Monday, 14 December 2015

All in a days work....Unions, and the massive good that we do

I was horrified after a retired Unite member rang me.   He had had a frightening letter from a company (not his former employer) that has the job of managing his pension scheme.....

Clearly....they have not been managing it very well.

The letter spelt out that due to an admin error, they had been overpaying him for the tune of nearly fifteen grand!

Worse, not only would our members pensions be reduced immediately to the correct level, but they required full repayment of the £15,000 within six weeks.  How reasonable!

Luckily, the retired worker was still a union member.   Few people realise that work related problems can find you in retirement.....

My head span as I thought it through. Was this the only case in the company?  What was the legal situation? Could we get him out of this?

Luckily, the member had worked at a highly unionised workplace.  I rang the senior Unite rep at the site and he put the word out.  Several quiet words with the right people later.....and it turns out that there were six similar cases of retired workers getting these letters....all from the same workplace.

Unfortunately, one poor guy had immediately paid up in full when he received his demand for about £9000.

None of the others "owed" as much as £15,000, but all had received demands for considerable payments into the thousands.

Using the good relationship we have with the employer (not the third party running the scheme) I am very pleased that all £15,000 has now been written off.   This is an enormous relief to the elderly gentleman concerned.   In total, overpayments of around £40,000 have been written off for the five retired members concerned.

I decided to blog about this to highlight a practical problem Unions have.   In this everyday example of a Union securing a very positive outcome, why rub the employers nose in it?   It's usually unwise to "go public" with a win....unless the win was won via court or industrial action.  

Most Union wins come through positive, private talks with the employer....    Of course, there is nothing wrong with that....but it comes at a price.

In other words, the enormous scale of everyday union successes and good news stories remain under the hood.... hidden.    It's not properly measured, and it probably can't be.

However Unions could and should do more (just my view...) to promote the massive good we do....but that's easier to say than do. In our branches and through our democratic structures, we need to start talking about how we can do it.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

The extraordinary difference of having a local TUC!

The creation of East Staffs TUC in 2014 has made an extraordinary industrial and political difference in Burton.....

In little more than a year, the Trades Council has:

* Organised around the "cancer not for profit" campaign
* Held public meetings against austerity & cuts.
* Delivered a high profile three day May Day march (from Burton to Stoke) against NHS       privatisation.
* Supported numerous “Rail Not For Profit” leafleting campaigns at Burton Train Station.
* Worked with local 38 Degrees to fight TTIP....and much more!!

Raising awareness of the hated #TUBill is the current priority.  A successful public meeting was held last week. In addition to the usual speakers, there was also some theatre and song!

Burton Area Activist Committee has applauded the creation of this excellent new body and notes, “This AAC firmly believes that unionised workers in the town have been significantly strengthened by the coming together of unions in East Staffs TUC.”

The new body is a coming together of stewards and activists from numerous unions in the town, such as FBU, UNISON, NASUWT, RMT, Unite and more.    

In a marginal constituency such as Burton, Labour are great at getting it's local media message out during the few months leading up to a general election.  Perhaps less so the rest of the time!  But where there is an active Trades Council, there is a permanent local voice for workers. This is expressed through local, workplace and online media, and can serve as an effective way to hold employers and politicians to account. It can also serve as a highly useful counter-balance against the anti-union, pro-Tory media experienced in many towns.

Online, East Staffs TUC are most active on Facebook.

Not only are they active on Twitter....

...but they have just launched East Staffs People's TV.    I'm really looking forward to watching how this grows and develops.

Activists from East Staffs TUC are now actively involved in setting up a Unite Community Branch specifically for Burton.  Watch this space!

If you are reading this but don't live in Burton - I have a question for you!  Do you have a local TUC in your town?  If not, why not set one up?

"Together we make a difference" is not simply a Trade Union's a statement of fact.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Fighting the #TUbill - some useful links

Overall summary of the Bill:
A5 leaflet on the Bill: - please print and distribute in your workplace
Members can email their MPs using our template letter here:

The TUC guide is here

View the #TUbill hashtag on Twitter

Model letter to newspaper

Dear Editor,

I am very proud to be a member of a trade union but I am very distressed to what I feel is a `war’ on people like me from this government.

My union has supported me at work during these past very tough years.  It has been difficult to cope with lower wages and rising living costs, but the union has helped to keep standards and safety at work, and has fought to save jobs.

I do not understand why this government is now planning new laws that attack the vital work unions do. Instead, they should be thanking working people and their unions for putting our shoulders to the wheel during the recession, for working cooperatively with employers to find solutions to problems at work.

My fear is that the government’s hatred of unions will result in very bad laws for the British people.  Their appalling trade union bill will not modernise industrial relations, as the government claims, but will make disputes more bitter.

Were the government truly interested in improving things at work, then they would not be undermining basic rights - and were they truly interested in raising turnouts in strike ballots, they would be bringing modern, secure voting to workplaces.

As a proud Brit, I am deeply shocked by moves to take apart our fundamental freedoms. The land of Magna Carta should not be legislating to make lawful strikes all but impossible, and our government should not be seeking to silence people on social media.

As Tory MP David Davis says, the trade union bill is like something from the dark days of Franco.

Nobody seems to want this bill – not the police, the HR managers, nor civil rights groups. It has no place in modern-day Britain.  It should be scrapped, now.

Yours sincerely