Category Archives: Steve

UCU vs UUK

pensions shit

Once you reach a certain age you become an expert in pensions, and what I now know (state pension not withstanding) is that they fall into two broad categories, defined contribution and defined benefit schemes.

If you’re a member of a defined benefit scheme then, irrespective of your or your employer’s contributions, you know what you’re getting at the end: it’ll be a proportion of either your final salary, your career average earnings or somewhere in between. Your contributions may go up or down but, by and large, the financial risk is taken by your employer. The public sector pensions which came under government attack in 2012 are defined benefit schemes; “gold plated” as their pals in the press would have you believe, “our deferred wages, paid to us in retirement, pensions that we pay handsomely for” we respond.

Conversely, if you’re in a defined contribution scheme, the risk is all yours. You know how much you’re going to pay, and how much your employer’s going to put in, but that money’s invested by the pension company in stocks, shares, property etc. and results in a “pot” available to you on retirement with which to buy an annuity. An annuity is you going to an insurance company and saying “I’ve accumulated £ x-thousand over my working life, if I give it to you, how much will you pay me a year for the rest of my days?” And the answer is, you’ve guessed it, market-dependent.

blackboardWhy is this important? Well, the first attack on the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) was in 2011 [1] , when it moved from a final salary scheme to a career average earnings scheme, saving the employers a ton of money.

(“Who are the employers?” I hear you ask. Well for these purposes they’re Universities UK (UUK) the chancellor, vice-chancellor and principal’s club that dates back to a 19th century consultative committee. Effectively, the marketisation [2]  of higher education has turned universities into businesses and pension reforms into marginal gains.)

But worse was to come. In 2017/18, despite members’ contributions continuing to rise, UUK decided to close the defined benefit portion of the USS, shifting all the risk to the workers. They decided to, but it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen for one reason and one reason alone: sustained and determined strike action by UCU members. Don’t let anyone tell you that striking doesn’t work. [3]

So, why are they back on strike? Well, part of the resolution of last year’s dispute was the creation of the Joint Expert Panel to review the valuation of the pension scheme and (surprise!) the employers have decided to ignore some of the panel’s findings.

Today’s picket at Goldsmiths was as large and lively as the one that Russ and I visited last year, despite losing a bunch of activists to various Labour Party canvassing activities around London. They’re well-organised (well, they are teachers) and in good spirits.

We talked about the FBU pensions victory and the potential impact on millions of public sector workers’ pensions, Grenfell, Boris Johnson, solidarity, rudimentary sound engineering [4] and the general election. And we sang a few songs. [5]

 

The message is clear: UUK – play fair on pensions, the UCU ain’t going anywhere.

picket line

Steve

[1] https://www.ucu.org.uk/uss-explained

[2] The Jarratt Report, published in 1985, laid the groundwork for the transformation of universities into factories, students into customers and academics into education delivery vehicles, consolidated and accelerated by the introduction of tuition fees of up to £9000 pa by the 2010 coalition government.

[3] We can have the debate as to whether music can change the world, but the Goldmiths end of this dispute was supported by both The Protest Family and Maddy Carty. Just sayin’.

[4] Keep the mic behind the speaker!

[5] We know a bunch of songs about strikes: Mrs Windsor’s Geraniums, Funky Lol’s Picket Line and Bad Day for Bojo to name but three.

The Replacement of Rights with Gifts (And How to Put It in Reverse)

The Trussell Trust opened their first food bank in the UK in Salisbury in 2000, by 2004 there were two. Today, after nearly a decade of austerity, there are thousands [1], and their use, as difficult, demoralising, humiliating as it is for some, has become normal. The role of the state to protect the food security of its people has been abrogated in favour of the kindness of strangers, the rise of food banks applauded in some circles as growth in the power of community organising and on the right as demonstration of the success of a small state, Blair’s third sector, Cameron’s big society. [2]

Worse: in-work poverty. The number of people qualifying for the support of food banks who actually have jobs but are paid so poorly, often by super-rich multi-national corporations, that they’re forced to rely on charity for food, toiletries, sanitary products. You might as well pay for your basket of shopping at the checkout then put it all straight back on the shelves. This is life at the coalface of capitalism, this year’s ragged-trousered philanthropists work in call centres and supermarkets.

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We Shall Overcome, now in it’s fifth year, offers a raised fist and a helping hand, and the helping hand, directed by local organisers, artists and promoters has often been held out to food banks, a direct interface with some of those hardest hit by austerity.

As for the raised fist: now’s the time. We stand on the threshold of major change if Labour are successful in next month’s general election. Joe Solo and Grace Petrie are hitting the road supporting CLPs, the Protest Family still slip from venue to picket line to fundraiser. While others pontificate about polls and parliamentary arithmetic, WSO activists are focussing their energy on the real possibility of a better world. Sociologist Janet Poppendieck warned that the institutionalisation of food banks can be difficult to resist and overturn. [3] We have a chance to prove her wrong, to consign Food Bank Britain to the dustbin of history.

WSO What's Cookin' 2019

Whether our next WSO gig, on 14th December, turns out to be a celebration or a show of solidarity in the face of future uncertainty is yet to be seen. What’s clear is the helping hand will still be required, so please, fill the venue, fill the bucket, fill your soul with music and common purpose, it promises to be something of an occasion whatever happens.

Steve

 

1.https://web.archive.org/web/20130112223915/http://www.trusselltrust.org/resources/documents/Our%20work/Lambie-%282011%29-The-Trussell-Trust-Foodbank-Network—Exploring-the-Growth-of-Foodbanks-Across-the-UK.pdf

2. In 2017, Jacob Rees-Mogg told LBC that he found the rise in food bank use as “rather uplifting”

3.https://web.archive.org/web/20130112230035/http://www.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/gpp/foodsecurity/publicevents/householdfoodsecurity/food_security_summary.pdf

The Side of the Fox

Fox Logo

Genuinely written one Boxing Day out of anger and frustration waiting for the hit reports to come in.

As the election approaches, a reminder: there may be no manifesto pledge to repeal the Hunting Act but Boris Johnson is pro-hunt. He repeatedly voted against the ban and even went so far as to suggest hunting urban foxes on horseback. “This will cause massive unpopularity but I don’t care” he quipped. Oh, what a laugh.

Of course Farage is too, it speaks of the imaginary England that he wants to return to, and he supports the violent and bloodthirsty Old Surrey, Burstow and West Kent hunt.[1] His decision not to stand in the election is both cowardly and cute, as it frees him up to travel the country campaigning with Brexit Party candidates with no pressure to succeed in his own constituency.

I’m acutely aware that Protest For Dummies, the album that features The Side of the Fox, is approaching it’s third birthday, and that the time, space, finance and recording logistics for the fourth Protest Family studio album are still matters for the future, so, taking them into my own hands, I will attempt to record the band myself over the next few weeks, having learned some valuable lessons in the process of creating solo efforts Snowflake and Fake News From Nowhere.

Fox, due a refresh with drums, is on the list, with another five songs currently in guide track form. Next step is Andi on the kit and then we’ll see.

Wish us luck, and (watch this space).

Steve

Boys and Dogs

[1] https://www.huntsabs.org.uk/index.php/faqs/92-news/press-releases/552-nigel-farage-attends-boxing-day-meet-of-violent-huntsman-again

Cleaning up Outsourcing with the UVW

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The good news is that when your job is transferred from one company to another, you’re protected by a piece of legislation called the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006, or TUPE for short.

The bad news is that lots of stuff: employer pension contributions, childcare voucher schemes, flexible working arrangements, the location of your office; isn’t protected by TUPE.

The good news is that your contractual terms and conditions: pay, holiday entitlement, period of continuous employment; are all protected by TUPE.

The bad news is that any of your protection under TUPE can be overridden if there’s an economic, technical or organisational (ETO) justification, and boy, are the big outsourcing companies good at finding one of those.

If you’re being outsourced then there’s never been a better time to join a trade union.

Back in 2015 we told you about Mrs Windsor’s Geraniums when our mate Phil, a GMB rep at the time, took the Royal Parks gardeners out on strike after they were outsourced to OCS, who promptly found an ETO justification to strip everyone of two weeks pay a year as well as taking liberties with a number of other terms and conditions.

Now, new kids on the block, the United Voices of the World are bringing Royal Parks workers back out. The parks’ cleaners are demanding a living wage, sick pay and a proper holiday entitlement. It should be a matter of national shame that people indirectly employed by the monarch earn a pitiful £8.21 per hour.

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Every picket line should have one

Me and Funky Lol caught up with the UVW on their picket line at the University of Greenwich this week.[1] There the café workers have already shamed hospitality outsourcing firm Baxter Storey into paying them a living wage, now they’re demanding sick pay and an end to under-staffing after one chef collapsed and had to be admitted to hospital after an 80-hour week.

But they’re not going to stop there. UVW members, who are mainly migrant workers, women and first time union members and strikers are taking action right across the capital. They include the cleaners at St Mary’s Hospital (Sodhexo), the cleaners, security guards and receptionists at the Ministry of Justice (OCS), the security guards at the University of East London [2], the security guards at St George’s University (Noonan) and the cleaners at 200 Grays Inn Road, home of ITN, ITV and Channel 4.

The UVW know what they’re doing, they’re making the invisible visible, giving a voice to the voiceless, standing up for the very people without whom the city would just grind to a halt.

A change is coming; we know a song about that.

Steve

[1] We might’ve sung them a few songs

[2] A strange twist. The security guards at the University of East London have been taken back in house, but TUPE-ed back to their original employer on their worsened, outsourced contracts.

Steve at the TUC

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Picture: Amanda Martin, published on Facebook.

Steve’s speech to the 2019 TUC Congress on behalf of the FBU:

President, Congress: Steve White, Fire Brigades Union.

On the 14th of June 2017 a fire occurred at Grenfell Tower in west London that killed 72 people. 72 people who had every right to believe that their homes had been built, maintained and refurbished with their safety from fire in mind. Those 72 people, and hundreds of others: bereaved, survivors, residents, deserve justice.

Last year, phase one of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry considered the events of that night, considered 668 statements from firefighters, operational and in control, and heard oral evidence from 88 of them.

I want to thank our members, at the incident and in control rooms, who were faced with a situation that they were never trained to deal with, who worked tirelessly throughout the night to save as many lives as they could.

I want to pay tribute to every member who gave a statement to the Inquiry, re-living that night sometimes at great personal cost, and to the members that we witnessed day after day giving oral evidence to the Inquiry, honestly, and clearly to the best of their ability.

I also want to place on record our thanks for the immense work of FBU officials from around the country who ensured that every member who gave evidence to the Inquiry was supported by their trade union. Our message to our members is clear: The FBU have got your back.

Congress, I also want to pay tribute to the community who continue to respond to this tragedy with dignity and tenacity.

We are all still waiting for the Inquiry’s interim report.

It is bound to be critical of the London Fire Brigade.

It may also make criticisms of individual firefighters.

Rest assured that we will respond robustly if any of our members are attacked by the Inquiry. It is our duty to ensure that our members are not scapegoated for the failings of those above their pay grade, be they fire service bosses or government ministers.

Phase two, what happened before and after the fire, is unlikely to start until next year and may go on for years. The FBU will continue to participate in the Inquiry as long as necessary. We have made detailed submissions about the fire safety regime, deregulation and the failures of politicians over many decades.

We need to remind politicians that the people who lived in Grenfell Tower are not to blame for what happened.

We need to remind politicians that firefighters are not responsible for the fire at Grenfell Tower.

The owners and senior managers of the building, the construction firms, the contractors, those who sold and installed the cladding, the fire doors, the windows, all need to answer for their role in this tragedy; as must local councillors who made decisions to contract out the building and ignored their own residents’ concerns and, above all, Westminster politicians who watered down fire safety regulations, imposed austerity on the Fire and Rescue Service (and indeed on all of us) and who failed to respond to the advice of coroners, fire safety experts and the warnings given by this union.

Congress, I ask you to support us in our campaign, Grenfell: Never Again.

We seek to engage with the community and other campaigners to demand:

The removal and banning of all combustible cladding. (And comrades, I’m sure that you all saw pictures of the fire at Worcester Park in the early hours of yesterday morning and asked questions about its construction).

A national review of the Stay Put policy.

The strengthening of tenants’ rights.

New national structures for the Fire and Rescue Service, and

An increase in specialist fire safety officers.

Comrades, we must make sure that nothing like Grenfell Tower ever happens again.

Congress, I move.

Justice for Grenfell!

We might know a song about that (but you’ll have to ask us when you see us).

 

 

 

Homemade, Witty Placard Parade

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So you’re Boris Johnson. You’ve bided your time as Tory leader (and by default Prime Minister) in waiting, struck when Theresa May was at her weakest (and let’s face it that wasn’t hard) and now you’ve made it, you are Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Problem: You have a working majority of one vote, propped up by bribing the right wing, socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party.

Solution: Take the UK out of the European Union, preferably with a deal but without if necessary, on 31st October, then call a general election, riding high on the headlines that you were the leader that succeeded where David Cameron and Theresa May failed, mopping up votes from the newly defunct Brexit Party, which was basically a home for Tory eurosceptics who didn’t believe that the Tories could achieve leaving the EU anyway, and return with a bigger majority from which you can claim a mandate to further your neo-liberal agenda.

Problem: Parliament (in which you have a working majority of one) is set against a no-deal Brexit and prepared to legislate against one. They also voted down Theresa May’s deal and every subsequent amendment as not good enough and, when given the option to create their own deal, failed to come up with an alternative. Worse, the EU have been kind but clear that there is no other deal on the table. Worse still the DUP, on whom you rely for a parliamentary majority, will not tolerate any deal that treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK and, despite talk of it, there is no alternative to a hard border between the UK and the EU in Ireland once tariff-free trade ends.

If Parliament legislates against leaving the EU without a deal and there is no other deal to be done the best that you can hope for is a further extension of Article 50, the worst a successful vote of no confidence moved by Jeremy Corbyn. In any event plans to call a snap election on the back of Brexit delivered on time would be in tatters.

Solution: Prevent Parliament from sitting, using what you’ve previously described as an arcane and undemocratic procedure, so that they can’t legislate to stop you leaving the EU by any means necessary on 31st October, tell some bold lies[1] in friendly media outlets and tough it out.

Problem: Shutting down democracy has brought thousands of demonstrators onto the streets, on the day prorogation was announced, at the weekend and more protests are set to follow.

Gird your loins comrades, keep fighting for democracy[2] and let’s figure out what it takes to make toughing it out no longer an option for Johnson. Let’s get the Tories out.

We know so may songs about him.

Steve

[1] Our post-truth, polarised world gives new meaning to the word “lie”. Politicians, press and the people all know he’s lying, it just doesn’t seem to matter.

[2] The real stuff, not what a bunch of Old Etonians debating in a medieval building pass off as democracy.