September 12, 2019

Global Climate Strike 20-27 September 2019

Support the Striking School and College Students!

I don’t need to start this by outlining the latest predictions from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). All reasonable people recognise that without serious and significant intervention on a global scale, the planet is heading towards a drastic increase in extreme weather conditions which will have a disastrous effect on the world’s ecosystem and future generations.

Given the scale and seriousness of the issue, it’s hardly surprising that a movement to fight climate change has taken off, the significant feature being that it is led by school and college students, determined that their future will not be characterised by a political and economic leadership that fails to act.

As an antidote to the idiocy and short-sightedness of Trump and Bolsonaro, Greta Thunberg’s call to action has been a welcome change. Her example of striking from school as a protest against the inaction of the Swedish government has found an echo, and become an inspiration for thousands of young people across the planet. In February, the Youth Strike 4 Climate Change began organising demonstrations in Britain.

The movement of school and college students has shown an inspiring militancy, determination and seriousness. An estimated 1.5 million participated in the global student strike on 15th March, adopting the method of strike action from the trade union movement. It is enormously significant that walking out of school to effect change is seen as the best tactic.

20th September 2019 is the next significant date for this movement. The “Earth Strike” announced for that day has the support of lecturers’ union UCU and BFAWU, which organises workers in the catering industry. The active involvement of working people and trade unions would prove decisive in moving the campaign to the next level.

UNISON has put forward the idea of Green Week, 16-20 September, giving “members the chance to show support for the school climate strikers ahead of their campaign to raise awareness and the school climate strike on 20 September.”

This proposes individual branches campaigning to “green” their workplaces and show verbal support for those participating on 20th September. Whilst raising awareness of the issue and taking up some of the arguments, what’s missing here is a willingness to do what the students want (getting involved on the day by walking out of workplaces) and proposing what measures are necessary for reversing climate change.

The anti-trade union laws not only impose very restrictive measures on how industrial action ballots can be run (postal ballots to home addresses and a 50% turnout threshold), they also outlaw all “political” strikes i.e. those that do not relate directly to a dispute with the employer over pay, pensions, terms and conditions etc.

(For this branch to legally strike, we’d need to formulate a trade dispute relating to climate change, negotiate with the University and then declare a dispute. Then once negotiations are exhausted, we’d need to formulate some demands, win a ballot on the back of that with a 50% turnout and fend off any attempts at court action along the way. The entire system is rigged in favour of the employer where business as usual e.g. imposing real terms pay cuts, is seen as perfectly legal and non-controversial behaviour.)

So, given where we are, this branch can and does give full material and practical support to those students taking strike action.

Our members who feel strongly enough to get involved on the day will need to be imaginative about how they do that. We would argue that the University should take a flexible approach in the application of annual leave, flexitime and unpaid leave if necessary. If members of staff want to get involved in events in Brighton or elsewhere then this can easily be managed with some planning.

As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, we have asked the University to declare a climate emergency and commit itself to reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2030. Other Universities have already done this and we think a declaration from such a large and influential employer and higher education institution is long overdue.

Demonstrating a serious commitment to tackle the problem also sends out a message to students and potential students that this university has not totally lost its reputation for being prepared to take risks and being audacious in its ambition. Brighton has been at the forefront of campaigning for LGBTQ+ rights, which all trade unionists have supported. We’d like to see a similar commitment to the fight against climate change.

At the time of writing, we’re still waiting for a response to our proposals.

However, the campaign cannot be limited to putting pressure on institutions or individuals to reduce their carbon footprint. Greta Thunberg told the UN “if solutions within this system are so hard to find then maybe we need a new system”. The slogan of “system change, not climate change” has been taken up by many striking school students, but with many differing ideas of what system change might look like.

For socialists like me, the old saying “you can’t control what you don’t own” is particularly relevant. As long as a small group of people prioritise their need to make short term profits over the longer term needs of the planet then the battle is lost. Governments can attempt to legislate against the worst excesses, but as we’re witnessing in Brazil, the US and China, since those in power rest on the profit-based system, climate change will continue.

This is not limited to the most extreme, unhinged right-wing leaders such as Bolsonaro and Trump. Successive governments East and West, from Clinton to Obama, Blair to Johnson, have either opposed measures to deal with the problem or, to loud fanfares, agreed minor changes which are either unenforceable or ineffective.

In my opinion (not necessarily UNISON’s!), it is absolutely necessary to establish democratic control over the agri-business, fossil fuels and large-scale manufacturing sectors so that they can be planned on an environmentally sustainable basis. Even now, giant corporations like BP and Shell use their power and influence to block binding measures on climate policy whilst promoting themselves as institutions which care about the planet.

Taking the large corporations into public ownership, linked to democratic workers’ control and planning would allow these companies to be run on an accountable basis and transitioned away from destroying the planet, to providing climate change solutions.

Without a significant change in how the world economy operates, capitalism will destroy the planet. Where profit and private ownership of the world’s resources comes first, the longer term future of humanity will lose out.

The trade union movement should support immediate measures which will make a difference. Calling for massive state controlled and funded investment in green energy and a thorough housing insulation programme, combined with free and integrated public transport, would be a start. It could also create thousands of decent jobs.

Fundamentally, transforming society to one based on human need, rather than profit, provides the solution. A democratic socialist society which plans how to sustainably use the resources to meet the needs of everyone should, as far as I’m concerned, be our ultimate aim.

Ivan Bonsell (in an entirely personal capacity)

(If you have any points about this or anything else, feel free to post them, or send me an article and I’d be happy to post it.)

August 21, 2019

2019-20 Pay Ballot starts 9th September

If you work directly for the University, you should receive a ballot paper to your home address within days of the 9th September.

Your employer’s pay offer isn’t good enough.

Living costs have soared and yet most staff have been offered another pitiful pay increase of just 1.8%.

So we’re asking UNISON members like you to join with colleagues and vote YES for strike action. We must demand an improved pay offer.

To be able to effectively threaten to take action, we need a turnout of at least 50% of those balloted. To achieve this, we’ll be contacting all members to check that people have voted. If you want to make life easier for us all, let us know when you’ve posted your ballot!

Please let me know if you have any questions.

 

 

August 12, 2019

Labour Link National Committee Elections

If you’re a member of Labour Link (that means you’re paying into UNISON’s affiliated fund as either part of or in addition to your membership subs) then you should have received a ballot paper this week. If you think you should have received a ballot, but you haven’t, please let us know.

This is for the South East seat for the National Labour Link Committee.

Our branch nominated Dan Sartin from West Sussex because we know him well and believe he’s the best person to represent our region.

Obviously how you vote is up to you, but please make sure that you do by the deadline of 13th September.

 

August 2, 2019

August 2019 Newsletter is out now

Featuring the latest on pay, strike action at Birmingham and the Local Government Pension Scheme.

It’s available in the Newsletter page, along with a year’s worth of back issues.

Please let us know if you have any questions.

July 16, 2019

Local Government Pension Scheme under attack

PENSIONS: Defend local government pensions
The government is currently consulting on plans to allow universities and colleges in England to opt out of offering the local government pension scheme (LGPS) to new non-teaching staff. The proposal would:

  • create a two-tier workforce with new starters offered inferior pensions;
  • disproportionately affect women and the lower paid;
  • threaten the future sustainability of the whole scheme.

This attack on pension rights is the thin end of the wedge – let’s take action.

Find out more about the issue – and share our film

 

Take action: Email your MP to defend the LGPS

 

The consultation closes on 31 July: make your views heard – download template responses via the resources section

 

Are you in the LGPS? Respond to the government consultation
July 5, 2019

Pay Consultation Result

Once again, thanks to all our members who voted in the pay consultation.

We asked you to either accept the “final” pay offer of 1.8% with slightly more for lower grades, or reject it, with the recommendation that you reject the offer.

82% of our branch members who voted, voted to reject the offer.

18% voted to accept.

The turnout was 56%.

Nationally, the vote was 67% to reject the offer, on a 40% turnout.

 

The leading body of Higher Education members in UNISON met yesterday and agreed to go to a full postal ballot later in the year. We’ll be lodging a dispute with UCEA, the employers’ organisation and running a ballot at the same time as UCU in September/October. More details in our July newsletter, out soon.

June 3, 2019

2019-20 Pay Consultation – Make sure you vote!

If you work directly for the University and we have your email address on our system, you should have received an email from “Jon at UNISON”.

This gives you a personal link to be able to vote to accept or reject the offer, which is 1.8% or slightly more for grades 1 to 3. Please make sure you follow the link to vote.

HE pay consultation

If you’ve not received this, you can still vote by following the link on the national website. Please let us know if you need any help with this.

The important thing is that all eligible members vote so that the result is a genuinely democratic reflection of our branch’s view.

Please make sure you vote by the deadline of 1st July.

April 15, 2019

UNISON National Executive Council Elections 2019

If you’re a member (if not, why not?), you should receive a ballot paper to your home address very soon.

Please don’t ignore it. It’s your opportunity to decide who you would like to run the union on a national basis for the next two years.

Of the full National Executive Committee of 67 people, we can vote for Higher Education seats, Regional seats and National seats.

Please take time to read the election addresses and make sure you post your votes back by the 17th May deadline.

If you don’t get a ballot paper by the end of April, the chances are we don’t have your correct address.

If so, please let us know so that we can fix it and get you a new ballot paper!

Who you vote for us entirely up to you, but as you can see from the paperwork, we have nominated the following candidates:

 

UNIVERSITY OF BRIGHTON UNISON Branch Nominations for NEC Election 2019

Our branch nominated:

Higher Education Seats:

   Kath Owen (Higher Education Female Seat)

   Sandy Nicholl (Higher Education General Seat)

Regional Seats:

   Jac Berry (South East Female Seat)

   Abi Holdsworth (South East Reserved Seat)

   Dan Sartin (South East Male Seat)

National Seats:

   April Ashley (Black Members Female Seat) (two seats)

   Sandra Okwara (Black Members Female Seat) (two seats)

   Hugo Pierre (Black Members Male Seat)

   Paula Carlyle (Disabled Members Female Seat)

 

Please let us know if you have any questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 27, 2019

UNISON Women’s Conference 2019 – A delegate’s and visitor’s perspective.

Women’s Conference, Bournemouth, 14th – 16th February 2019

Julie Beasley – A Visitor’s Perspective

As last year, this was an interesting and lively conference, covering a wide range of topics too numerous to mention in a short report. What follows here are some highlights for me, and possibly some ideas or campaigns for branch committee to highlight to members.

Conference got off to a lively start with its prioritised motions, the first of which was campaigning for Safety within the Social Care Workforce, which continues to be live issue with the Birmingham Care Workers, who are continuing their industrial action.

The discussion focussed on the commodification of care, looking at time issues, travel and continuity, amongst other things. Since the privatisation of many of these services, profit would seem to take precedence over care and safety, for both carers and their clients.

Care also surfaced later, highlighting the number of women carers who give up paid employment, or go part time in order to care for family members, and underlined how there is an absence of good workplace policies. Unison has published new guidance on this.

Several motions with health, safety and wellbeing, mental and physical, in the workplace were also passed on the first day and included all aspects of women’s health. A database should be up and running within 6 months, to include details of support groups and campaigning organisations, general wellbeing information and policy info.

Pensions featured again this year, this time via the Back to 60 Campaign, who are raising the issue of pension fairness for women born in the 1950s, much like the WASPI campaigners who came to last year’s conference, but with a different focus, which is to ensure that the state pension age is kept at 60 for women born in the 1950s. The campaign has been successful in securing a Judicial Review, which will take place on the 5th and 6th of June this year.

Reciprocal pension arrangements for black women were also discussed, highlighting the fact that it’s where you retire to, not where you’ve paid in that determines whether your state pension increases year on year. Whilst EU citizens, and those in some other countries, e.g. America, have reciprocal agreements, most Commonwealth countries do not have this (with a few exceptions) and it affects predominantly black women.

Sexual harassment was discussed, both inside and outside the workplace, as well as the Ask for Angela initiative, to help young women gain assistance to extract themselves from an uncomfortable or threatening date. This initiative is to be promoted over the next year and reps invited to the 2020 conference.

Women and debt was on the agenda too, from the increasing use of food banks to period poverty. Conference encourages all branches to set up sanitary protection donation and collection points. The Red Box project was at conference to take donations.

Maternity rights were also discussed in several motions, including support and rights for those who have experienced miscarriage or stillbirth, and rights during maternity leave as well as in the workplace. Unison passed motions to update its own guidance and report back to conference next year.

At the other end of our reproductive lives, Menopause was also on the agenda, highlighting the need for guidance for employers.

There were 39 motions altogether, and Conference got through them all, finishing at 1pm on the Saturday.

All in all, an enjoyable and illuminating three days, covering a wide range of topics pertinent to today’s workforce. Speakers included the Labour MP for Tooting, Rosena Allin-Khan, the shadow minister for Sport, who gave an inspirational account of her own life from her education at the local comprehensive, to Doctor to MP in 2016, holding Sadiq Khan’s seat (no relation) with an increased majority.

A final note on a workshop I attended, run by an organisation called Let Toys be Toys, a campaign started in 2012 to challenge stereotypes around signage in shops, labels, packaging, catalogues and marketing. Examples of marketing in the 1970s through to the 80s, when my children were born, was much more even-handed; multi-coloured toys played with by girls and boys, including items like toy kitchens and trains as well as Lego. More recently, there has been a distinct pink-blue divide in everything from signage to packaging to shelf placement, and toys are more gendered now than at any point in the 20th century. It’s quite shocking to me that my 3 year old granddaughter is targeted in a way that my own children, including her mother, born in 1984, were not, bombarded now by pink everything, and even girls’ versions of what I thought were gender neutral toys, from Lego to cameras.

The campaign has been very successful so far, persuading no less than 14 retailers, including Debenhams, Tesco and Morrisons, to change the way they sell and market toys from gendered to general. Now it’s time for manufacturers and advertisers to change too.

Children need to be educated – and challenged about gender stereotypes, as young as possible:

“If we want equal pay, why not start with equal play”

On this note – I’d encourage you to watch this short video – a great example of some inspired teaching around debunking some of the myths around gender stereotypes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3Aweo-74kY

 

Sarah Pickett – a delegate’s perspective

I attended conference as a delegate this year which meant I got to vote on all of the motions which was great. Julie has mentioned broadly the main sorts of issues that were covered so I will just talk about the few issues that caught my interest. For me two of the most engaging debates were about motions on LGBT+ inclusivity and Trans Women.

The first was ‘Making the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Group fully inclusive’ from the LGBT self-organised group(SOG). This was about supporting the change name of the group to LGBT+ and supporting the LGBT groups move to organise on an LGBT+ (plus) basis. This called on women’s conference to:

  1. Work with the National LGBT committee to circulate information to branch and regional women’s groups on what the name change means.
  2. Encourage regional and branch women’s groups to campaign for support for any rule change proposal from LGBT Conference to National Delegate Conference regarding changing the name of the group to LGBT+.

The background to this was that it followed a motion from the national young members’ forum to 2017 LGBT conference highlighting the growth in the number of people, and young people in particular, identifying their sexual orientation and gender identity in many different ways beyond a binary definition, and expressing their preference for the LGBT group to organise in a more inclusive way. The LGBT SOG then had a consultation to which the overwhelming majority of the consultation responses, and all of the regional group responses, were in favour of the changes and the national LGBT committee therefore submitted a motion to 2018 national LGBT conference proposing changing the name and working to make the group more inclusive.

The second motion, ‘Show Transphobia the Red Card’ was from the Isle of Wight Local Government Branch. This motion welcomed UNISON’s position on the Gender Recognition Act where UNISON supported self-Identification but noted that much work is still needed to gain acceptance that Trans women are women and should be accepted and included in our union. It pointed out that there is no evidence to suggest that anyone goes through the process of transitioning in order to gain access to women’s safe space.  It expressed concerns about the number of anti-trans groups spreading hate around the issues of the GRA and self-identification and this was creeping into our women’s committee by means of leaflets.  The motion called on the Women’s committee to:

  1. Work with the women’s committee on eradicating transphobia within UNISON.
  2. Work with the national LGBT committee to create and promote the role of Trans Ally as a buddying role across all branches.
  3. Distribute the UNISON trans policy to all Regional Women’s Committees and Branch Women’s officers to ensure support for our Trans sisters is disseminated through the women’s network of UNISON.
  4. Work with Stonewall in order to educate all women’s in term of the Trans community and the hate they face.
  5. Ensure that all transwomen members are aware of the support that is available to them.

The reason I was so fascinated by the reaction to these two motions was that there was a definite shift in Women’s Conference attitude to both these issues compared to last year. When a motion on non-binary inclusion was put forward at last year’s conference there were a whole raft of speakers against. The speakers indicated they didn’t understand what non-binary meant, that they were concerned about toilets and changing rooms who might have non-binary or trans women using them, that it was a ‘complicated argument’ and they encouraged women to vote against. Thankfully that vote was won last year but this year there was not one speaker against either motion and the vote on both was an overwhelming accept, I actually didn’t spot any votes against. I was glad to see that UNISON is evolving and views are changing, and it makes me hopeful that younger people will see the union as more representative of their views.

I attended a meeting on Education where FE, HE and school issues were discussed. The main chat around HE was on pay with one university saying that they were sure they got a large reject vote in the last ballot and were keen on the HE Service Group exec committee considering a disaggregated vote in the next pay round. I explained that there had been no definite decision yet on how to run the ballot and that the HE SGE would be discussing that in future meetings. I also let the meeting know about our success in getting UNISON members in our Student Union pay adjusted with 2 years back payments when our branch secretary discovered that term time only members were not being paid correctly. I suggested that other branches checked with their Student Unions to see if their pay was all in order.

Overall it was a very interesting conference and although the motions were mostly non-controversial and voted through easily, as always, it’s often in the breaks when you get to meet women from branches all over the country and hear their experiences and how their branches organise which are some of the most illuminating conversations. I’d like to express my thanks to the branch from both me and Julie for the opportunity to attend.