Speech: Scotland No 2 Branch AGM

Thank you for this opportunity to address your AGM.  I want to makes some observations on the political situation, the unions work on organising, and our work on proportionality.

This year is dominated by the General Election. It looks as though Labour is on course to replace the Coalition Government.

But, if the current political situation in Scotland remains unchanged, then Labour is unlikely to achieve an overall majority.

At the start of February Lord Ashcroft’s poll of 16 Labour held constituencies in Scotland indicated that the SNP was ahead in 15.

Although this was a snapshot the Scottish Labour Party has an enormous task to turn this around before May 7th.

Doubtless there will be many different interpretations of the referendum campaign and its outcome.

But it does appear that the biggest impact upon Labour’s electoral standing has been the decision of the leadership to support austerity.

In 2012, in opinion polls, Labour was scoring 10 points ahead of the Tories.

In 2013 the Labour leadership endorsed economic austerity. This has been explained as tempered by a fairer approach than the Coalition.

Probably true. But working with comparable spending limits leads to comparable cuts in public services.

This was a disappointment, and a blow to Labour’s standing in the polls. The SNP and the Greens have benefited from Labour voters deciding to support a party that opposes austerity.

There is a simple answer for the Labour Party, and for Scottish Labour – drop the failed austerity policy.

An incoming Labour government needs to invest in the economy.  This will stimulate and sustain economic growth.

We need a recovery that increases quality jobs.  This week we learnt that the number of zero-hour contracts has risen to 1.8 million.  Wages and benefits must be lifted to raise living standards.

When they do more tax revenues go to the Chancellor from both employers and workers. Full employment reduces welfare spending. This means the public spending deficit closes.

Rejecting austerity is popular, because it is right.

YouGov published a poll in January of people who were described as swing Labour voters – they’ve not yet made up their minds, but they haven’t ruled out voting Labour.

57 percent said they would prefer a Labour Party that:

*  commits to spend more money on the NHS and other public services and does not make the deficit a priority.

51 percent said they would prefer a Labour Party that:

*  is less subservient to the USA, does not get involved in American wars and instead is more positive about Britain’s role in Europe.

And finally, 56 percent said they would prefer a Labour Party that:

* does more to stand up to big business, supported ordinary people against over powerful corporations.

So, swing voters prefer a leftist Labour Party over a Blairite one.

It is important that we both elect a Labour government, and keep pressing for change in the economic policy.

Despite this, there is much in Labour’s campaign which we can support. Last year at the National Policy Forum, and Labour Party Conference, the Labour leadership committed to a range of policies that the CWU and other unions argued for.

These include:

  • Closing the loophole in agency workers rights
  • Making superfast broadband available to all parts of the UK
  • Using government contracts to spread the payment of the Living Wage
  • Abolition of exploitative zero-hour contracts
  • Increased public reporting on equal pay to address the gender pay gap
  • Additional resources to the Gangmaster Licensing Authority to ensure recruitment firms comply with employment standards
  • Support for an international Financial Transaction Tax – also known as the Robin Hood Tax
  • Full engagement by the British Government in the Irish Peace Process
  • Equality and justice for the Palestinians.

These are commitment that the CWU was directly involved in securing. In addition, and of particular interest to branch members will be the commitment we secured on Royal Mail.

These include:

  • a recognition that privatisation was wrong in principle
  • a commitment not to sell the 30 percent shares still in public ownership
  • support for a staff led trust for the 10 percent staff share
  • ruling nothing out, an examination of the privatisation process, and its impact on the workforce
  • secure the USO for the next Parliament and foreseeable future
  • ensure delivery competition does not undermine the USO by introducing protection for Royal Mail from cherry picking
  • protect the post office network by pushing for a substantial extension of the Inter-Business Agreement between Royal Mail and POL
  • establish a suitable price control
  • investigate whether competition is creating the need for protection against deteriorating conditions in employment and remuneration for the postal workforce.

That is a good set of commitments from an incoming Labour Government. We will have to provide appropriate lobbying to ensure that they are delivered.

Labour Conference – as you probably know – had previously agreed with the union that Royal Mail should be renationalised.

We do not have that agreement from the Labour leadership, but it remains our policy and we will continue to pursue in an appropriate manner.

The communications sector as a whole is changing and we are having to change the manner in which we approach organising as a union.

Royal Mail is changing fast. But then, so too is the whole post and courier sector. Parcels and courier deliveries have been highly competitive for many years.

Recently we’ve seen Whistl launch a competitive letter delivery service in a number of cities.

Overall the total number of jobs in the whole industry is about the same as 10 years ago.

But now Royal Mail represents a smaller part of the industry.

This has an impact upon the union’s bargaining position.

There are around 150,000 nonunionised workers in the Post and Courier sector.

That means only around 50 percent of post and courier workers are in a union.

CWU members, covered by collective agreements, have better terms and conditions than nonunionised workers.

Yet firms without a union exert downward pressure on your terms and conditions.

This is because Royal Mail shareholders, and the regulator, draw comparisons between Royal Mail’s wages bill and those of the competitors.

The gap can be very large. Whistl workers are supposed to be unionised by Community.

When you look at the condition of Whistl workers you have to question what coverage Community actually has achieved.

According to figures Whistl provided to the House of Commons BIS Select Committee, they currently employ 48 percent of their staff on zero hour contracts.

The basic wage of a Whistl delivery worker in Inner London is £7.37 a hour. That is well below the London Living Wage of £9.15,

A Royal Mail delivery worker in Inner London has an hourly rate of £12.35.

So the union has to develop a way of overcoming the weakening of its bargaining position.

In future, we must spend much more time organising in other post and courier firms.

In future, we must make a serious drive to establish minimum terms and conditions for the whole sector. This starts with the Living Wage.

We must organise and campaign to ensure that every post and courier company pays the Living Wage.

This is mostly a task of directly organising in the industry. But we must also seek protective legislation from an incoming Labour Government.

I noticed that the Scottish TUC is in disagreement with the SNP on the delay on the introduction of statutory Scottish Government Guidance on the Living Wage.

The idea is for the inclusion of a legal commitment that anyone delivering services to the Scottish government has to pay the Living Wage.

The SNP is missing a trick, given the contribution that government can make to promote living wage through contract compliance.

Now, the union has been engaged in an extended reform to try and achieve a more proportional leadership.

By this, we mean a leadership that more closely represents the actual make up of the membership – particularly the proportion of women and members of ethnic minority communities.

We are making progress on this. The NEC has a number of rule changes going to conference to improve this at the national and regional level.

One proposal is to seat all the chairs of the equality advisory committees at the NEC.

Equally, the NEC is proposing to introduce a reserved seat for women amongst the three principal officers in each region.

These are small steps to take – but each one helps to overcome the under-representation of women and black and minority ethnic members in leading positions.

We want every branch to become more conscious of these issues, and ensure an improvement in the balance of branch leadership. In general, branches are responding positively to this.

The vast majority of union activists recognise that the make-up of the workforce is changing, and that the union must adapt to this too.

87 percent of the new jobs created in Scotland in the past two years have gone to women.

The Scotland No2 Branch has a membership of 3240.

440 of your members are women – that’s one in seven members of your branch.

We don’t have full details of the ethnic origins of the membership. In Scotland No 2, we only have records of the ethnicity of 1429 members.

We are preparing the full UK wide census of the membership from CWU headquarters.  We need to encourage all members to provide these details.

Of your Branch members who have provided details, we know that 54 are from black and ethnic minorities.

That means around four percent of your branch members are from ethnic minorities.

These details matter.  The more the union leadership reflects the diverse membership of the members, the stronger the union is for everyone.

By way of interest, 215 branch members are under 30 years old – that is around seven percent.

You have 129 retired members – that is around four percent.

We have very little information on disability – only 3 branch members defined themselves as having a disability.

As I said, we are looking at ways to carry out a membership census. Such information will contribute to refining and improving our policy and representation.

I am happy to answer questions on any matters I’ve raised, or haven’t raised.

Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: Campaign for Labour Party Democracy AGM

It is a privilege to address your AGM.  CLPD gives coherence to everything the left stands for inside the Party – to be practical, effective and principled.

There is no difference amongst us, I’m sure, on the need to return a  majority Labour Government on May 7th.

At present, if the situation in Scotland remains unchanged, the best we may be seeing is Labour as the largest party.

It didn’t have to be this way. Let’s recall that during 2012, Labour was scoring 10 points above the Tories. Then Ed Miliband and Ed Balls announced their decision to adopt austerity as a Labour policy.

This can be dressed up as a fairer policy approach than the Coalition. And no doubt it could be.

But with comparable spending limits come comparable cuts. That was a disappointment, and a tremendous blow to Labour’s standing in the polls.

The SNP and the Greens have benefited from Labour voters deciding to support a party that opposes austerity.

If we can’t convince the Labour leadership at present then we must keep pressing for the future.

The victory of Syriza in Greece is very important for the future of the EU. The failure of any other government in the EU to stand up against austerity means the new Greek government is isolated, in the short term.

But the movement throughout Europe is changing fast, notably in Spain and Ireland.

Given the current stagnation in the Eurozone, it’s hard to believe that people will accept further austerity which will only deepen the economic stagnation.

Our task is still to deliver a Labour Government, despite the leadership’s current support for austerity.

Only with a Labour government do we have the chance of a better more progressive, economic policy.

Since CLPD’s last AGM, we’ve had the findings of the Collins Review endorsed at Labour’s Spring Conference last year.

It is then appropriate to consider how this is likely to affect our future work.

The introduction of the affiliated supporters category is likely to lead to a reduction in union subscriptions. Each union will be using the five-year period to try and maximise the number of affiliated supporters.

The CWU is preparing its first exercise in offering members the choice of opting in or out. I envisage the union having to engage in this exercise a number of times.

None of us can be certain what percentage of levy payers are likely to become affiliated supporters.

All of us, I would guess, believe that it is likely to be considerably less than the current affiliated levels.

Certainly there are incentives to organise and argue for take up. Immediately after the General Election we face the important contest for Labour’s nominee for London mayor.

Given that this is being decided through a primary, the unions will have to put a lot of effort into signing up members, if they want to have an influence in the contest.

We will have to use every argument possible. We will have to deploy every type of communication – traditional and social media – in order to get the maximum support.

Of course, I believe it is essential for progressive politics that the unions remain affiliated to the Party.

Yet it is hard to believe that there will not be a change in the weight of the unions in the Party.

Here too, I believe that a major danger facing us is that a Labour government, or a Labour led government, would be tempted to extend the state funding of parties.

There is likely to be a big drop in finance coming from levy payers. Inevitably, there will be pressure to make donations proportionate to those affiliation levels.

It is hard to see how the Party is not going to take a financial hit. State funding will then be suggested as the real solution to any shortfall. I think this is a strong likelihood.

You can imagine that  Progress and allies will favour this solution.  It would further remove the elected politicians from dependency upon a mass membership.

State funding will make the leadership less sensitive and accountable to membership needs. In the other direction, it will hollow out the activist base of the party.

State funding will strengthen the tendency towards making politics the preserve of a small number of professional politicians.

It will also strengthen the hand of those who see politics as a matter of simply providing the best administration – with very little difference in policy.

So, this is a big threat, and I know CLPD is alert to this.

We do have five years to define and stabilise the union’s affiliation levels to the party. So must prepare for a prolonged campaign.

But I wanted to talk to about some of the immediate problems, because CLPD has never been afraid to face up to difficulties.

I’m sure we all miss the presence of Vladimir Derer today. The best way to demonstrate this is to recommit ourselves to the work of CLPD.

On behalf of the CWU, thank you for your contribution to the movement. The CWU is proud to be affiliated.

Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: CWU South West Region AGM

Thank you for the opportunity to address your AGM. Our regional committees are for the branches, to have a forum to discuss our general position in the wider labour movement.

Now, we are in election year, with the whole country going to the polls on May 7th.

It looks as though Labour is on course to replace the wretched Coalition Government.

Given the situation in Scotland, there must be doubts as to whether they will secure an overall majority.

During 2012, in opinion polls, Labour was scoring 10 points above the Tories.

But in 2013 Ed Miliband and Ed Balls decided to adopt a comparable pro-austerity economic policy as that pursued by the Coalition.

Yes, they will be fairer, but they would continue with comparable spending limits, and hence comparable cuts.

This was a disappointment, and a tremendous blow to Labour’s standing in the polls.

Both the SNP and the Greens have benefited from Labour voters deciding to support a party that opposes austerity.

The answer is quite simple. The Labour leadership must break with the failed policy of austerity. It has failed wherever it has been tried in Europe.

An incoming Labour Government needs to invest in the economy.  This will stimulate and sustain economic growth.

We need a recovery that creates quality jobs and lifts wages.  Living standards need to rise. When they do, more tax revenues go to the Chancellor from both employers and workers.

Full employment reduces welfare spending.   This means the public deficit closes.

Why should Labour buy into a failure?  The Labour leader should stop worrying about the pressure exerted by some business people. They don’t want a Labour Government anyway.

Labour must stand up for the vast majority of people in this country and reject austerity.

It would also be popular.  YouGov  published its poll findings on January 26th.

This was a poll of people who were described as “swing Labour voters” – they have not yet made up their minds on who to vote for, but they haven’t ruled out voting Labour.

The poll found that 57 percent swing voters agreed that they would prefer a Labour Party that:

*  commits to spending more money on the NHS and other public services and does not make the deficit a priority.

51 percent said they would prefer a Labour Party that:

*  is less subservient to the USA, does not get involved in American wars and instead is more positive about Britain’s role in Europe.

And finally, 56 percent said they preferred a Labour Party that:

*  does more to stand up to big business, supporting ordinary people against over powerful corporations.

What a surprise!  Swing voters prefer a leftist Labour Party over a Blairite one.

So is important we both elect a Labour government, and keep pressing for change in the economic policy too.

If we are critical, it may be suggested  this prevents us from campaigning to return a majority Labour Government.

I don’t accept this. There is much that is positive in Labour’s election commitments, so we won’t be apologising for supporting them.

More than this, last year at the National Policy Forum, and Labour Party conference,  the Labour leadership gave a commitment on a range of policies that the CWU organised for, along with other unions.

These include:

*  Closing the loophole in agency workers rights
*  Protecting Royal Mail and the USO from unfair delivery competition
* Maintaining  the business links between Post Office Ltd and Royal Mail
* Making superfast broadband available to all parts of the UK
*   Using government contracts to spread the payment of the Living Wage
*  Abolition of exploitative zero hour contracts
*  Increase public reporting on equal pay to address gender pay gap
*  Additional resources to Gangmaster Licensing Authority to ensure recruitment firms comply with employment standards
*  Support for an international Financial Transaction Tax – also known as the Robin Hood Tax
*  Full engagement by government with the Irish Peace Process
*  Equality and justice for the Palestinians.

I believe there is plenty in that list which will appeal to members, and can be used to promote our support in the election.

It also demonstrates how effective the CWU has been in influencing policy.

In this Election we are coordinating our intervention with a greater devolution of finance and authority to the Regions.

Each region presented a business case for support which went to the PFMC and NEC for endorsement.

This resulted in a budget of £500,000 being earmarked for the regions, with £330,000 pounds already agreed for distribution.

In the case of your Region, a budget request of over £29,000 pounds has been agreed.

Of course, this is not an alternative to finances from branches in the region. It is in addition. Branches should be planning their own election work and costs, alongside the Region.

We will be providing branded goods and material for use by the Regions and Branches. We are also working closely with the national and regional TULO.

Now, onto the issue of organising.

We are preparing a new edition of “Mapping the Future”.  If you recall, this was a document published in 2011, which outlined the current state of the whole communications industry – our position as a union within it – and the options facing the union.

The 2015 addition updates all the changes since the original, and contains original research with data purchased from the Office of National Statistics.

The ONS defines the communications sector as made up of two categories – Post and Courier; alongside Telecoms.

At the end of 2013, the total workforce in these two categories was 424,000.

This compares to 511,000 in 2009. So, there have been considerable job losses, despite the expansion of communication services.

Of the total workforce, 73,000 work part time.  That is 17 per cent of the workforce.

We are still working on the report which will likely be published later this spring.

Some sobering figures are already clear.

In 2003, 61 percent of Post and Courier workers were unionised. By 2013 this figure had dropped to 50 percent.

In 2003, 37 percent of Telecom workers were unionised. By 2013 this figure had fallen to 27 percent.

Today, we remain strongly organised in companies where we are recognised. But the growth of non-unionised workers and companies means that our bargaining position is deteriorating.

Labour costs are considerably lower in non-unionised firms.

The shareholders in our  recognised companies expect their managers to deliver labour costs closer to those in non-recognised companies. This really is the race to the bottom.

This then needs to be addressed. Firstly, we have to increase our resources allocated to unionising and organising these workers.

Branches can get extra resources from headquarters if they have a real case for an organising project.

Secondly, we have to promote the need for minimum standards in the sector.

Our goal has to be establishing the Living Wage across the entire communications sector.

This requires traditional bargaining/organising activity – and appropriate legislation from an incoming Labour government. Both tactics are essential.

Let me give you just one example of the pressure.

A Royal Mail delivery worker in Inner London has an hourly rate of £12.35. A Whistl delivery worker in the same area earns £7.37 an hour.

The Inner London Living Wage is £9.15 an hour.

We are not asking workers to be sacked.

We are asking that they be treated with the minimum respect that their work  entitles them to – that is the Living Wage.

Establishing a living wage across the sector will do much to end unfair competition. It will also generally raise living standards. That’s something that is desperately needed, at this point in time.

So this has to become a new task in the months and years ahead.

I am happy to answer questions on matters I’ve raised, or any other issues.

Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: CWU Political Event – afternoon session

There’s no doubt over the CWU’s commitment to the return of a majority Labour Government.

This is the policy of the union’s Annual Conference. It is the policy that we have been working on since Labour’s defeat in the 2010 Election.

You have heard from our guest speakers how the Party is approaching the General Election.

Shortly, I will explain how the union has been preparing to maximise the effectiveness of our contribution to Labour’s campaign.

I take it for granted that you all want to do what is necessary to secure a Labour victory.

But I’m very conscious that there are many of our members who have reservations about Labour.

Last autumn, we polled CWU members on their voting intentions. The poll found that 56 percent of those questioned voted Labour in 2010.

For the 2015 election 52 percent were definitely intending to vote Labour.

When asked what party they would usually support the figure jumped to 71 percent saying Labour.

Clearly something is amiss. Some members, who see themselves as Labour “usually”, are not convinced by Labour today.

In my opinion, the reason is because Labour has tacked too close to the Coalition Government’s austerity policy.

You may disagree.  But I think we need to be able to critically discuss Labour’s policies in order to win these wavering supporters in our own union.

Let me quote another poll, external this time.  YouGov published a poll on January 26.

This was a poll of people who were described as “swing Labour voters” – they’re not made up their minds on who to vote, but they haven’t ruled out voting Labour.

The poll found that 57 percent of the swing voters agreed that they would prefer a Labour Party that:

* commits to spending more money on the NHS and other public services and does not make the deficit a priority.

51 percent say they would prefer a Labour Party that:

* is less subservient to the USA, does not get involved in American wars and instead is more positive about Britain’s role in Europe.

And finally, 56 percent said they wanted a Labour Party that:

* does more to stand up to big business, supporting ordinary people against over powerful corporations.

Now the swing voters are saying things in line with CWU policy, and probably in line with CWU swing voters who usually support Labour Party but not at the moment.

These are the voters who are giving a hearing to parties speaking out against austerity like the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru.

At present the support given to austerity by the Labour leadership is an obstacle to winning these voters back. This is unlikely to change this side of the General Election.

But we have to engage with these critical CWU members. We can only persuade them if we are prepared to argue now, and in future, for a different, more progressive economic policy.

With a Labour government, we can argue and organise for an increase in government investment in the economy.

We can argue against Tory spending limits – and argue for economic growth by investment in the infrastructure, housing and public services.

By such means we can draw in the support of our sceptical workmates. We do not, and cannot accept, that austerity is working.

But we can, and must, argue for the return of a Labour government as the way to an alternative to austerity.

Thankfully, there is much that we can support in Labour’s election campaign. Although we may be critical, we are not going to have to apologise for supporting Labour.

There are the key campaign pledges from the Labour leadership itself of which Douglas Alexander spoke of earlier today.

But also, we believe we can persuade CWU members to vote Labour by promoting the commitments the CWU has secured from the Labour leadership.

These were negotiated at the National Policy Forum last July, and endorsed by Party conference in September.

They are included in the documents that will go to the final manifesto meeting.

They have wide-ranging, and I want to highlights some of the most interesting. These include:

  • Closing the loophole in agency workers rights
  • Protecting Royal Mail and the USO from unfair delivery competition
  • Maintaining the business links between Post Office Ltd and Royal Mail
  • Making superfast broadband available to all parts of the UK
  • Using government contracts to spread the payment of the Living Wage
  • Abolition of exploitative zero hour contracts
  • Increase public reporting on equal pay to address the gender pay gap
  • Additional resources to the Gangmaster Licensing Authority to ensure recruitment firms comply with employment standards
  • Support for an international Financial Transaction Tax – also known as the Robin Hood Tax
  • Full engagement by the British Government with the Irish Peace Process
  • Equality and justice for the Palestinians.

These are some specific commitments secured by the CWU, in conjunction with other unions. There is a lot to argue for here.

Now, of course, we also have to strengthen our direct involvement in Labour’s campaign.

The union’s plan for the General Election involved the PFMC’s and NEC’s direct engagement with Regions and branches.

Each Region was requested to meet their branches to draw up regional General Election plans.

This is facilitated by two regional Secretaries – our thanks to Carl Webb and Paul Clays.

It was understood that the regional submissions must take account of Labour’s Key Seat strategy – our own Constituency Development Plans – and those seats identified locally as being important to the region and Branches.

As a principle – the NEC also agreed that discussions had to take place with any candidate seeking funding – to ensure their individual views were consistent with the aims and principles of the CWU.

This process enabled better dialogue with the Labour Party at a regional level and greater co-ordination with our sister unions in TULO.

The principal of devolved authority has given regions the autonomy to execute their own plans.

It was on this basis that the NEC agreed an amount of £500,000 should be earmarked for this process.

The bids from the regions totalled £330,000.  So we have some further scope here.

We have made clear to Regional Secretaries – and we do so again today – that there remain monies in Branches that also need to be utilised in this election.

Nationally, we will be providing centrally produced branded goods and material for the campaign.

We are, as you learnt from Byron Taylor, also co-ordinating initiatives with national TULO.

We will be covering the election in the Voice, and providing leaflets and materials that you can use in their efforts to get CWU members to vote Labour in this crucial election.

That’s a lot of work in front of us, but we are prepared for it.

Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: UAF Conference

Session “ After Copenhagen, Chapel Hill and Paris attacks: Uniting against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and fascism in Europe”

It is always a pleasure to speak at UAF events. The CWU believes that UAF has played an irreplaceable role in the struggle against fascism and racism in Britain.

This is why we are proud to host the UAF national office in our building.

An ugly situation in Europe is turning nastier.  In recent years we’ve seen a growth of racist and populist right wing parties across the continent.

Many mainstream politicians have pandered to this development, choosing to blame migrants and the Muslim community for the economic and social problems that austerity has created.

On top of this, Western foreign policy in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere has created wars, refugees, and failed states.

This is a situation which combines waging war against Muslim countries abroad, whilst scapegoating Muslims at home.

Although anti-Semitism has certainly never disappeared, the murders in Paris and Copenhagen add an urgent warning of the dangers the Jewish community is facing.

Our key conclusion has to be that fighting the different forms of discrimination is a crucial priority for the whole progressive movement.

Today’s conference offers us a platform for debating out the issues that we need to organise around.

For our part, I think the trade unions must take up their place in a broad alliance.

The UAF has been successful against the BNP & EDL because it steered activists into broad-based activity.

The UAF has been successful because it understood that fascism gains ground when people refuse to stand up to racism and fail to support our multicultural society.

These insights continue to be valid – even if the BNP and EDL are in their death spasms.

Today’s social conditions, created by austerity economics and a belligerent foreign policy, are grounds upon which racism and discrimination will be constantly refuelled.

So using our inclusive tactics, we must pull together all those who will organise against the new waves of virulent discrimination.

Immediately, we have to challenge the rise of UKIP – who are a populist racist party.

They are Enoch Powell’s legacy in the 21st century.

Facts matter little for UKIP. What matters is whipping up the fear of migrants and everything foreign.

We should press mainstream politicians not to give ground to UKIP’s anti-migrant agenda. Dealing with UKIP means standing up to their lies, myths and rumours.

It doesn’t mean triangulating towards their “concerns”. Bigotry has to be confronted, not dallied with.

We must also oppose the attempts to criminalise and isolate this country’s entire Muslim community.

Politicians and media commentators regularly insist that Muslims denounce the criminal actions of Muslims here or abroad. No such pressure is being applied to other communities.

It is the Muslim community that has become the favourite scapegoat for the polite racism of politicians and the media commentators.

Such scapegoating has fearsome historical precedents – leading to pogroms and genocide.

And just as we are commemorating the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz – so we’ve seen a new wave of anti-Semitism. It is enough to make you weep.

However, we must be more practical. Building an opposition to every manifestation of racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism is our task.

We must make a big priority of the mobilisation for the UN Anti-Racism Day rally on March 21st. A big turnout can create an anti-racist momentum as we enter the short campaign period in the General Election.

We must also ensure that the various party candidates have their antiracist credentials checked in the next three months.

We have to create a counter-pressure to the right. We want Labour, and the left leaning parties, to take a clear stance in defence of migrants, and against Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

Finally, we must continue to build the structures and support for Unite Against Fascism.  We have to drill down anti-racist organisation to every city, town and community.

We have to have affiliations from national unions, and their regions and branches.

This activity promotes members who are able to stand up to the racist wave and turn it back.

These are difficult times, but we are capable of changing them. Together, we will win.

Thanks for listening

Posted in Speeches |

Morning Star comment: Divide and rule is the oldest trick in the book

Comment in today’s Morning Star.

Scapegoating immigrants is a way to distract attention from the economic crisis and who caused it.

You have to go back to the 1930s to find anything worse in this country.

The same is true of the rise of racism and racist scapegoating. Jews are once more being targeted. So too are many others, including people from eastern Europe and anyone with a black or brown skin.

There is an enormous barrage of propaganda, discrimination and physical attacks on Muslims.

There is a clear link between these two processes, the economic crisis and the virulent rise of racism.

Anyone who knows about the 1930s, or even less extreme crises, knows that economic slump or stagnation are quickly followed by a rise in racist and other types of scapegoating.

The reason is also very clear. Scapegoating means exactly finding someone else to blame other than the real culprit.

In this country we have seen a whole string of scapegoats. At different times or in different circumstances the list of scapegoats has included all public-sector workers, anyone in receipt of a social security benefit — most of whom are in work — anyone from Europe, all foreigners, or all Muslims.

One of the most disturbing features of this is the efforts to set up an “us and them” mentality, to talk about “us” and “our values” and to contrast or exclude the scapegoats.

This is deadly to the unity that we need in society as a whole. It is also in sharp contrast to the unity of the trade union movement.

That’s because unions seek to represent all their members, irrespective of their ethnic origin, their gender, their sexual orientation or their religion.

We have to do this to be successful in representing our members’ interests and in trying to influence wider society for the better.

The oldest trick in the book is divide and rule and our opponents are well used to playing it. We’re not having it.

The reality is that the global economic crisis was not caused by anyone’s religion or by their ethnic background or by immigration.

Two major economies, Germany and Japan, have populations that are declining and becoming older. Large-scale immigration would help them to overcome that and so provide a decent retirement for all.

But their economic crisis was at least as severe as the British one. The economic crisis had nothing to do with immigration. But this is the nonsense that now routinely passes for wisdom.

There is a growing housing shortage, rising NHS waiting times and some of our schools are falling apart.

Public services are being cut, and pay and pensions with it. But none of this was caused by immigration.

When public industries are privatised, prices go through the roof and the new private employer tries to push through worse conditions and lower pay for the workers.

But this is the product of the ideological position of the government and managers hell-bent on making a quick buck. None of it is caused by immigration.

The reality is that many more successful economies than Britain have higher levels of immigration.

These include most northern European economies, as well as the US, Canada and Australia.

As the New Zealand prime minister, who is very far from being a socialist, recently told David Cameron: “You need to explain to people that immigration is a measure of economic success.”

It is often claimed that immigrants drive down wages. But there is no evidence for this.

In Britain, on average immigrants earn more than the average worker who is born here. It is impossible for someone earning more than you to drive down your wages.

Immigrants are also net contributors to public finances because they are more likely to be in employment.

The real culprits in our economic crisis are the housebuilding firms that only build homes for the super-rich, the energy companies that gouge prices but refuse to invest in new energy capacity and renewables and the bankers who speculate and lose our money and then expect to get bailouts and bonuses.

The arch-culprit is this Tory-led government which lets people suffer for hours in ambulances but which sent vans round the country telling people to “Go home!”

We should be clear that at a time of increased attacks, from Copenhagen to Chapel Hill and Paris, the priority is to unite all communities against all hatred, Islamophobia, anti-semitism, racism and fascism.

Blaming immigrants, including Muslim and Jewish people, is a way to distract attention from the economic crisis and who caused it.

Uniting against racism and fascism is a key part of the role of the trade unions.

Posted in Articles, Media comments |

Speech: Greece Solidarity Campaign demonstration

I bring you greetings from Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC and greetings from the General Council of the TUC.

The victory of Syriza is an inspiration for the whole working class and progressive movement across Europe.

The voters of Greece have rejected the dictates of the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission.

Instead, they have insisted that austerity must end.

They are right of course. Austerity has failed the people of Greece and Europe. Far from solving the economic problems, austerity has made them worse.

Greece’s debt has grown under austerity. In 2014 the previous government paid out more to  banks, hedge funds and other lenders than it did to its own workforce.

The Greek economy has shrunk by 25 percent. More than half of young Greeks are out of work. In a nation of only 11 million people, 1 million have lost their jobs in this crisis.

The medicine prescribed by the Troika is killing the patient.

Sharan Burrow, the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation has rightly said:

“The international financial institutions and the European authorities need to respect the voice of the Greek people… Negotiation must replace edicts as the engine to regenerate the Greek economy.”

There has to be some form of rescheduling the debt, including substantial debt forgiveness.

Greece’s national sovereignty and economic sustainability must be restored by binning the infamous Memorandum.

Syrza’s program calls for “a European New Deal” of public investment, to be financed by the European Investment Bank.

The TUC & European TUC agree with this; and this is backed by trade unions across Europe, including the German DGB.

What Syrza are calling for is very similar to the help extended to Germany last century.

All European governments must recognise the justice of Greek demands for debt reduction.

And we should support Syrza’s proposal to tie repayments to growth in the economy. That gives the creditors a stake in restoring growth.

The Greek economy suffers from the plague of tax avoidance and evasion that rich people insist upon.  This week we have learned of how HSBC helped the wealthy to leave paying tax to the little people.

This is a dogma that insists that austerity is compulsory for the majority, while affluence is essential for the wealthy.

We must say no to austerity in Greece, in Britain and in the EU.

We want economic growth from government investment – not cuts in public services. We want quality jobs and rising wages – not zero hours contracts and wage freezes.

The people of Greece have opened a new chapter in European history. Behind them we can see the rising opposition in Spain and Ireland.

Perhaps in Britain too the public are starting to see through the con-trick of austerity.  It is just a means to transfer wealth from the vast majority to the very wealthy.

On behalf of the TUC, I want to congratulate the Greece Solidarity Campaign for organising this rally today.

And congratulations to all of you, for joining together in solidarity with the struggling people of Greece.

Together we will win.  Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

February/March Voice column: What turns a trade union member into an activist?

A sense of social justice, a desire to right a wrong certainly.

Talking to union activists at all levels, it always strikes me how much we have in common, both in terms of background and experience.

Much has changed in our union, yet the attitude to unions in many respects is essentially similar to what it was when I started out.

Bullying and harassment of union reps is still present. The more subtle pressure on rank and file members has also grown – but not a year goes by without an overt attack on our reps.

The CWU has an excellent record of supporting our frontline reps.

Facing the sack is a great pressure on anyone, and my own experience certainly taught me a lot about the union’s great strength and solidarity.

Liverpool is never awash with jobs, and I joined the Royal Mail after a period ‎of life on the dole.

To obtain a steady job was great. But to face the sack having completed my trial period was disconcerting.

I represented myself at the appeal stage, having been given my last day of service.

The experience of saving my job has never left me‎. Essentially, honesty is the best policy.

Since I started work, a lot has stayed the same but a lot has also changed.

Bosses are still intent on attacking workers’ rights wherever and whenever they can.

Over the years, however, our laws have evolved to increasingly favour the employer against the employee – particularly with regards to unfair dismissal and strike action.

The perverse celebration of the UK’s restrictive labour laws by senior politicians is a sad but true reflection of the environment we inhabit.

As we approach the forthcoming General Election 2015, the Conservatives aim to reinforce their earlier attacks on trade unions by introducing a so-called ‘40 per cent threshold’ in industrial action ballots. A strike would not be valid unless a 40 per cent turnout had been achieved.

They are also proposing to end the ‘check off’ system – under which union subs are deducted by the employer directly from pay – and to attack trade union reps’ facility time.

Being a rep means making choices and taking responsibilities.

Life has to be lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards.

Bosses are still intent on attacking where and when they can.

Our people have a choice; wait for the perfect party and the perfect candidate, or make a choice about what can improve the lives of workers today.

The decision should be based on an assessment of the best possible option on offer in the current circumstances.

This is what makes good representation for all.

Quote:

“It’s the same each time with progress. First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you” – Tony Benn

Posted in Columns, Voice columns |

Morning Star: Work and the Law supplement


Bring back cross-sectoral bargaining

Ed Miliband has established a commission on “the future of work and prosperity.” It is a panel made up of Alison Downie, Douglas McCormick and John Monks.

Trade unions should see this commission as an opportunity to influence the work of an incoming Labour government. We need to highlight the legislative action necessary to ensure workers’ needs are met.

I want to focus on just two issues — low pay and cross-sectoral bargaining for minimum standards. Compared to other developed countries, Britain has a relatively large number of people who are in low-pay and low-skill jobs.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in April 2012 4.9 million workers were paid less than the living wage. That figure covers 25 per cent of all women in work, and 15 per cent of all men.

The Labour Party is committed to the living wage but envisages its introduction as a voluntary process. Rachel Reeves MP, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, in her recent Bloomberg speech spoke strongly for the living wage. She explained that Labour would give firms that signs up to the living wage a 12-month tax break of up to £1,000 for every low-paid worker receiving a raise. But what happens after 12 months when the firm pleads an inability to pay?

A different approach is needed. Employers should be put on notice. Labour needs to oversee the move from a minimum wage economy to a living wage economy.

The commitment should be for the living wage to form the statutory lowest wage by the end of the next parliament.

The issue of cross-sectoral bargaining and protection is a key route to raising living standards. All the evidence is that workers represented by unions, and covered by collective agreements, have higher wages and better conditions than unorganised workers.

By combining union organising and statutory minimum standards, it is possible to address the issues of low pay, overwork, stress and contract insecurity in the workplace.

Recently, serious competition has been introduced into the letter delivery services. The competition to Royal Mail comes from a firm called Whistl.

According to figures provided to the BIS parliamentary select committee, Whistl has 48 per cent of its staff on zero-hours contracts. It pays a delivery worker in inner London £7.37 an hour. Royal Mail workers performing comparable work are on permanent contracts and receive £12.35 an hour.

Clearly this is competition based on driving down terms and conditions — the opposite of what Britain needs.

If cross-sectoral bargaining and minimum standards were introduced then no firm would be able to enter the market by offering a wage rate below the living wage, or using zero-hours contracts. Living standards need to be lifted, not slashed.

The industry regulator, Ofcom, is allowing this to proceed, regardless of the impact upon Royal Mail’s ability to fund the universal service. Clearly Labour needs to act to protect the industry, and workers within the post and courier sector.

These are only two of the many items which need to be raised with the “work and prosperity” commission.

Read the full Work and the Law supplement online on the Morning Star website.

Posted in Articles |

Speech: York and District branch

Thank you for the opportunity to address your meeting.  Your branch plays an important and progressive role in our union.  Long may it do so.

Despite the spin from George Osborne and David Cameron, the economy is still in a very bad way. It has only just grown back to the size it was before the recession hit in 2008.

A recent report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies found that, after taking inflation into account, wages are still worth one percent less today than in 2001.

The TUC produced figures today which show that Cameron has overseen the worst fall in living standards since Queen Victoria was on the throne.

Their research shows that since 2010, the value of average gross annual earnings of full time employees has decreased by £2509, or 8.4%.  This is the impact of wage freezes combined with the effects of inflation.

CWU members, thanks to the organised and negotiating strength of the union, have for the most part done better than that.  However, whether unionised or not, I doubt if there isn’t a worker in the country who hasn’t felt the squeeze in some way or another.

That’s a good indication of how severe the squeeze on living standards has been.

The fact is that austerity policies have failed. The Coalition Government has not created a recovery for the majority of people, only for their rich mates in the City of London.

We expect better from Labour in 2015. The General Election should see not just a change in the governing party – but also a change in policy.

We cannot accept austerity from Labour; no more than from the Tories and Lib Dems.

We need an expanding economy.  Government investment is needed to modernise the infrastructure, build houses, and renew public services.

We need a recovery where quality jobs are created; and where wages, pensions and benefits rise.

The recent election in Greece shows that the people in Europe are rejecting austerity.

This is tremendously hopeful. In its first days, the new Greek Government halted the privatisation programme, reinstated unfairly dismissed workers, increased pensions, and raised the minimum wage.

The Greek government is resisting the attempts of the European Central Bank, and some EU governments, to continue with the disastrous austerity programme.

The fact that Greek voters rejected this appears of no consequence to some in power in the EU.  But we should support the Greek government’s demand for respect and a better economic policy.

There is a clear lesson for an incoming Labour Government – it is possible to carry out a fairer policy than austerity.

What we cannot accept is a continuation of Tory spending limits; wage freezes, and the destruction of welfare benefits. As a union, we must insist that Labour breaks from austerity.

Because the union is well-organised in our major companies, we tend to take our bargaining strength for granted.

In Royal Mail and British Telecoms the CWU has high levels of membership and strong workplace organisation.   We must work hard to maintain our strong workplace organisation in these companies.

But we experience a direct pressure on our bargaining position from the existence of a large number of companies with low levels of unionisation, or, often, no unionisation.

In the whole postal and courier sector there are 150,000 non-unionised workers. This is around the same number of unionised workers in the sector.

Management make direct cost comparisons with their competitors, whether unionised or not.

Shareholders expect management to reduce labour costs to those of their competitors.

Our national negotiators have to face this pressure when management tell the Union that we are making them pay above “the market rate”.

So, it’s a big priority to turn our organisation towards the recruitment and effective organisation of the workers in these companies.

For example, if we could simply get the Living Wage paid across the whole of the communications sector, then that would remove a great deal of unfair competition.

It is then a big priority to turn towards recruitment and organisation of members in these companies.

I am not going to talk about your bargaining and business issues as such. But I do want to talk about the political initiatives around Royal Mail.

Last year we got some important commitments from the Labour leadership which were endorsed by Labour Party Conference. These include:

  • A recognition that privatisation was wrong in principle
  • A commitment not to sell the 30 Percent Shares still in public ownership
  • Support for a staff led trust for the 10 Percent staff share
  • Ruling nothing out, an examination of the privatisation process, and its impact upon the workforce
  • Secure the USO for the next Parliament and the foreseeable future
  • Ensure delivery competition does not undermine the USO by introducing protection for Royal Mail from cherry picking
  • Protect the Post Office Network by pushing for a substantial extension of the Inter-Business Agreement between Royal Mail and POL
  • Establish a suitable price control
  • Investigate whether competition is creating the need for protection against deteriorating conditions in employment and remuneration for the postal workforce.

That’s a pretty good set of commitments from an incoming Labour Government.

We will have to provide appropriate lobbying to ensure that they are delivered.

Labour Conference – as you probably know – had previously agreed with the Union that Royal Mail should be renationalised.

We do not have that agreement from the Labour leadership. But that remains our policy, and we will continue to pursue it in an appropriate manner.

These commitments are important because the situation facing Royal Mail on delivery competition is clearly critical.

The regulator, Ofcom, has decided to take no action against the introduction of unfair competition in delivery.

That is irresponsible but it’s not going to change while the Coalition Government remains in power.

We continue to organise and lobby politicians for a new protections against unfair competition.

But in reality it will be with a change of government that progress becomes possible.

I’m more than happy to take any questions you may have.  Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |