Friday, 3 July 2015

North Lanarkshire Update

Another reader from North Lanarkshire has been in touch to share an experience involving equal pay and the GMB trade union.

Hi Mark

I was reading your blog about the GMB union.

When these claims first started we that heard that we may have a claim, so I approached our GMB rep (twice) who said we had no claim.

it wasn't until someone told me that some other janitors were getting claims settled that myself and some other colleagues contacted Action 4 Equality Scotland who assured us that we did have a claim which was (by then) too late for the 1st wave claims.

We have all been awarded a claim the 2nd wave, but missed out on thousands of pounds because of GMB's earlier advice on 1st wave claims.  



Gerrymandering in Greece

Image result for gerrymander + meaning images

The BBC published a great piece the other day on the snap 'bail-out' referendum in Greece which exposed the Syria-led government as doing its level best to gerrymander the result.

In the UK a trade union strike ballot could not be conducted on this basis because not only does the process have to abide by agreed time limits and be overseen by an independent body, but equal prominence also has to be given to the invitation to vote Yes or No - with both responses being shown side-by-side, as opposed to the preferred answer coming first.

But such is the desperation of the Greek government that Syriza seems prepared to go to ridiculous lengths to bounce Greek citizens into voting Yes while the country descends into chaos.

The Greek referendum question makes (almost) no sense
BBC Europe

The wording of the Greek debt referendum has been released, and it's a bit of a puzzler.

For those who can't read Greek, here's a translation.

For those who can't read Greekdebtspeak, well, you're on your own.

The two appendix documents - "Reforms for the completion of the current programme and beyond" and "Preliminary debt sustainability analysis" - don't sound much more easily digestible than the ballot.

There is still a question over when and how voters will be presented with those documents, and whether world-class economists will be on hand at polling stations to explain them.

There was predictable scorn on Twitter

Canada actually introduced an act of parliament to avoid exactly these kinds of questions being put to the public. After two long and convoluted referendum ballots on Quebec independence in 1980 and 1995, the "Clarity Act" stipulated that an independence referendum must be essentially: "Do you want independence, yes or no?"
No or yes?

As well as being a little bit dense, the Greek ballot also controversially puts the "No" option - favoured by the Greek government - above the yes option, leading some to accuse it of bias.

It is an "unusual" format, said Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the UK Electoral Reform Society.

Not the actual Greek ballot

In the case of the Greek ballot, the no-before-yes format may be offset by the question reading: "Should the [agreement] be accepted" instead of "accepted or rejected", Ms Ghose said.
Yes or no?

The Greek ballot wouldn't be the first accused of being not quite up to scratch on the no-bias front, and there are arguably worse examples in history.

In 1978, after being accused of human rights violations by the UN, Chile's General Pinochet held a referendum to ask the people whether they supported his policies. The "Yes" box was a Chilean flag, the "No" box - ever so slightly lower - was a solid black rectangle.


Pinochet won by a cool 78.6%.

And back in 1938, Adolf Hitler balloted the German people to ask: "Do you approve of the reunification of Austria with the German Reich accomplished on 13 March 1938 and do you vote for the list of our Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler?"

The ballot paper had a subtly leading format.

Hitler won with an even cooler 99.7%.
No waffling, please

When the UK government prepares a referendum question, the Electoral Commission takes 12 weeks to test the question on focus groups to eliminate any bias or confusion.

A draft of the referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU was rewritten because it confused a significant minority of people who didn't know the UK was already a member.

A draft referendum question on the UK leaving the EU assumed people knew the UK was in the EU - mistake

As well as bias, the question is tested for clarity, said the Electoral Commission's Rosie Davenport.

"We look at length of the question. There is a guideline for the number of words," she said.

"The aim is to make the question as as clear and concise as possible, so you're not presenting people with a lot of waffly information before they vote."
'The real choice will be known'

Which brings us back to Greece. Athens did not have the luxury of a 12-week testing period - it has to organise a national referendum at breathtaking speed - but it might be accused of waffle.

"This referendum's emergency nature gives little time to prepare the arguments for either side, and the question is enormously detailed, essentially asking Greeks if they will accept the specific document-based proposals from the IMF, ECB and European Commission," said Ms Ghose.

With such a short time for the people of Greece to make up their minds, what they are being told by politicians will have more of an effect than usual, Ms Ghose said.

"Given the short time span with this referendum, party cues may matter even more than usual; millions will be listening to what party leaders have to say and informing their decisions based on that.

"At the core of this, however, the Greek people will understand the implications for voting yes or no - even with little time to campaign. The UK's 1998 Good Friday Agreement referendum question was notoriously complex, but people knew the underlying choice," she added.

So while the question is long and detailed - that may be out of necessity, and the real choice will be known by Greeks."

'Tieless but Clueless' (30/05/15)

The Guardian reports on the latest twists and turns of the debt repayment saga in Greece which is becoming more farcical by the day.

In recent weeks Greek citizens have withdrawn some like 30 billion Euros from Greek banks, preferring to keep their money 'under the mattress' so distrustful are they of their own Government's ability to run the country properly.

Yet at the same time the Greek Government is demanding that the EU and IMF ride to their rescue with external loans.

No wonder Greece is in such a terrible mess.   

Greece warns it is set to default on debt repayment loans

Interior minister says Athens simply cannot satisfy IMF deadline next month unless it works out a deal with eurozone creditors

Pensioners chant anti-austerity slogans during a protest in central Athens. Greece has spent the last four months wrangling with Brussels and the IMF following the election of the anti-austerity Syriza party in January. Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP

By Phillip Inman - The Guardian

Greece has threatened to default on €1.6bn (£1.14bn) of debt repayment due on international bailout loans next month, claiming it does not have the funds to satisfy creditors at the same time as paying wages and pensions.

The Greek interior minister, Nikos Voutsis, a long-standing ally of the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, insisted the country was near to financial collapse. In an interview with Greek television station Mega TV he said Athens needed to strike a deal with its European partners within the next couple of weeks or it would default on repayments to the International Monetary Fund that form part of its €240bn rescue package.

Voutsis said: “This money will not be given and is not there to be given.” His comments came as the finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, repeated his warning that the entire euro project would be undermined without a deal that proved acceptable to the Greek people. Varoufakis told the Andrew Marr show that the Syriza-led Greek government has now “made enormous strides at reaching a deal”, and that it is now up to the European Central Bank, IMF and European Union to do their bit and “meet us one-quarter of the way”.

With crucial debt payments looming, combined with the need for Athens to find around €1bn to pay public sector wages and welfare payments in the first week of June, the eurozone appeared to be entering the final chapter in its dispute with Greece. Tsipras wants the EU, ECB and IMF to release a blocked final €7.2bn tranche of the bailout without imposing tough reforms and spending cuts agreed with the previous right-of-centre administration.

Greece has spent the last four months wrangling with Brussels and the IMF following the election of the anti-austerity Syriza party in January. While some senior figures at the EU Commission and IMF have urged greater flexibility from creditors — and Greek ministers have appeared to drop demands for a higher minimum wage — both sides have so far failed to find a compromise deal.

Tsipras has attempted to persuade Angela Merkel to strike a broader deal that includes the refinancing of the entire bailout package in return for commitments to tackle tax avoidance and a re-making of the Greek welfare system, without success.

Syriza’s domestic position was bolstered on Sunday by a poll that showed cash-strapped Greeks remain supportive of the government’s tough negotiating stance, though they rejected a return to the drachma, saying that any deal with creditors must retain the euro as the Greek currency. The poll conducted in May by Public Issue, for the pro-government newspaper Avgi, showed 54% backing the government’s handling of the negotiations despite concerns that the country has been taken to the brink of financial collapse.

A total of 59% believe Athens must resist demands by creditors for further austerity measures, with 89% against pension cuts and 81% against mass lay-offs. Aware that broad electoral support for his government could collapse without a deal that retains the euro, Tsipras warned his far-left supporters, many of them newly elected MPs with little experience of EU negotiations, that they must compromise in talks with creditors.

In a speech to his party’s central committee on Saturday, reported in the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, Tsipras said Greece is in the final stretch of negotiations and is ready to accept a “viable agreement” with its creditors but not on “humiliating terms.” He ruled out submitting to what he described as irrational demands to apply a 23% VAT rate across the board and further labour reform. Echoing Varoufakis, he called on lenders to make “necessary concessions”. He said: “We have made concessions but we also have red lines.”

In a barely veiled reference to Berlin, Tsipras told the committee that many European governments would happily see Greece fail in its talks and be forced to leave the euro. He is under pressure to agree a deal that excludes fresh austerity measures from members of the hardline “left platform” within the party, led by the energy minister, Panayiotis Lafazanis, who have refused to approve any deal that departs from pre-election promises.

Lafazanis, according to reports, has been working on a proposals to find alternative sources of funding that would allow Greece to walk away from a deal. But his search, which has included seeking cash from Russia, have drawn a blank.   

Tieless But Clueless (29/04/15)

Image result for fantasy politics

The Times lays bare the brutal truth about the negotiating tactics of the Syriza-led Greek Government which has completely wasted the opportunity to put forward a credible package of economic reforms that can inspire confidence at home, while building trust with its European neighbours.

Government is not about political grandstanding, but that's all Syriza has been doing for the past three months as if the rest of Europe owes Greece a living - a message that will not go down well with other countries like Ireland, for example, which dug itself out of a similar financial hole.

To govern is to choose, they say, yet so far Syriza has chosen to do next to nothing.     

Syriza’s Dead End

Instead of reforming a sclerotic economy, Greece’s government espouses fantasy

Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister, declared last week that his government’s task was to “convince our partners that our logic is sound”. He at least cannot be faulted for the grandiosity of his ambition. Since the left-wing Syriza party took office three months ago, it has comprehensively lost the confidence of Greece’s partners in the European Union, depositors in Greece’s banks and investors in Greece’s financial markets.

This flight of capital is not some nefarious capitalist plot to thwart the will of the people. It is a rational response to the flailing of a government that has no idea how to resolve the country’s crisis and which appears to imagine it an effective negotiating strategy to threaten self-immolation. Greece’s government should pipe down and propose credible, detailed structural reforms to an economy that does not work. Then, and only then, will Greece’s partners and creditors have a moral obligation to parley with them seriously. 

In their brief period of office, Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister, and Mr Varoufakis have thus far resolved no structural economic weakness. Their sole achievement is to have damaged their own credibility through obfuscation, political grandstanding and diplomatic incompetence. 

Greece faces imminent deadlines to pay its creditors. It needs to pay the International Monetary Fund €950 million in two instalments by the middle of next month. It is rapidly running out of money and is thus likely to seek a postponement. 

A measure of how incompetent is its negotiating stance is that absolutely no other EU member-state supports it. Nor should they. The history of Greece’s economic troubles is dismal, yet Syriza’s response merely demonstrates that left-wing populism is no solution to pressing financial constraints. Europe’s single currency was a fundamentally bad idea to start with, yet the decision to allow Greece to join the eurozone was a wound that might easily have been avoided. Greece’s chaotic budgetary position was fudged in order to allow it membership. With a fall in interest costs, it went on a splurge of borrowing and spending. 

Yet having joined the euro, Greece has no exit. Nor would this help. Greece’s exports might in principle be improved by adopting a new (and devalued) currency, yet the trade balance is not the source of its weakness. Instead, its economy does not pay its way. Mr Tspiras needs to set out the privatisations and reforms to the pensions system and the labour market that will address that problem. Because he will not do so, the Brussels group of creditors (the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission) will not release €7.2 billion in pending bailout funds. 

That is why Greece is running out of time and money. The government’s obduracy is being compounded with duplicity. It has continually failed to give proper information about Greece’s financial position. The outcome is predictable: capital is flooding out of the Greek banking system for fear that deposits will be frozen or changed into a devalued currency. Meanwhile, the economy may well have fallen back into recession. 

Greece’s government has been operating under the assumption that the threat of leaving the EU would panic its creditors. Instead, the tactic has merely hardened positions. Syriza is playing politics with a proud nation’s livelihood and place in the world. It should turn back; the road to a socialist utopia is always and everywhere a dead end.

Union Politics

Image result for boomerang hitting head + images

John Rentoul strikes me as a fair-minded person and he uses his regular column in The Independent to remind readers that the intervention of union bosses in Labour's last leadership contest resulted in a win for Ed Miliband despite the fact that a big majority of individual party members voted for his brother, David.

Now I think it's reasonable to suggest that if Ed Miliband could not persuade the majority of Labour Party members about his leadership qualities, then it would be an even bigger 'ask' for the wider electorate to behave any differently when faced with a binary choice between Ed Miliband and David Cameron.   

So for all the fact that Britain's union bosses were delighted at their intervention and manipulation of the result last time round in 2010, arguably all they really achieved was to rob the Labour Party of a leader who had a better chance of winning the 2015 general election.  

The underlying problem is a fear of letting people make their own decisions because there is  no other reason for union bosses trying to influence the result.

Daily catch-up: union bosses mobilise to try to prevent a Labour government

Plus the EU referendum campaign, short wars, the Queen’s Speech and an unspeakable supermarket shelf

By JOHN RENTOUL - The Independent

1. Broken Britain (above), via top colleague Lucy Hunter Johnston.

2. My column for The Independent on Sunday was about how Liz Kendall could win the Labour leadership, and therefore how she could be prime minister in five years’ time.

I mentioned the rule-change that means trade union members have to sign up as affiliated supporters of the Labour Party to vote in the leadership election, and pointed out that this meant the anti-left cliques* that control the big unions’ apparatuses would not be able to include “Vote Burnham” propaganda with the ballot papers.

The union bosses will still try to influence the election, however. James Lyons in The Sunday Times (pay wall) reported the claim by Jennie Formby, Unite’s political director (and former partner of Len McCluskey, its general secretary), that the union is signing up 1,000 members a day to give them a vote for the Labour leadership.

How successful will this mobilisation be? Well, it worked last time. Unite, the GMB and Unison used phone banks and mail shots (including with ballot papers) to encourage their members to vote for Ed Miliband last time, overturning David Miliband’s majorities among party members and MPs. This time, any trade unionist who signs up will have a vote equal to that of a full party member, rather than 60 per cent of its value (there were 123,000 party members voting in the final round last time, against 200,000 trade union levy-payers).

Andy Burnham certainly seems to have learned well from what happened last time, when he came fourth.

However, this comes down to politics. For all Burnham’s qualities, I think it will become apparent that Labour is unlikely to win if he were to become leader. The answer to whether Liz Kendall is a strong enough candidate to drive that advantage home is what the leadership election campaign is for.

*Some readers objected to my description of the factions that dominate the big union political committees as “sub-Marxist”. I’m open to better descriptions of the politics of Len McCluskey and his chief of staff, Andrew Murray, a defender of the North Korean government. For the moment I’ll stick to anti-left, which is merely descriptive of their determination to prevent the election of a Labour government, in which they succeeded last time.

3. My Top 10 in The New Review, the Independent on Sundaymagazine, was Shortest Wars, ranging from 38 minutes to 24 days.

4. Janan Ganesh, just outstanding again in the Financial Times (registration), on how the “In” campaign for the EU referendum will win:

“Three is a pattern. First, there was the derisive media coverage of the campaign against Scottish independence last year. Instead of proselytising for the union, Better Together spelt out the economic hazards of ending it. Under the most sanctimonious criticism, they held the line and won. They knew wavering Scots were moved by pragmatic arguments over emotional exhortation because they had done their research and armchair campaigners had not.

“The general election was a magnified version of the same story. For six weeks romantics chided the Conservatives for their sour campaign: the monomaniacal focus on the economy, the failure to match Labour’s fervour. But the Tories won, and more resoundingly than almost any commentator foresaw. They had market-tested their pitch to swing voters. The critics relied on errant guesswork and their own prejudices.

“David Cameron’s promised referendum on EU membership gives the romantics another chance to get it wrong.”

5. My guide to tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech was also in The Independent on Sunday. Thanks to graphics genius Henrik Pettersson. Click here for a larger version.


6. And finally, thanks to Mollie Goodfellow for this:

“Overslept is such a negative word. Why not ‘Underwoke’?”

Thursday, 2 July 2015

North Lanarkshire Update

I received a number of angry emails from GMB members in North Lanarkshire who say they are intent on resigning from the union over its handling of their equal pay claims.

Now I can well understand people's anger and frustration, but if you ask me resigning from the union would simply let the GMB off the hook.

A far better course of action, in my book at least, would be to get the GMB to do its job properly and clear up the mess that's been made in North Lanarkshire through the GMB's bizarre decision to limit union members' claims to only three years.

Independent Referee (03/04/14)

If my email post box is anything to go by, there are lots of union members out there who are completely fed up at the way their trade unions have behaved over equal pay.

Now unlike lots of other areas of public life, trade unions are not regulated effectively - so while people can complain about teachers, doctors, lawyers, property managers, the BBC, the energy industry etc etc, it's not possible for union members to raise a 'service' complaint  other than with their own trade union.

So the union becomes judge and jury in its own cause which stinks to high heaven if you ask me, especially as unions support independent regulation everywhere else in society. 

Here's an article from Time Times which reports on an inquiry by the Certification Officer into  alleged 'phantom voters' in the election of Unite's general secretary, Len McCluskey.

But the problem is that the Certification Officer has very limited powers over union elections and the registration of certain information on how unions are organised - there is no wider or general ability to consider complaints from ordinary members that they have been let down or badly served by their trade unions.

To my mind that's wrong and just like the banks or the press and many other areas of public life, trade union members ought to have access to an independent referee, if and when they believe things have gone badly wrong - and the union won't put things right itself.  

Union leader Len McCluskey faces re-election inquiry after ‘ghost’ vote claim

Len McCluskey is to face a formal hearingLewis Whyld/PA

By Laura Pitel - The Times

The head of Britain’s biggest trade union is to face a formal hearing over claims that his re-election to his post was unfair.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, has been accused of a series of irregularities by Jerry Hicks, his sole rival in last year’s contest.

Most serious is the allegation that ballot papers were sent to 160,000 “phantom voters” who should not have been allowed to take part.

Unite is being investigated by the independent trade union watchdog over the claims. The Certification Office has the power to order a re-run of the race if Mr Hicks’ concerns are upheld.

This week it announced a formal hearing into the claims, provisionally scheduled for July.

Mr Hicks, a former Rolls-Royce convenor who was backed by the Socialist Workers’ Party, believes that Unite’s decision to include 158,824 lapsed members in last year’s vote was in breach of the rules. The charge emerged after the discovery that there was a mismatch between the number of people granted a vote and the number of members cited in its annual report.

It has been claimed that some of those who were sent a ballot paper for the election, which took place in April 2013, had not paid their subscriptions for several years and even that some of them were no longer alive. The Times revealed in January that fewer than 10 per cent of the disputed members had renewed their subscriptions.

The hearing will listen to eight complaints, including allegations that Unite resources were used to campaign for Mr McCluskey and that it refused to allow Mr Hicks to make a complaint.

All the charges are rejected by Unite, which says that the rules were adhered to throughout the contest. It argued that it sought legal advice on sending voting papers to those in arrears with their membership and was informed that excluding those who had fallen behind with their payments would be against the rules.

If the complaint about the disputed voters is upheld, Mr Hicks will have to persuade the watchdog that it could have had a significant impact on the outcome if he is to secure a re-run. Failing that, the ombudsman may instruct the union to take steps to ensure that the breach does not happen again.

The outcome of the vote was that Mr McCluskey won 144,570 votes, compared with 79,819 for Mr Hicks.

Mr Hicks said he was “very buoyed up” by the news that he had been granted a hearing. He lamented the low turnout in the race, when only 15 per cent of Unite’s 1.4 million members voted and said he hoped that his complaints would lead to a more democratic union.

The last time a re-run of a general secretary contest was ordered was in 2011, when Ucatt, the construction union, was found to have sent ballot papers to only half of its 130,000 members.

The use of alleged “extreme tactics” by trade unions is to become the sole focus of an official inquiry into industrial relations, ministers have revealed (Michael Savage writes).

The investigation, announced last year, was originally ordered to examine bad practices by employers as well as the controversial “leverage campaigns” waged by some unions. However, it will now only focus on the alleged intimidatory tactics used by unions.