside this hall, who stood up to these fascists.

The EDL continues to have some sort of life – wheeling around a few hard-core supporters from town to town. Rightly, alongside UAF, we must continue to mobilise against these dangerous remnants.

But, immediately, it appears that the outright fascist threat has been seen off. This is no small achievement.

In Europe, the children of Hitler’s legions continue to make too much progress for comfort.

I think the key reason that we registered success was because of the alliance between the black community, the Labour movement, and the whole antifascist movement to defeat the BNP and EDL.

We have defended multiculturalism, and firmly opposed Islamophobia.

Unfortunately these tactics have not been replicated elsewhere. Too many concessions to prejudice have been made, creating openings for organisations like the Front National, Jobbik, True Finns, and others.

In Britain, we must now concentrate on another problem – UKIP.

Because it is gaining support, too many mainstream politicians are panicking before it. Instead of standing up to this dangerous, populist, racist party, they are trying to appease it.

The first step in appeasement is refusing to acknowledge its racism.

This week, Mike Reid has made that characteristic obvious. But equally revealing is Nigel Farage’s enthusiastic promotion of this nastiness.

UKIP is Powellism for the 21st-century.

Farage cannot use Enoch Powell’s explicitly racist language – the antiracist struggles since 1968 have closed that option down.

But Farage’s coded language carries the same meaning as Powell’s.  At the UKIP Spring conference, Farage said:

“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 here English spoken anymore”.

None of this rubbish was challenged by reporters or political leaders. Yet can there be any doubt about the ideas being conveyed?

Cities and towns becoming “unrecognisable” is because the people there do not confirm to the prejudices of Farage and friends – wrong skin colour, wrong accent, wrong religion and wrong clothes.

Even the stupid lie about English not being spoken in “many” parts of England, wasn’t taken up. Yet every mainstream politician knows that English continues to be spoken in every square inch of the county.

Equally, let’s note that in Mike Reid’s little ditty, the reference to “illegal immigrants” puts aside UKIP’s qualifications about East Europeans.

“Illegal immigrants” refers to non-EU citizens. The betting is that it doesn’t summon up the idea of white Australian over-stayers.

Now, it feels noxious doing this. But we have to brace ourselves for a very serious fight. We need to get the largest number of people to stand up to racism and UKIP.

For our part, we are having discussions with UAF and others about launching a broad-based initiative in the coming months. Certainly we need something because far too many politicians want to compete for racist votes rather than fight racism.

Of course, UKIP’s scapegoating tactics are registering progress because so many people are experiencing real economic distress.

Despite the Coalition Government claims, it is quite true that there is no recovery for the vast majority of the population.

Real wages have declined by 7.6% since 2010. Government policy has created economic stagnation and greater inequality.

We have the right to expect an incoming Labour Government to provide a new economic policy. We do not want to see Ed Miliband try to make Tory spending cuts more acceptable.

Austerity has failed to create a real economic recovery and expansion. It has succeeded in transferring wealth from the majority of the population to the wealthiest minority.

We expect Ed Miliband to promote government investment in the economy. We need a recovery based on the creation of real jobs, with rising wages and benefits.

There must be an end to the pretence of growth through zero hour contracts and fake self-employment.

George Osborne says that the Conservatives would cut public services by 25 billion pounds after the General Election.

Under no circumstances should the Labour leadership follow such a commitment.

The vast majority of the population need a lift out of stagnation – not to be pressed further down into it.

There is no doubt that we prefer a Labour Government in 2015 to a Tory Government or a Coalition with the Lib Dems.

But the Labour leadership has to grasp the opportunities power gives to expand the economy through government investment.

Certainly if they want CWU members to become involved in Labour’s election campaign, Labour’s leaders will have to do better than the proposal to freeze child benefits and freeze public sector wages.

Now, let us move onto internal matters.

Many of you will have attended the Branch Forum on proportionality that we organised at the start of this year.

If you did, you will have seen the enthusiasm amongst branch activists for finding a way out of the under-representation of women and black members in the union.

You will also have seen the commitment of the national leadership to tackle the problems.

The Forum had a big impact upon our Annual Conference. Including the proposals from the NEC, this year’s conference discussed 16 major resolutions on equality and proportionality.

Some of these are for continuing reviews, some are hard policy gains.

I want to draw your attention to a couple of resolutions which you need to make sure you branch is working on.

Firstly, the rules of the union now direct every Branch to elect a BAME Officer.

It is very important that this post is advertised along with other Officers as part of your regular branch election cycle.

I hope many of you will ensure this post is filled, by standing or nominating a BAME member to stand.

Secondly, the rules of the union now direct every Branch to ensure that sufficient Branch funds are allocated to allow for branch representation and participation at the Equality Conferences.

Has your Branch Committee discussed this and made decisions?

Next year’s budgets will be drawn up soon – so make sure that allowance is made to improve branch representation at the Equality Conferences.

The whole campaign around proportionality remains a priority, until we achieve a generally proportionate leadership at every level of the union.

The national union is undertaking a review of the functioning of all our equality structures. We are preparing a report on the failure of some branches to attend and support the Equality Conferences.

Take it from me, the national leadership regards these problems as crucial for our survival as a national union.

The workforce has changed and we have been slow to respond – that is very dangerous for us.

Here’s one example, we recently received some figures from Royal Mail on workforce monitoring.

Royal Mail has better figures on the ethnic composition of the workforce than we do.

They know the ethnic origins of 81 percent of the operational grades.

The CWU only has the ethnic origins of 44 percent of our members.  That’s something we need to address in future.

From Royal Mail’s figures we learn that 12.2 percent of the operations grades are from ethnic minorities. We also learn that 14.2 percent of the same grades are women.

From those figures alone, it becomes obvious that we have a long way to go to achieve such figures in the leadership of those grades.

What is true here is also true across other employers and grades, to a greater or lesser extent.

But there is a general determination to make progress from the national leadership.

These issues are being regularly assessed at the NEC, and industrial executives are making their own initiatives.

I believe we must be confident about our ability to resolve these imbalances. It is right and necessary to do so.

One thing is certain. We must not relax our efforts.

And here, your contribution as black activists is crucial.

Your experience and knowledge are needed to help the Branches, and the National union through the changes necessary.

Your greater involvement should create greater change than in the past. I urge you to keep up with your contribution to make this union stronger for all.

I hope that your conference goes well – good luck in your debates. Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: TUC’s Britain Needs a Pay Rise demo, London

The Coalition Government’s austerity policies have failed :

  • It has not created a real recovery in the economy
  • It has not closed the public spending deficit
  • It has not lead to a revival in manufacturing
  • It has not lead to new wave of private sector investment.

Yet, according to Osborne – austerity was going to do all those things.

Instead, we’ve seen the slowest recovery out of recession, ever.  We have seen real wages drop by 7.6 percent since 2010.

We have seen cuts in the benefits offered to the unemployed and disabled.

Austerity has not worked for the vast majority of people in the country.

But it has worked very well for the big financiers, employers, landlords and landowners. They’ve increased their share of the income from the national wealth under the Coalition Government.

We have had enough.  Today we are saying Britain needs a pay rise.

Economic policies should raise living standards by expanding investment in the economy.

We need a recovery that is led by job creation, rising wages and benefits.

Increasing employment and rising living standards leads to more money coming into government through increasing the amount of tax paid.

That’s how the public spending deficit can be closed – with more, not less, economic activity.

Austerity is not acceptable from any government.

If the Labour leadership wants to see what happens to a left government that implements austerity – then look at what happened to PASOK in Greece, or look at what is happening to President Hollande in France.

Labour must break with austerity. Public investment is needed to renew our infrastructure. Even the IMF now recognises that.

Public investment is needed for our public services. We cannot accept that schools, hospitals, nurseries, and libraries must all decline.

Government can borrow at nearly nought percent interest rates, to invest in renewing our economy and society.

Labour must commit to resolving the problems, not continuing the Tory and LibDem austerity policies.

Congratulations to all the workers who took strike action this week. You are the real champions.

Together we will win. Keep organising, keep fighting.

Thanks for listening

Posted in Speeches, TUC |

Speech: SIPTU Health Division Conference, Dublin

Negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership have been going on for just over a year now.

The TUC was sceptical when the talks began and now we are outright opposed.

Why?

The TUC is not against trade, we know jobs and growth depend on our ability to trade with other nations.  But we won’t support trade at any cost.

TTIP sets out to not only lower tariffs –which are on average low between the two areas in any case – but harmonise standards.

There are real threats here.

The US has significantly lower labour standards.

It has not ratified all of the ILO core conventions and in some ‘right to work’ states like Tennessee, it is effectively impossible for trade unions to operate normally.

The US also has lower levels of standards on health.

While the EU uses the precautionary principle (where tests must prove substances are not harmful) the US approach is to assume that something is safe unless proved otherwise.

And in reality, even after harm is conclusively proved, corporate lawyers keep worker protections tied up in legal challenges for years.

The TUC and unions across Europe have made clear that trade deals cannot be allowed to lower the levels of protection we have secured in the EU.

TTIP must not be a race to the bottom on standards.

As well as lower standards, though, TTIP also specifically threatens parts of the public sector, including education and health.

Don’t believe the European Commission when they say the health sector would be protected in TTIP.

We know from the UK’s trade and investment minister Lord Livingston’s comments in September that UK health sector will be included in TTIP and it will be included for Ireland too.

We know that it is not protected from being opened up to privatisation under a general exemption for public services that the EU applies to trade deals.

This is because this exemption only covers services provided ‘in the excercise of government authority’.

Well, it’s been a long time since the whole of the NHS in Britain was run solely by the government.

In fact, the Health and Social Care Act introduced last year in Britain intends for the majority of the NHS to be run by private providers.

This raises the question as to why trade negotiators get to decide what is classified as a public service rather than the public?

The strict definition of what counts as a public service means that the majority of the NHS would not count, and would open up the UK health service through TTIP to US investors on the same terms as EU investors, which is likely to result in increased pressure for privatisation for other parts of the NHS.

The same applies to education, water and sanitation, energy, transport … every public service you can think of.

And negotiators want TTIP to lock this privatisation in.

What is known as a ‘ratchet clause’ in TTIP would mean that all privatisation of public services that takes place after the deal is concluded is irreversible.

TTIP also contains a provision which would allow EU and US investors to use to sue governments in special international courts if they feel their profits are threatened.

This is called Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ‘ISDS’.

Companies are very broad minded when it comes to what counts as a threat to their profits and have made liberal use of ISDS to protect their business interests over the years.

Egypt has been sued by the French company Veolia under ISDS for increasing its minimum wages.

The Canadian government has been sued through ISDS by the American company Eli Lilly for failing to grant the pharmaceutical company a drug patent on the spurious grounds that the drug was veryu expensive and didn’t actually work!

And Slovakia has been sued through ISDS under its bilateral trade deal with the Netherlands when it renationalised its health service.

It had to pay $22 billion dollars in compensation to the Dutch insurance company Achmea.

And this isn’t – any more – an unusually large payout for an ISDS case.

Even where the state wins, the legal costs will usually run into the millions.

When lawyers are paid that much, you know that they will make creative use of any trade rules.

We’ve even seen spread betting markets develop to provide third-party funding for a range of ISDS cases, dropping the ones where the tribunal looks unlikely to grant a win, and pocketing the resulting prize money for the rest.

This is why the European Commission and politicians are naive when they say there is a good kind of ISDS where society will be protected.

ISDS will lay countries open to being financially crippled by law suits.

Yet in Britain, we are told that there isn’t money to fund the NHS anyway.

Health Minister Jeremy Hunt has forced the service to undergo a cruel £20 billion of efficiency savings which is putting lives at risk and pushing staff to the limit.

Health staff have been denied the 1% pay rise they need to get by – which is why many of them have gone on strike this week, including even the midwives for the first time in their history!

If the British government doesn’t have enough money to run wards or pay staff a decent wage, where does it think the money will come from to pay a big American investor $22 billion in an ISDS case?

While the current British government might embrace privatisation with open arms, Labour have pledged to reverse the Health and Social Care Act if they win the election next May.

This would be very difficult indeed if ISDS in TTIP meant they would be sued for doing so, or if the government were frozen into inaction by the so-called ‘chilling effect’ where civil servants are reluctant even to risk an ISDS case.

ISDS freezes policies just where they are, stopping services coming back into public ownership.

But ISDS is chilling too because it undermines our democracy.

ISDS stops democratically elected governments from doing what voters want about health and public services.

This is unacceptable.

And the really worrying thing is that public services and health aren’t only threatened by TTIP but other trade deals too.

The EU has just finalised a trade agreement between the EU and Canada.

This deal contains all the same dangers that TTIP poses to the public sector – ISDS, the ratchet clause, the lot.

And don’t think Canadian investors are somehow nicer than American investors.

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, a Canadian company called Lone Pine set up a letter-box company in the USA so they could use ISDS to sue their own government for Quebec’s fracking laws.

So we must be alert to the dangers of the EU-Canada agreement too and not let it be, as the ETUC call it, a ‘trojan horse for TTIP’,  quietly cementing a precedent for trade agreements to include public services and ISDS while everyone is busy campaigning against TTIP.

Unions have a fight on our hands to keep public services and health out of the EU-Canada agreement, out of TTIP and out of trade agreements full stop.

As you know, the fight is well underway in Britain, Europe and America.

The ETUC and AFL-CIO, the federations representing trade unions in Europe and America, issued a joint declaration in May which called for public services to be excluded from TTIP and ISDS and ratchet clauses to be scrapped.

They have made this call to negotiators in the EU and USA and are campaigning jointly.

At the TUC’s recent Congress in Liverpool we had representatives of the AFL-CIO and ETUC share a platform and pledge common actions to lobby on TTIP.

This is important because we will never win concessions from trade negotiators unless the pressure comes from both sides of the Atlantic.

The TUC has been actively campaigning to raise union concerns on TTIP since negotiations began.

We have been in close contact with our Business Minster Vince Cable and with MPs to raise concerns.

The TUC has also played an active part in the All Party Parliamentary group on US trade and investment, making sure that when it held a session with the head of the CBI, the TUC General Secretary was on the panel with him.

We have also made sure that trade unions have been involved in subsequent meetings of this APPG that have considered the different sectoral implications of TTIP.

At the insistence of the TUC and its member unions, the APPG will hold a session on the impact of TTIP on the public sector this autumn.

Our General Secretary also raised concern with ISDS with the former Trade Commissioner De Gucht in Davos in January.

The TUC has worked with 38 degrees and other groups like Friends of the Earth and the Trade Justice Movement in their campaigns for the European Commission to scrap ISDS in TTIP.

This pressure is working.

The European Commission opened the Investment chapter and the proposed ISDS mechanism up for public consultation in March.

Over 150,000 people submitted responses, the majority of them saying there was no place for ISDS in trade deals.

Now we are calling on the European Commission, and the new Trade Commissioner-elect, Cecilia Malmstrom, to take these responses into account during negotiations.

If TTIP was truly in the public interest, the Commission would listen to the voice of the public when it says ISDS has to go.

Of course the Commission will say it’s just carrying out the will of Member States.

But some Member States are now beginning to express concerns about TTIP too, and we need to press national governments to go further.

The German union federation, the DGB, has signed a joint statement with the German Economic Ministry against ISDS in TTIP.

The French government secured an exemption for the Audio-visual sector from TTIP because they were worried about the impact of American imports on an industry that needed state support.

We need to tell our governments that public services, broadly defined to include health and education, must be exempted from TTIP in the same way.

Of course, business groups are working round the clock to lobby negotiators to keep public services in TTIP and governments like the one we have in Britain are only too keen to appease them.

So we need to put TTIP on the bargaining agenda to tell employers we won’t accept TTIP in its current form.

And we need to make sure that labour standards must not be lowered. Workers’ voices must be respected and extended in any trade deal the EU forms with another country or region.

We need to work with MEPs in the European Parliament.

The Socialist and Democrat group in the European Parliament have said that they reject ISDS in TTIP and the EU-Canada agreement.

S&D group MEPs have also raised the importance of protecting labour standards in TTIP.

We need to build strategic, stronger campaigns together.

British unions with Irish unions and other unions in the EU and USA.

And we need to secure a proper place for trade unions at the negotiating table.

It is an affront to democracy that trade unions have been denied access to negotiating texts and have had to rely on leaks.

Only one or two really privileged trade unionists get to glimpse the texts in a special reading room in Brussels and then they aren’t allowed to make copies of anything they see – maybe we should be looking for a trade union rep with a photographic memory to send in there!

Without proper access to negotiating texts and discussions around TTIP, trade unions are not able to have a say over the details of the proposals for the public sector, workers rights, health, consumer or environmental standards.

These aren’t technical trade details, these are matters of public concern that we have a legitimate interest in.

Negotiators cannot lock trade unions out of negotiations and expect us to believe that the deal is being negotiated in our interest.

We’ve seen too many trade deals to believe that.

Not only the recent EU-Canada agreement, but also the EU-Korea and EU-Colombia agreement, where there were no enforceable labour standards.

In Korea more workers have been imprisoned since the trade agreement took place. In Colombia more workers have been gunned down with impunity.

And by the way, as the chair of Justice for Colombia in Britain, can I wish you every success in getting that EU-Colombia deal voted down in the Dail?

Trade unions don’t believe the EU naturally has workers interest at heart.

That’s why we must make sure we are in the room and can influence the shape of the negotiations.

Negotiators and government must commit to protect our health, democracy and rights in trade deals.

These are not commodities, they are core values, and they cannot be traded away.

Let’s stop TTIP, CETA and any other trade deal that’s being done in our name but is not in our interest!

Posted in Speeches |

Myths, lies and untruths: The Scandalous Sale of Royal Mail

“There’s no way we will sell Royal Mail ‘on the cheap’”. That was the promise made by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills over a year ago in its Royal Mail: Myth-busters factsheet.

Yet we now know that is exactly what Vince Cable did. Indeed, most of the ‘myths’ the department tried to bust have now come to fruition.

Last October, Cable dismissed the share jump as “froth and speculation”. In the Independent last week he claimed, “it has taken a year for much of that froth to subside”. But even at the current share price (of 391p) Royal Mail was undersold by nearly half a billion pounds (£0.37bn to be precise).

That’s not froth, it’s scandalous.

Cable cannot just shrug off this substantial amount of money. He lost half a billion pounds on the way to the Stock Exchange. If a postman or woman had lost a valuable package so carelessly on their delivery round they’d be sacked. But not those in Government, or their City advisors, who have managed to dodge responsibility for the bungled sell-off for the past twelve months.

The sale of Royal Mail still remains deeply unpopular with the public, especially as the privatisation of a 500-year-old treasured public institution was at the expense of taxpayers and for the benefit of big corporate investors. And now we are seeing the effects of the Government’s ill-thought privatisation firsthand – the threat to the sustainability of the universal postal service.

Royal Mail has been vocal in the past few months on this issue, asking watchdog Ofcom how it is meant to continue to deliver a ‘one price goes anywhere’ delivery service when competitors are undercutting it on all sides.

This unregulated competition is making a large dent in the amount of letters and parcels going through Royal Mail’s delivery centres. With so much business going elsewhere, the Government’s assertion a year ago that “competition is beneficial, and should not undermine the provision of the universal postal service” has been proved to be utter nonsense.

Prior to privatisation Cable claimed Royal Mail was in need of private investment. But this wasn’t about transforming the business – which made £440m last year – but about the Coalition reducing much-loved institutions to monetary value.

Vince Cable favoured the 16 so-called ‘priority investors’ who were supposed to be there for the long-term.  They were allowed to buy shares worth £728m based on what was said to be a gentleman’s agreement that their investment was for the long-term.

Many of these priority investors were in fact hedge funds looking for short term profit – they reneged on their promise, and half of their share allocation was sold off within a few weeks at a substantial profit. Six priority investors sold all of their holdings in the first few weeks of trading.

The sale of Royal Mail was not about delivering the best value for the taxpayer but just to achieve a sale. Lazard advised government against raising the price of Royal Mail shares to investors even though the allocation of shares was more than 23 times oversubscribed.  Lazard’s investment arm Lazard Asset Management sold its six million shares within days of the IPO securing an £8million profit.

The assertion that privatisation was necessary for Royal Mail to maintain the universal postal service is simply wrong. Hedge funds aren’t well known for their public service ethos.  Not only are Royal Mail profits now in private hands, but we can expect more pressure from corporate shareholders to cut costs and run postal services down.

The sale of Royal Mail was wrong in principle; it was unnecessary and has cost the British taxpayer dearly. It’s not enough to get rid of a public institution at any price. In fact, it’s an insult, to the people who work there and to the great British public.

Posted in Columns |

Speech to Italian union’s job summit: Britain needs a pay rise

Years into the crisis there is still a misunderstanding on its origins:

European leaders and institutions prefer to blame excessive public debt to justify austerity policies; we trade unions remember all too well that this crisis stemmed first and foremost from the excesses of the financial sector, which was then bailed out on the back of workers and taxpayers.

This crisis has shown how no country is truly safe.

Our economies, inside or out of the eurozone, are so interconnected that beggar thy neighbour policies ultimately damage us all.

The UK chose to apply austerity without the diktat of the European Commission or the Troika, but was able to activate monetary policies that were not available to eurozone countries (QE).

Years of painful cuts have left our public services depleted and a privatisation agenda is undermining our health system.

Unjust reforms to the pension system mean that proper pensions have all but ended in the private sector and public sector workers now have to work longer, contribute more and receive less when they retire.

Despite the severity of these measures, even the Government say we won’t have a balanced budget until 2018, though the UK economy is growing again, albeit weakly – GDP per head still remains 4% below the pre-crisis level, and the economy is well behind trend growth since then.

And the magic simply isn’t working for all. Once again it is only the 1% that seems to be enjoying the recovery.

Exports are weak due to the strength of our currency, growth seems to be driven by household debt and house prices are rocketing.

We should remember what happened the last time private debt reached unsustainable levels…

The pay squeeze continues: wages have trailed behind inflation for the longest period on record – certainly since well before the 1870s.

Our unemployment rate is around 7% but its fall is mostly due to a 19% increase in the number of self-employed – whether that’s all genuine and spontaneous entrepreneurial spirit – or just people declaring themselves as self-employed but doing almost no work – is highly debatable.

The average income for someone declaring themselves to be self-employed is now well below the minimum wage for a 30-hour week.

Also there are high levels of involuntary part time or temporary work simply because there aren’t enough full time jobs available, and over half of the jobs that have been created are low pay.

In particular, we’ve seen a massive growth in what are known as ‘zero hours contracts’ – in reality just a return to the working conditions of the casual dockers and labourers of the 1930s.

Weak earnings growth has become a problem not just for hard-pressed working families – the working poor whose low wages are being subsidised by state benefits: in reality an enormous state subsidy for mean employers; but for the wider economy because of lower income tax receipts, and reduced demand.

These are all elements that in our analysis make our growth unsustainable.

We support the European Trade Union Confederation’s investment plan, the New Path 4 Europe, that offers the possibility of 11 million new, skilled, sustainable, well paid jobs.

We want to see governments across Europe, and the European Parliament and Commission, respond to the challenge we have set down for them.

We also want to see a greater voice for workers in the way the economy and their own company is run.

While our Prime Minister promises yet more tax cuts for the rich, we will be taking to the streets of London on 18 October demanding a pay rise for Britain, so that the recovery is real and the benefits are shared more fairly.

Posted in Speeches |