My hero in 2015? The man with the plan to beat the cuts

John Burgess talks a mile a minute, dresses in any colour as long as it’s black, and refers to other men as “lad” – even if they’re older than him. He’s also one of my heroes of 2015. Unlike most end-of-year gong-winners, Burgess is a name you won’t know. But if heroism is about being brave when it counts – about standing up straight even while others try to make you bend or break – he’s the real deal. And at a time when so much of the organised left is afflicted by loss of nerve, mind, or both, it is a relief to find someone who still has both.

For our purposes, Burgess’s story begins in May 2008 – at the point he was hoping to hang up his boots. After a long slog as branch secretary of Unison in Barnet, north London, he planned to return to his life as a local mental-health care worker. Then the Conservative-run council began offloading its key public services to big business – and he was thrust into the biggest battle of his life. Almost eight years later, he’s still defending jobs, campaigning against cuts, pointing out the expensive absurdities of outsourcing. Going back to care work? Nice dream.

John Burgess

Outsourced and unaccountable: this is the future of local government

To get an idea of the noxious politics at work, consider one of the big stories of the past few days. Conservative councillors in Essex unveil a plan to charge pensioners £26 for being picked up after a fall; newspapers pick it up; abuse is hurled by members of the public. The one man whose approval ratings go unaltered is the same one whose cuts make the whole outrage almost inevitable: George Osborne.

Thus is set the pattern for this decade. Somewhere near you, a sports hall will be closed down, a grandmother will lose her daily meals on wheels, the roads will sprout holes, and streetlights will go dark. Vast swaths of the public realm will either be abandoned or handed over to big companies to run at a profit. Each time, it will be the local council that wields the axe and faces down residents, although it’s merely following a course set for it around a table in Number 11.

When David Cameron won the May general election, the National Outsourcing Association released a statement welcoming his return. “Spending on public sector outsourcing almost doubled to £120bn under the coalition,” it observed. “We expect to see a plethora of new outsourcing deals … over the coming months now that the election is over and a secure government has been appointed.”

‘George Osborne has chosen local councils to take the biggest hit.’ 

The difference with true-blue Barnet, Thatcher’s backyard as MP, is that it elected to start on all this early in 2008, before the banks collapsed and the cuts began. Under the guise of encouraging open-market competition, it has handed over everything from school meals to cemetery upkeep to the private sector – mostly to the multibillion giant Capita. All of which makes John Burgess the advance guard for the rest of us.

Already other Tory councillors are looking at Barnet as the model for how they should outsource their services. How he fights this, the arguments he deploys and the tactics he uses, will help set the template for all the other fights to come.

 

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I’ve written here before about Barnet and its role as the test lab for the rest of the public sector, with its key executives skipping off to run other councils. But what’s always struck me has been the sheer attack Burgess has brought to this most vital of campaigns. The armoury of contemporary trade unionism is sadly limited: a petition, some lobbying of dignatories, a lacklustre march, a strike, some variety of defeat. That’s not been Burgess’s way.

First, he sent local councillors briefings on the problems of outsourcing – every Friday for 20 weeks. Then he began working with academics and experts to produce detailed reports picking apart the financial illogic of the contracts. When the outsourced care service, Your Choice Barnet, had to be bailed out with public money it was like seeing their predictions made flesh.

To lose our libraries would be a national disaster – we must act to save them

So far, so ballsy. But the other thing Burgess has done is turn what could be merely an industrial dispute into a social movement. So there have been rock concerts against the cuts, and events with Russell Brand. Short cartoon films have filled in residents on what would happen once their services disappeared into the maws of Capita. He’s collaborated with bloggers and local non-union activist groups. And he’s done all of this in the face of a weak local Labour opposition and lukewarm support from his own union. “John’s become the real opposition in the borough,” says local blogger Mrs Angry.

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I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard or read about what trade unions and leftwingers should do across the country in this hostile climate. Columnists call for unions to engage with civil society, while Burgess gets on and organises marches to save local libraries that pull together Tories with former coal-miners from his birthplace of County Durham. Pundits demand unions work together, while he just works with PCS and Unite on local initiatives. Academics write about social-movement unionism, and he joins with local housing campaigns against social cleansing in Barnet on the grounds that “our members live here too”.

He does all this – and he’s also a carer to his mother, who has dementia. Sometimes, while planning the next action, he’s been summoned by panicky hospital staff to travel north and make sure everything’s OK. Then he comes back and just keeps on going.

If we are to save what’s left of the public sector from an acid bath of giant profiteers, user charges and historic cuts, we’ll need a lot more John Burgesses. I just hope we’ve got them.

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Rob the poor and give to the rich – housing policy for 2016

A Fantastic article by:

This afternoon, MPs will vote on a proposed law. As a bit of policy, it is as belligerently incoherent as a drunk at 2am. As a piece of politics, it will harm millions of people, while making one of the gravest crises facing our country even worse. Yet I’m fairly sure this piece will be one of the few across the press and the BBC even to discuss it.

The end of council housing

You don’t need me to lather on facts and figures. Anyone trying to get a toehold in the housing market, or whose children are, already knows how badly broken it is – and grasps the implications. How it gouges money from those who don’t own only to put it in the pockets of those who do. How it forces anyone from outside London either to accept that they won’t be able to pursue a modestly paying career there – or will have to grind out at least a decade of expensive squalor to do so. And how that makes the UK both more unjust and economically weaker.

David Cameron knows all this. He even makes speeches about how homes in Britain are unaffordable to Britons. The bill in front of MPs is meant to free up social housing for those most in need and to make land and funds available for builders to churn out more private homes. In reality, it will make private homes even more unaffordable while cutting further the stock of homes available below market rent.

‘The amount a council is meant to net from the sale of a publicly owned home will be set not by local surveyors but by Treasury officials.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

Look at the axe the government is taking to social housing. Before the 2010 general election, Cameron promised to “support” social housing while his soon-to-be ministers pledged to “protect social tenants’ rights and rents”. Now he’s phasing out secure tenancies for those same tenants. A couple living in a council home who earn a total of £30,000 a year (£40,000 within London) – that is, just above minimum wage – will be moved up to market rents. The Treasury will also force local authorities to flog “high value” homes once a family moves out. That spells the end for council housing in central London – specialists estimate that 60% of Camden’s housing stock and 70% of Islington’s would qualify as “high value”.

Couple it with what’s already happening in the private rental market – where poorer families are being pushed out to London’s perimeter, and you have a charter for turning the centre of the city into a rich-only enclave.

If this sounds like the sort of post-adolescent fantasy that would be sketched out in some Westminster thinktank, that’s because it is. Many of these policies have been lifted from the rightwing Policy Exchange. Until 2014 its former housing specialist, Alex Morton, churned out pamphlets such as Ending Expensive Social Tenancies, notably mainly for their flush-cheeked libertarianism, casual dismissal of the rights of those not on stellar incomes, and subheadings such as “Most people actually support forcing people to move from expensive properties”.

For such Rolls-Royce thinking, Morton is now paid somewhere between £53,000 and £69,999 of taxpayers’ money as a special adviser to the prime minister on housing policy – one of Cameron’s fleet of advisers whose salaries cost the public over £9m a year.

But what sounds good at a conference fringe meeting doesn’t always translate into robust law, and the housing bill has more holes than all the golf courses in suburbia. Try this: the household income assessment of council tenants will be based on the previous year’s earnings. So a family could go through redundancy, divorce or even death and still be forced to cough up “market rents”. Or this: the amount a council is meant to net from the sale of a publicly owned home will be set not by local surveyors, but by Treasury officials. Or this: although the bill’s fixed-term tenancies are aimed at making social housing more flexible, it provides no viable mechanism for evicting antisocial tenants before the term is up.

These are just some of the howlers in a document drafted by the Department forCommunities and Local Government – the bit of Whitehall that will be almost obliterated in the spending cuts. As housing lawyer Giles Peaker says: “I seriously wonder who’s left in DCLG who actually understands housing law.”

The new housing and planning bill is a disaster for affordable homes

The contradictions gape wider and wider. The government that plans to make more use of limited council housing also wants to sell council housing. The ministers who want to make work pay will also make work cost more for council tenants. The administration that think these changes are excellent for half the social-rented sector now won’t apply them to the other half – housing associations – on anything more than a voluntary basis.

Cameron’s big solution to the housing shortage is to invent a new category, “starter homes”, and encourage developers to build them. To do that, he is donating public land and – as of the last spending review – nearly £20bn of taxpayer funds in grants and loans.

Housing masterplan needs a rethink

Developers building homes at up to £450,000 in London and £250,000 in the rest of England will be able to claim them under the rules as “affordable”. As the housing charity Shelter points out, to buy a starter home in the capital by 2020 will require an annual income of £77,000 and a deposit of £98,000. That makes them unaffordable to all but the richest third of Londoners.

This isn’t a serious housing policy. It represents nothing less than a death blow to council housing in central London, and a full-throttle attack on tenants in social housing everywhere. It will hand to big developers tens of billions in taxpayers’ money – for building “affordable” housing that most Britons simply cannot afford. This is ideology at its purest: the thinnest of rhetoric draped around a naked transfer of money and resources from the poor to the rich.

 

UNISON officials taint members election of new general secretary

Corrupt UNISON officials in the London Region who are employed by UNISON to work for us, UNISON members, have been caught on tape trying to subvert the election of a new General Secretary.

60 full time paid UNISON officials took part in a meeting in which ways to nobble the chances of the opposition, John Burgess, Heather Wakefield and Roger Bannister, were plotted.

Praise was given to these “officers” in promoting the chances of the incumbent, Dave Prentis, re-election.

if you listen to the tape it is evident the contempt these officials have for the Union and it’s membership – truly shocking.

http://www.4shared.com/mp3/HTYMDTN-ce/unison.html

If you feel that UNISON should be a democratic organisation answerable to its members and that corruption of this magnitude should be investigated by an independent inquiry   then please sign this petition:

http:/www.change.org/p/wendy-nichols-unison-president-unison-general-secretary-election-for-an-independent-inquiry-and-a-re-run-of-the-election?recruiter=45845487&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=share_facebook_responsive&utm_term=mob-xs-share_for_starters-custom_msg

 

This corruption has been reported by Private Eye and, most recently the Guardian

http:/http://www.private-eye.co.uk/news

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/dec/16/dave-prentis-unison-leadership-election?CMP=share_btn_fb

#unisongate

 

 

 

PUBLIC MEETING ON THE ANTI-TRADE UNION LEGISLATION – podcast

Important podcast from Middlesex UCU’s brilliant public meeting last week on the Trade Union Bill. The Bill represents the most savage attack on workers’ rights for a generation. Speakers were John Burgess – Barnet UNISON, Liz Lawrence – UCU President and Martin Upchurch – Professor of International Employment Relations, Middlesex University. Two recordings here; the speakers’ contributions and the Q & A. Please share!

Listen to Middlesex UCU | Explore the largest community of artists, bands, podcasters and creators of music & audio.
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https://soundcloud.com/user-819986113

A Meeting of the Movements

PAAGM

Barnet TUC and the Barnet Alliance for Public Services participated in the annual general meeting of the Peoples Assembly Against Austerity on Saturday, just two of many delegations to the largest anti-cuts conference of the year. 2015 has not been an easy year, but it has been one in which the need for and effectiveness of the Peoples Assembly has been thoroughly proved.

Before the motions and the debates, there were introductory speeches. The first up was Dave Ward, new General Secretary of the CWU postal and communications union. He began by urging delegates to view the massive Tory U-turn on tax credit cuts as a big win for our movement, but also cautioned that there are four and half years left of the Tory government which in his own words had created a situation “the rich have never found an easier race to the top, the rest have never had a harder race to the bottom”. Ward also condemned the decision for Britain to join the Western bombing of Syria, which he likened to a head down charge. He described his ideas for what to do as both redesigning the fundamentals of the trade union movement for the modern economy, and also supporting the revitalised Labour Party under its new leadership. His vision for a new way to do things in the labour movement is to get sectoral, rather than localised, organisation and negotiation, mobilising as much of the trade unions’ six million members as possible.

The next speaker was Yannis Gourtsoyannis, a junior doctor and member of the British Medical Association junior doctors’ committee, with a report on the historically unprecedented industrial struggle they have been engaged in. The government has partially backed off imposing new employment conditions on junior doctors, causing the BMA to call off the planned, and potentially massive, strike on December 1st, but Dr Gourtsoyannis said that the proposals would still expand hours and pay differentiation among them under the guise of providing “cost neutral” expanded 7-day services (it strongly reminded me of the attempt to get London Underground workers to provide Night Tube services without costing any extra money). The young doctor emphasised that what at stake was not just the conditions of the staff and the safety of service users, but that if the doctors win they will have forced a crack in the edifice of austerity ideology. The struggle continues.

The third speaker was Christine Blower, leader of the National Union of Teachers. She focused her speech on the NUT’s firm belief in the power of social movement trades unionism, and said that the spirit of linking labour organisation to a wider political movement was had enabled successes such as the excellent June 20th demonstration this Summer. Blower gave the meeting some examples of the hardships that her teacher members were seeing amongst children in Cameron’s Britain: encountering children who only eat their free school meals because they are not fed at home, and entire cohorts of children at school that disappear as their parents take them away fleeing sky-high urban rents.

Following the opening speakers, a range of policy motions were debated and agreed upon (see the People’s Assembly website for these). BTUC and BAPS jointly moved a motion motion urging all member bodies to actively campaign to make all their local authorities into TTIP-free zones. The AGM unanimously agreed to get its local groups to raise petitions and bring motions to local and regional legislative bodies to get them to defy this secretive and menacing deal. This strategy is a real opportunity to redress the fact that TTIP has been largely ignored in the British media, and to raise awareness of TTIP among the public. This has already been done extensively in France, Germany and Spain, as well as 19 British authorities including Conservative run North Somerset.

The main part of the day closed with a key-note speech by socialist Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, who received a rapturous welcome. McDonnell admitted that the mere eight weeks that have passed since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader have been a challenge, but that brave stands by the party are being vindicated. He praised the People’s Assembly as essential part of the new politics that Jeremy promised to deliver, and said that these new politics is delivering. Although Parliament did vote for war a majority of Labour MPs and Shadow Cabinet members did vote “No” on a free vote, something McDonnell said he wished the Tories had allowed (only 7 Tory MPs defied the whipped vote on Wednesday).

John proceeded with laying out his vision for Labour should be offering: democracy in the economy and a say for ordinary people at the top of public and private companies. This vision relies on a healthy trade union movement, and on this point McDonnell reaffirmed total opposition to anti-union laws and supported the words of the leader of Britain’s biggest union, Len McCluskey of Unite, when he said that if stepping outside the law was necessary to protect the movement, it will have to be done. He praised the words of the comedian, and big Assembly supporter, Francesca Martinez, when she said that really was something fundamentally wrong with society being obsessed with GDP as a measure of success. He said that it was all part of a distorted narrative that exists in the country, the same one that has lied and rubbished Labour endlessly (and rather stupidly in the wake of an excellent by-election result in Oldham this week). He strongly encouraged the audience to make more use of new and social media, as a response to the problems our movement faces getting a fair hearing in the mass media. In his concluding words, he said that the vote for war had been a terrible step backwards in foreign policy, taking us further away from Britain working for peace and back toward Britain acting as an aggressor. He said of Hilary Benn’s pro-war speech: “It was great oratory, but some of the greatest oratory of the past has lead to some of the greatest mistakes.”. He said that he was still determined to fight for a political solution and, even more than this, to get justice for the refugees fleeing war in their millions. “Hope” he said “is back in our political system.”

This lead us well into the final session, which had been added to the agenda in response to the bombing of Syria. The People’s Assembly affirmed opposition to war, and to help to build the Stop the War Coalition march on the following Saturday (12th of December) and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament demonstration on February 27th 2016.

Christmas Library Fundraiser 12th December

Christmas Library Fundraiser 12th December!

Come along and help support the Save Barnet Libraries Campaign!!

Tickets £5 in advance £8 on the door.

Why not enter the lyrics competition? – we’re looking for library themed entries sung to these carol tunes, (winning entries will be performed on at the concert):
Oh Come All Ye Faithful12238522_10154353559798082_1273975666183510883_o
Silent night
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
The Holly and the Ivy
Oh Little Town of Bethlehem
Once in Royal David City
I Saw Three Ships
Gabriel’s Message
We Wish You A Merry Christmas

Hendon Labour AGM 25/11/15

 

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Hendon Labour Party Annual General Meeting (AGM)
Please note that the Annual General Meeting of the Hendon Constituency Labour Party will take place at 8pm on Wednesday 25 November 2015 in the The Royal British Legion, Edgware Branch, 17 Parnell Close, London HA8 8YE. The venue has its own car park, otherwise it is easily accessible via the 113 or 186 buses (Kenilworth Road stop towards Marble Arch, or Highview Avenue stop towards Edgware Station).
To confirm the details of the upcoming AGM are as follows:
Date Wednesday 25 November 2015

Time 8 pm

Venue The Royal British Legion, Edgware Branch, 17 Parnell Close, London HA8 8YE

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Defending Our Unions… and Organising to Win

Unite the Resistance National Conference 2015

Saturday the 14th of November

Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church 235 Shaftesbury Avenue WC2H 8EP

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Conference speakers include:

  • John McDonnell MP, Shadow Chancellor
  • Candy Udwin PCS National Gallery strike
  • Natalie Bennett Green Party leader
  • Matt Wrack FBU General Secretary
  • Kevin Courtney NUT dep gen sec
  • John Hendy QC
  • Steve Gillen POA General Secretary
  • Kevin Courtney NUT Deputy General Secretary
  • Ian Hodson BFAWU Bakers’ union National President
  • Paula Peters DPAC
  • Zita Holbourne PCS National Executive & BARAC
  • Keith Ewing Institute of Employment Rights National President
  • Finn Brennan Aslef Regional Organiser
  • Dave Smith Blacklist Support Group Secretary & Author of Blacklisted
  • Ewa Jasiewicz Unite London Hotel Workers’ branch activist
  • Lee Jasper Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC)
  • Sarah Wooley BFAWU Bakers’ union National Executive & Greggs worker
  • Max Watson Unison London Met striker & victimised union rep
  • Roger Hutt Doncaster Unison Care UK ’90 Days’ strike
  • John Burgess Barnet Unison activist
  • Greek trade union activistsutr-national-conference-v1

The Tories know that if they are to force through five more years of austerity, they have to take out their biggest potential source of opposition—the trade union movement.

That’s why they want new and brutal anti-union laws. But we can fight and win.

We’ve already seen hundreds of thousands on the streets against austerity since the election. The TUC has called for a further mass protest at the Tory conference in Manchester on 4 October, and the People’s Assembly is calling events from 3-7 October.

The success of coordinated strikes on London Underground and the solidarity for local strikes show why the Tories fear that the anti-austerity mood could spill into the workplaces.

The trade union movement needs to go all out to oppose anti-union laws. We need a big turnout on the TUC protest at parliament on 2 November.

But there also needs to be a debate now about our response if these new laws are passed:

– Will our unions be prepared to break them before they are used to break our ability to resist?

There are questions we urgently need to answer:

– How do we stop the assault on wages and conditions at work?
– What is the strategy to build the unions, rebuild organisation where it has been in retreat and grow into new sectors?
– Can we fight attempts to divide our side such as the scapegoating of migrant workers, claimants and disabled people?
– How do we win a new generation of young workers to the trade unions?

And with Jeremy Corbyn dominating the Labour leadership contest, and the rise of anti-austerity parties in Europe, we need a debate about the political representation working class people need.

Hosted by Unite the Resistance

Tickets:

http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/defending-our-unions-and-organising-to-win-utr-national-conference-15-tickets-18149572861

 

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