Archive for October, 2013

TSSA’s merger with Unite off

09/10/2013, 05:41:39 PM

Rumblings from within the union movement  – just four months after the Transport Salaried Staff’s Association (TSSA) conference in June overwhelmingly backed a merger with Unite, the wedding is officially off.

When contacted by Uncut earlier today, TSSA formally confirmed that talks had ended without agreement. The union executive will meet in a fortnight’s time to consider a detailed report on the matter and it seems some of the findings will be of interest across the union movement.

TSSA insiders have suggested the union walked away following Unite’s refusal to agree to Manuel Cortes, general secretary of TSSA, becoming the head of a new stand alone rail division within Unite.

Although TSSA is a relatively small union with 23,000 members, it is asset rich, with £21m of assets according to the latest set of accounts filed in August this year, making it an extremely attractive merger target.

As a small, and comparatively wealthy union, TSSA officials wanted to ensure that its resources were safeguarded as part of the move into a larger union. Insiders suggest that without the current general secretary, or executive team, taking on a similar role in the new division within Unite, this would have been near impossible.

If it is the case that talks broke down over Unite’s refusal to countenance Manuel Cortes taking a lead role in the running of the new rail division, then several other union general secretaries of smaller unions, currently pondering merger with Unite, will think hard on their next steps. Merger is one thing, total assimilation another.

For TSSA, this is the second engagement to have been broken off. Between 2011 and 2012 the union was in detailed talks with Bob Crow’s RMT about a merger, but discussions broke down over TSSA’s desire to remain affiliated to the Labour party. The RMT were implacably opposed and talks floundered.

For Unite, this represents a set back to their plans to grow through merger. In April this year, in an interview with the New Statesman, Len McCluskey was clear about his approach saying, “I’m open to a merger in principle with every union…that is part of Unite’s strategy for growth.”

In the Labour party, and some of the other big unions, however, there will be quiet relief that the increasing concentration of union power in the hands of Len McCluskey has been halted, for the moment at least.

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Jon Trickett’s appointment to run party reform tells us a lot about the leadership’s thinking

08/10/2013, 03:37:14 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The fate of the triumvirate of demoted Blairites – Jim Murphy, Liam Byrne and Stephen Twigg – has dominated reporting of Labour’s reshuffle. This is understandable.

It’s no coincidence that the cadre of senior shadow cabinet ministers most associated with Tony Blair were demoted while Brownite contemporaries from the same parliamentary generation remained untouched.

Despite the party spin about this being no cull of Blairites, bringing in some bright young things from the 2010 parliamentary intake who might once have danced to, “Things can only get better,” at a Labour students’ conference disco, sometime in the late nineties, hardly constitutes a like for like exchange.

It’s clear why the media would focus on these changes, if less explicable why each of the victims would accept such treatment rather than retain their political dignity on the backbenches.

But for all the columns of words expended considering these changes, they only obscure the most politically significant appointment: Jon Trickett as deputy chair to lead on party reform.

For Ed Miliband, the early part of next year will be defined by his efforts to reform Labour’s relationship with the unions. The first special conference in nearly twenty years will be the culmination of months of lobbying, campaigning and media briefing.

When Ed Miliband announced the Collins review, four MPs were highlighted as having roles in the process. Harriet Harman and Phil Wilson to lead the campaign in the country and Rachel Reeves and Jon Trickett to look at the potential for wider reforms.

Now Jon Trickett, a man steeped in the union movement and close to several of the leaders, has been appointed deputy party chair with lead responsibility for party reform, the dynamic has changed – and it reveals much of the leadership’s thinking.

At Labour conference, one of the persistent topics for discussion was whether Ed Miliband would be able to get his reforms through. There was a lot of shaking of heads at the prospect of the package passing the NEC, let alone even 10% of union members joining the party, given the majority of trade union leaders are so hostile.

The Trickett appointment sends a message that the Labour leadership are worried. This is not going to be a campaign where Ed Miliband appeals over the heads of union leaders to the rank and file membership of the Labour movement. Jon Trickett as deputy party chair tells us that Ed Miliband wants to do a deal with the union bosses.


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Despite his advances, Ed still has women problems

08/10/2013, 10:44:09 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Ed MIliband’s changes to the shadow cabinet yesterday have increased the number of women sitting at Labour’s top table to 44 per cent. Yet despite this symbolism, Labour’s support among ordinary women voters’ now lags behind men on a range of key political and economic issues.

Exclusive polling by YouGov for Labour Uncut reveals that while many women are unhappy with the coalition, they remain consistently less enthused than male voters that Labour has a coherent alternative.

While 31 per cent of men think a Labour government led by Ed Miliband will create ‘more jobs and reduce unemployment’, just 26 per cent of women feel the same.

Asked which party is best able to build more homes, 29 per cent of men say Labour but only 24 per cent of women.

Questioned about who will deliver ‘high standards of health in NHS hospitals’, 33 per cent of men support Labour, while only 27 per cent of women back the party’s approach, with 38 per cent of women saying neither Labour or the Tories.

While the Tories retain a large lead over Labour when it comes to ensuring ‘less crime’, the figures for women voters are stark, with 29 per cent backing the Tories and Labour left trailing on just 13 per cent.

And despite the party’s toughening stance on immigration, Labour remains behind the Tories on which party will deliver ‘the right level of immigration’ by a similarly large margin, with women voters choosing Cameron over Miliband by 23 per cent to 12 per cent.

The figures will come as a disappointment to Labour given the consistent efforts of the frontbench in articulating how the cost of living crisis is hurting families and spending cuts are particularly harshly felt by women.

The poll was commissioned for Labour Uncut to coincide with the publication of our new book ‘Labour’s manifesto uncut: How to win in 2015 and whywhich explores what the party needs to do to win the next general election and govern effectively afterwards.


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Letter from Wales: 57% of entire Welsh budget to be swiped by NHS in Wales by 2024-5!

04/10/2013, 08:54:06 AM

by Julian Ruck

At least according to a report written by Mark Jeffs of the Wales Audit Office.

He goes on, “Until we have a more efficient Welsh Government, which takes more seriously its role as a guardian of the public purse, speculation about future levels of public spending may continue.”

In other words, while the Welsh government continues to drag its knuckles across the floor of the Welsh Senate a right royal crisis is about to hit public services here in Wales. Black bag time again perhaps, except this time it won’t be the unions to blame.

And what was Carwyn saying last week at the Labour conference? Just to remind you, “Wales is a living, breathing example of what can be achieved in power.” It’s back up to Asda’s for another crate of Johnie Walker fast, I’m thinking.

The fact that the Welsh NHS is the subject of such public derision here in Wales, may well have something to do with the fact that we have academics of Welsh history running Health Boards, £655,000 a year on a ‘Cooking Bus’ ie a lorry filled to the brim with high tech cooking utensils intent on teaching Welsh pupils, parents and teachers how to cook, £9m on giving up the fags, exercise classes and mental health first aid (?) but here’s the rub, none of it has had any effect. It’s still corned beef pasties, Welsh faggots peas and chips all the way back from the pub – not to mention a 10 pack of Woodbines to help the journey along!

Even Dr Patricia Riorden, head honcho for Public Health Wales has had to admit and I quote (27.9.13 News Wales) “that we need to look forward to a whole transformational change.” ‘Transformational?’ You have blown millions of taxpayers’ money on causes that would shock a five year old. For God’s sake go! And take team druid with you!


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Beneath the placid surface of Labour conference, discontent stirred

03/10/2013, 11:28:34 AM

by Rob Marchant

So, Labour made it through conference without a big punch-up with the unions, via a barely-mentioned programme of party reform. Thank heavens for that.

But amidst the conference chatter, a few things have become clear.

A line has been drawn under the Falkirk selection fiasco, yes. But it was a face-saving, uneasy truce, not a final settlement. Unite is not suddenly going to start behaving itself and standing back from the Labour party’s organisation at this point, that much is obvious.

Yet, if Labour wins its battle to reform its relationship with unions next spring, there is the possibility that Unite – and others – could step back from Labour altogether and look for other political routes to influence, such as the nascent People’s Assembly, currently being sponsored by a number of unions. Whatever happens, there is – rightly – extreme nervousness on the part of many activists as to whether the party can actually survive on the income which might result.

But if Labour does not win that battle – for which it depends on union support to win – it can look forward, surely, to a redoubling of Unite’s efforts to influence its selections and elsewhere.

A couple of conference vignettes from the Tuesday night of Labour conference illustrate this nicely.

In choosing to run a joint fringe event, the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (VSC) no longer chooses to hide its similarity with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, which supports a dictator rather than an authoritarian pseudo-democrat (a fine distinction for most of us, I know).


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HS2 should be shunted to the sidings

01/10/2013, 02:55:36 PM

by Rob Williams

The ill-conceived HS2 project loses more support by the day. The Public Accounts Committee recently published a report which says it is beset by spiralling costs, a lack of expertise and unrealistic delivery timetables. In the summer, Peter Mandelson and former Transport Secretary Alistair Darling argued that this is one infrastructure scheme that really deserves to hit the buffers.

Now, shadow treasury chief secretary Rachel Reeves, said Labour would cancel it “if we don’t think it’s good value for money and costs continue to rise”.

The economic case for HS2, always rather weak, gets worse by the week,. The cost of this already expensive project has been revealed to have gone up by £10 billion to £42 billion. And this excludes the actual trains to run on the line, which would add another £7 billion.

Perhaps this is why the government doesn’t talk too much about the Business Case for HS2 any more (it is now close to 1:1, which means, basically, that there is no benefit). And much of that benefit is based on the ridiculous assumption that business travellers do no work on trains.

So now Patrick McLoughlin says cutting 20 minutes off journey times between London and Birmingham is “almost irrelevant. It should always have been about capacity.” Well, yes. Increasing capacity on the railways is certainly necessary but the trouble is, with HS2 increased capacity will take a long, long time to deliver. Phase 1 of HS2 on its own – the London to Birmingham line – will not be running until 2026 at the very earliest. We are going to have a long wait for the next high speed train.


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