Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Steep Learning Curve

I enjoyed the comment of the Labour MP who spotted the obvious flaw in Jeremy Corbyn's plans to 'whip' his colleagues in the House of Commons into following his leadership line: 

"In fairness, Jeremy is on a bit of a learning curve when it comes to how three line whips work, having voted against the Labour whip over 500 times."

But it seems the problems for the Labour Party seem bound to get worse with 'union heavies' like Len McCluskey threatening MPs that they are "playing with fire" and writing their political obituaries" for failing to back Jeremy Corbyn.

Because Tony Blair had a similarly 'huge mandate' when he was elected Labour leader in 1994, yet that did not prevent MPs like Jeremy Corbyn from becoming a serial rebel in the House of Commons and through his work with other bodies like STWC (Stop the War Coalition).

Jeremy's activities continued when Gordon Brown became Labour leader, of course, and one of his key advisers (Andrew Fisher) was recently carpeted for, amongst other things, calling Ed Miliband's shadow frontbencher "the most abject collection of shite".

So anyone expecting party unity to break out suddenly under Jeremy Corbyn is in for a big disappointment because leaders are meant to lead by example whereas in Jezza's case it comedown to 'Do as I say, not as I do'.  

Money Talks

I've yet to come across a strike or industrial action that is about anything other than money, directly or indirectly, and the present tussle with junior doctors is no exception, as far as I can see.

The strikes planned by the BMA have now been called off and there may be a settlement in sight after talks at ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) although I'll eat my hat if a solution does not involve some extra dosh.

I would welcome the introduction of 'pendulum arbitration' to resolve such disputes which was the subject of a thoughtful comment piece by Dominic Lawson in The Sunday Times.


Junior doctors invoke patient safety, but this strike is all about money

By Dominic Lawson

I wonder if there is a name for the condition affecting some leading members of the junior doctors committee (JDC) of the British Medical Association (BMA) — the vanguard that has led that body into imminent industrial action against the government’s plans for a “seven-day NHS”. 

Toryphobia, perhaps, which might be defined as “an uncontrollable hatred of Conservative ministers, caused by an untreated infection of revolutionary Marxism acquired during the patient’s teenage years”.

Pendulum Arbitration (5 November 2013)

In the wake of the Grangemouth dispute which ended so disastrously for Unite and the credibility of the trade unions more generally - lots of people have been coming up with suggestions for improving industrial relations such as having workers on the boards of big companies - worker/directors if you like.

Now I've long been in favour of having workers represented on the board which is a feature of industrial relations in other countries, Germany for example, but like lots of good ideas it's not a miracle cure - because disputes like the one that erupted in Grangemouth are unlikely to be resolved at a board meeting.

A much more practical thing to consider would be the widespread use of 'pendulum arbitration' which involves an independent referee (arbitrator) making a decision that comes down in favour of one side or the other - i.e. in favour of either the employer or the trade union.

Employers and trade are often unwilling to use arbitration, especially if they think the stakes are too high, but after the near closure of the giant Grangemouth plant - maybe it is an idea whose time has finally come.

For the life of me, I cannot see any arbitrator siding with Unite over their claims of unfair treatment towards the local union convener, Stephen Deans - because all the employer was doing was investigating allegations that Deans was spending a good deal of his time on Labour Party business - which was clearly wrong.

Yet instead of Unite and Deans putting their hands up - the union called a strike and were willing too play fast and loose with thousands of jobs.  

Fair Dinkum, Cobbers (31 October 2011)

Qantas flights resume after industrial dispute
'Fair dinkum, cobber' - is an Australian saying which no one has ever directed towards me - but means 'fair play to you, mate' - as far as I know.

And that seems to be an apt phrase top use in connection with the Qantas dispute - which seems to have ended - vitually overnight. 

Qantas had grounded all of its flights in an increasingly biiter dispute with its trade unions - whom the company accused of making unreasonable demands.

But instead of dragging things out for months on end - the issues involved were put to an independent arbitration panel - which seems to have ruled in the company's favour and ordered everyone back to work.

Now I don't know much about the independent tribunal involved - but it does seem to have done the trick - by coming down largely in favour of one side or the other - instead of splitting hairs.

If that's what has happened it's called pendulum arbitration - which means just that - choosing between different and sometimes highly polarised arguments.

The advantage being that it encourages both sides in an industrial dispute to behave reasonably - not to exaggerate things.

Otherwise if the dispute is referred to arbitration - then the party that has been rowing its boat out too far is likely to lose.

In the UK we have ACAS - the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service - but this quango does not enjoy the best of reputations and lacks real teeth.

Everyone involved in a industrial dispute in the UK has to agree to ACAS becoming involved - and it has no history of moving quickly to bring in decisive judgments - as the long-running BA dispute being the perfect example.

So maybe our Aussie friends have come up with a good idea - Fair Work Australia is the name of the independent tribunal - which has brought the Qantas dispute to a swift end.

Fair dinkum, robbers.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Words of War

Image result for words of war + images

A war of words is underway about whether the UK should participate in the bombing campaign against the mad dogs of the Islamic State in their safe havens in Syria.

In Raqqa, for example, where 'Jihadi John' was taken out in a targeted strike from an American drone missile.

Now people like Jeremy Corbyn say that it would have been 'far better' if Mohammed Emwazi (aka Jihadi John) had been captured and put on trial for his cowardly, murderous crimes, but this would have put the lives of UK or Nato troops at risk.

Not only that, of course, because people like Jeremy Corbyn and his friends in the Stop the War (STW) Coalition would then have complained that western troops were acting unlawfully by taking military action in another country (Syria) without the permission of the Syrian Government.

In my view the arguments about extending military action into Syria are finely balanced - there are no guarantees of success of success and there are obvious risks one way or the other.

But the UK is currently the target of terrorist plots and potential attacks by the Islamic State and other groups who are not waiting for and attack on Raqqa to 'justify' their actions - their murderous intent is aimed at western democratic values and our secular 'live and let live' way of life.

So extending military action into Syria does not make any difference because the Islamists will always find an 'excuse' for murdering innocent people in the name of their religion - or kidnapping young girls in Nigeria or forcing Syrian Yazidi women into slavery.

Talking or negotiating with a death cult like the Islamic State would make as much sense as inviting Charles Manson and the Manson Family round to dinner.

Like most people I can see both sides of the argument, but on balance I am in favour of preventing the Islamic State from turning places like Raqqa into a stronghold from which they can continue to plan and launch further terrorist attacks.

The terrorists don't recognise the international border between Iraq and Syria - and nor should we because if we were to do so, we would effectively be abandoning the Syrian Kurds to their fate in towns like Kobane which has only recently been freed from the scourge of IS. 

Terminal Decline

Image result for terminal decline

Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet is a hand-picked team of Labour politicians chosen by the party leader as a government-in-waiting, capable of beating the Conservatives at the next general election in 2020.

But instead of leading a motivated team, Jeremy Corbyn as team captain has lurched from one disaster to another, to the point where the the majority of his shadow cabinet and many of Labour's backbench MPs are in open revolt. 

Not surprising perhaps since Jezza has been a serial Labour rebel throughout his 30 plus years in the House of Commons.

So demands for fellow MPs to deny their political instincts and fall in loyally behind his leadership must have a terribly hollow ring to Labour politicians who have 'mandates' from  voters in their own local constituencies.

Euan McColm in this hard-hitting piece for Scotland on Sunday suggest that under Corbyn's leadership the Labour Party may be in terminal decline.    


Euan McColm: Corbyn’s leadership has brought nothing but strife

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Picture: Getty

‘I REMEMBER,” said a Labour activist, “when we used to say things can only get better. Now we say things can’t get any worse. Then they do.”

Falkirk Council Update

I get email enquiries on a daily basis asking for updates on equal pay and my answer is always the same - all the news I have is shared on the blog site and/or Twitter.

Although things are always happening behind the scenes, it's never sensible to speculate on what may happen until events take a decisive turn one way or the other. 

Discussion are taking place in Falkirk, for example, and this may lead to a settlement of all the outstanding equal pay claims, but only time will tell.

If there is not a negotiated settlement, an important tribunal hearing on the horizon which is scheduled to take place on 23 February 2016 - no doubt this will concentrate minds on the Council side. 

Because the tribunal hearing in February will be asked to disclose all kinds of sensitive pay information which the Council has been trying to keep under wraps all this time.

Falkirk Council Update (10/11/15)

A reader from Falkirk has been in touch to provide me with the following link to the web page of the local Unison branch which leads to a report from the Unison branch secretary - none other than Gray Allan.


Now I have to say I am amazed that someone can occupy a senior union position and a senior position in the Labour Party at the same time.

When I worked with NUPE (one of the partners unions that formed Unison) we occasionally had full-time officials who were elected Labour councillors.

But the potential conflict of interest between the two roles was resolved by ensuring that the individuals concerned were not allowed to represent an areas as a union officials, if the person had a role in that same area on behalf of the Labour Party as well.

In other words, a NUPE official would never have been allowed to represent union members in Glasgow City Council, if that person had a senior role in the Glasgow Labour Party or as a local Labour councillor in Glasgow.

Falkirk Council Update (03/11/15)

Here's an article from the BBC dated 24 November 2015 which reports on a decision of the Falkirk Labour Party to appoint a new chairman in the shape of Gray Allan. 

Now Gray has been around for 'donkey's years', as they say, and he was on the scene back in the 1990s when I acted as Unison's chief negotiator and Head of Local Government in Scotland.

What I'd like to know is whether Gray is still involved in Labour/union politics to this day and if so, in what capacity?

Because there are some big issues at stake in relation to equal pay and I would say there's an obvious issue in a Labour-run council if someone occupies both a senior union position and a senior Labour Party at one and the same time.  

Falkirk's Labour Party elects new chairman, following vote-rigging claims

Image caption - Gray Allan was voted chairman at the constituency party's annual general meeting on Sunday afternoon

The Falkirk Labour Party have elected vice chair Gray Allan as their new chairman.

Members voted for the trade unionist to take over from Stevie Deans, who resigned amid allegations of vote-rigging in the selection of a parliamentary candidate.

Mr Allan, a librarian and Unison official, said he hoped his appointment would start to heal the local party.

He has previously called on Labour to publish its report into the matter.

Following his election, Mr Allan said: "On 8 December, in Falkirk, we will select a candidate to fight this seat for the next general election. The priority for us is to work to regain the trust of the people of Falkirk so that we can be confident of a victory in this constituency.

"To win the upcoming election, we need an organised and united party in Falkirk and we elected a team here this afternoon that would hopefully take that task forward.

"We have asked in the past that representatives of the party nationally help us in that work, and come and speak to party members here in Falkirk about what we've experienced.

"We're delighted to be told that the party's Scottish and UK general secretaries are prepared to come and meet with Labour Party members to discuss the situation we're in and find a way forward. We understand that will take place after the selection of the candidate."

The Labour Party launched an investigation after claims that the Unite union had tried to rig the selection process for a parliamentary candidate in Falkirk. The seat was previously held by Labour MP, Eric Joyce, who stood down after being convicted of assault.

Unite was accused of coercing its members to join the Falkirk Labour Party or signing them up without their knowledge, to ensure the union's favoured candidate, Karie Murphy, was selected as a general election candidate.

But an internal Labour Party investigation cleared Unite and its members of any wrongdoing after key witnesses withdrew their allegations. Mr Deans, who had been suspended by Labour, was reinstated.

However, he later stood down after emails published in a newspaper suggested that a letter retracting key evidence in the Labour investigation was not written by the witnesses, but by union officials and approved by Mr Deans.