Join the discussions – you can comment below each post.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Organising to win the pay ballot: Sat 9 or 16 June

PCS Annual Delegate Conference have voted overwhelmingly to call a national, statutory ballot on pay. We want all our activists and members to get involved and sign up for a special training day on 9 or 16 June.


The emergency motion - here - was carried overwhelmingly by delegates to conference. We will now be entering a period of intense activity when we aim to achieve, not just a long overdue pay rise, but also a stronger, more confident union, rejuvenated by the influx of a wave of new activists. The regional one-day events, to be held on 9 or 16 June, will discuss developing local strategies to deliver an overwhelming yes vote in a ballot.

To win the ballot we need more than 50% of our total membership to vote in the ballot by post. To achieve this we need a strategic approach in every workplace. To this end the strategic workshops will look at:
  • Our national pay strategy and how we translate this into local action plans.
  • How in each branch we can play to our strengths and minimise the impact of any weaknesses.
  • How we engage with those members who don’t come to meetings, and are less likely to vote. 
  • How we harness the energy of members currently underrepresented in our union e.g. black, disabled, women, LGBT and young members.
  • How we win the next generation of workers (many of whom have no previous experience of trade unions) to become the future of PCS
  • Developing a local plan that involves and maximises engagement with our members, particularly those who are less likely to vote.
All meetings will be held on either Saturday 9 or 16 June, starting at 10am and finishing no later than 3pm. Events will be held in the following towns and cities:

Saturday 9 June
Saturday 16 June
London
Cardiff
Liverpool
Leeds
Glasgow
Peterborough
Sheffield
Bristol
Manchester
Newcastle
Birmingham


We are inviting all activists to register now - here. Meetings will be opened up to members who want to participate in the pay campaign and become actively involved in the union more generally, and members in your branches should be encouraged to register and attend.

We hope that every PCS activist and potential activist will join us so that we are able to prepare for the test ahead and ensure we are in the best possible position to win. Complete the form to register your interest now here.

Peter Lockhart
PCS National Organiser

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Syria bombings - why wasn't Parliament consulted?

Black humour about the most confusing war of modern times.
As you will recall, the UK joined the USA and France in bombing Syria last month. Much has been made of the fact that Theresa May ordered the missile strikes without consulting Parliament. Although we may not like it, she actually broke no UK laws or conventions in doing so.

The UK has no constitution. Defenders of the present system claim that we have an unwritten constitution that is flexible and can adapt to changing circumstances, but I'm not persuaded by this argument. Our political system consists of a combination of precedent, legislation and the royal prerogative that have all developed and, at times, been in conflict with each other over centuries. To put it another way, it's a convoluted labyrinth that is of benefit only to unscrupulous politicians and lawyers.

Precedent: put simply, this consists of what we might, in a less elevated context, refer to as custom and practice, in this case built up over centuries. The most obvious example is how Parliament itself evolved from the body summoned in 1265 by the French nobleman Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, which was a major step forward from previous councils of nobles and clergy because for the first time representatives from towns and shires were summoned. Its powers were gradually accumulated, often not peacefully, over subsequent centuries until the 1688 Dutch conquest of England led by William of Orange, who was offered the English throne provided he accepted the supremacy of Parliament over the Crown. The way Parliament operates today has been determined by multiple precedents established over centuries.

Royal prerogative: not all royal powers were surrendered to Parliament (more info here). The right to declare war remains reserved to the Crown and nowadays is exercised on the monarch's behalf by the Prime Minister with no need to consult Parliament. However, in recent years Parliament has been consulted:
  • In 2003 - the Iraq War.
  • Retrospectively in 2011 - Libya intervention.
  • 2013 - the government was defeated over military action in Syria.
  • 2014 - UK air strikes against Islamic State forces in Iraq. 
  • 2015 - extension of air strikes against IS into Syrian territory.
One exception: there was no consultation over a small deployment of forces to Mali in 2013.

Legislation: there are no laws governing declarations of war, although there have been vague promises of one. Even if we had such a law, it could be overturned by a simple majority in a future Parliament, which is one reason why we should have a written constitution that would need at least a two thirds majority for change.

Why didn't May consult Parliament? I see three main reasons:
  • Her government is weak, propped up by bribing the DUP, and there was a very good chance she'd lose the vote, as David Cameron did in 2013.
  • A Parliamentary vote would reinforce the precedent that had been set several times already, and would further the process of eroding the royal prerogative. It's my view that May wished to retain the right to declare war without consultation because it's a form of power can be wielded independently of Parliament - both by herself and by her successors. 
  • As a weak Prime Minister, she is desperate to hold on to whatever remnants of power she still has.
My conclusion: the principal reason May didn't consult Parliament was because she wanted to prevent such consultation evolving into an accepted precedent that, in time, would become binding on Prime Ministers. She has thus deliberately stifled a development that most of us would have welcomed in order to preserve the powers and privileges that Prime Ministers can exercise through the royal prerogative without any democratic accountability. 

Consigning this relic of the divine right of kings 
to history where it belongs is long overdue.

Neville Grundy
Chair
ARMS Mersey

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

A Call to ARMs Members

The ARMs National Committee has been sent a request from the General Secretary's office to find an ARMs member who would be willing to be interviewed by French media on being made redundant in the Civil Service.

Is this you?

If you have recently been made redundant and would be interested in finding out more, please contact Steve Battlemuch, the press officer, on steveb@pcs.org.uk with your details. The interview can be completely anonymous.

If you can help it would be appreciated.

Friday, 9 February 2018

CARRY ON AT CARILLION?

Brian Nelson shares his thoughts. When challenged about the collapse of Carillion, Theresa May said her government wants “good quality public services, delivered at best value to the taxpayer”. This has always been the Tory (and was erstwhile, sadly, Labour’s) mantra to justify handing over £billions of public sector contracts to behemoth corporations such as Carillion, Virgin, Capita, G4S, or ATOS. Now their blind faith in the market to deliver essential public services has firmly hit the rocks with Carillion going bust and putting at risk hundreds of public (and private) sector jobs and services, ranging from school meals and cleaning to building hospitals and railways.

But long before Carillion issued its profits warnings last summer, alarm bells should have been ringing in government about the wisdom of the continuing wholesale privatisation of public services upon which we, and the nation, depend. Contract after contract has gone pear-shaped but the Tory dogma of ‘public sector bad - private sector good’ has driven them to ignore the risks and put more and more public sector work out to private tender.

For example, consider these examples against May’s yardstick of “good quality public services, delivered at best value to the taxpayer”:

- G4S: failed to deliver the security they had been contracted to provide for the London Olympics, so the army had to step in - at taxpayers’ expense. [1]

- ATOS: had to step down a year early from its DWP Work Capability Assessment contract after wrongly judging thousands of people to be fit for work. [2]

- Virgin Care: holds over 400 NHS contracts worth £billions, yet its parent company is registered in the British Virgin Islands tax haven, so not only does it take a handsome profit from public sector work but it pays no tax on it in the UK. [3]

- Serco: falsely charged the Government for tagging thousands of criminals who were actually dead, imprisoned or non-existent. [4]

- A4e: staff prosecuted for making up scores of files, forging signatures and falsely claiming they had helped people find jobs through its DWP welfare-to-work contract. A4e made enough profits from public service work to pay its founder, Emma Harrison, £8.6 million in dividends in 2011. [5]

- Circle Health: after only three years Circle Health walked away from its ten-year contract to run Hinchingbrooke hospital and left the NHS to sort out its mess. [6]

- East Coast mainline: Despite massive government subsidies, two private rail operators, GNER and National Express, successively went bust trying to run the East Coast mainline, but when the publicly-owned Directly Operated Railways was created to keep the line running it was able to deliver millions of pounds in profits each year to the Treasury. Despite this public sector success story, the Tories re-privatised it - but now (three years early) Virgin/Stagecoach is walking away from this essential public transport service because it can’t make a profit. [7]

What these failures (and many others too numerous to mention) tell me is that private companies are only interested in their profit margins and have no concern for the public services they run, nor for the people who use them, and in the worst cases they even dodge paying taxes which could be spent on cash-strapped services.

I first saw the writing on the wall back in the 1990s when outsourcing was in its infancy and a newly-appointed embryo facilities management company charged our district management a ludicrous £250 to move a small wall cabinet from one room to another. Mighty oaks trees from such tiny acorns grow and, as we are seeing with Carillion, the bigger they become the more damage they cause when they fall.

We are already seeing our vital public services decimated by austerity cuts, and these monster privatised facilities management companies threaten to put the final nail in their coffin - or has that been the Tory idea all along? [650]

Brian Nelson is a singer/songwriter based in Hull. He has written a number of songs about Hull’s deep-sea trawling heritage, and also performs many songs relating to the struggle for social justice. Brian is a lifelong trade unionist, socialist and ARMs Yorkshire and Humber committee member using his musical talents to campaign against austerity.







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Monday, 4 December 2017

A Brief Analysis of the Older Tory Voter

  

Electoral data from 1945 -1970 suggested that older voters were more likely than younger voters to vote Conservative and less likely than younger voters to vote Labour.

This was often explained by the notion that as individuals grow older they become set in their ways.

People born in say 1900 would have grown up before a powerful Labour Party existed and might as a result have been socialised to vote Conservative or Liberal. People born in say 1930 with the reforming Labour Governments of 1945-51 may have been encouraged to vote Labour.

In 2010 some 76% of people over 65 turned out to vote.

The balance begins to shift

It is still a large percentage in the over 65s that vote Tory although all other groups have shifted significantly towards Labour. The retention of the Triple Lock was clearly a factor. Although the Dementia Tax caused a swing away from the Tories.

A poll, which interviewed 14,000 people during the last election found those aged 35 to 44 swung to Labour - 50% voted for them while just 30% voted for the Tories. This is compared to 36% of them voting Labour and 26% backing the Tories just two years ago.

Sky News’ political editor Faisal Islam said this “should terrify” the Conservatives, who have always sought to position themselves as the most credible on the economy to homeowners and parents.

Conclusion

We have to accept the past disparity in voting patterns of the elderly who continue to vote Tory. But nothing in history is static. Austerity will change the debate and turn everything on its head. Our work in the pensioner’s movement is critical. We need to explain the nature of those ‘austerity’ attacks and how we can vote to change things.

Steve Ion
ARMs National Committee Member

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Help phone banks for the PCS pay campaign

PCS are currently running a consultative ballot in the pay campaign and would like help from ARMs members to maximize the turnout.
Do you have any time to spare from Monday 30th October to Friday 3rd November 2017 to assist in staffing phone banks at local PCS Regional Offices? You would be using a script to phone members who have not yet voted to encourage them to take part in the ballot.
If so, please contact your Regional Office to find out more details and let them know when you can help. You can find their number here.
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Monday, 23 October 2017

ARMs pledges support to WASPI

Please join the fight by writing to your MP. You can use the draft letter below. It has also been pointed out that women born in the 1960s have been affected by the rise in the pension age with little notice to add to their retirement income. If this is relevant to you please adapt the letter to ask your MP to look at the plight of women born in the early 1960s. You can also sign the petition here.

If you want to find out more about the campaign you can access details here.

The WASPI women have also set up a Facebook page which can be accessed here.

If you don’t know who your MP is you can find out here.

Dear (Mr/Mrs/Ms xxxxx)

I am writing to ask you to support the WASPI women. They are unhappy about the amount of notice given in relation to the increase in State Pension age.  Many received less than two years notice of a 6 year wait for their state pension. In monetary terms these women have lost up to £40,000 of their expected retirement income. They were given no time to prepare for such a massive change to their expected retirement plans, and many are now living in hardship as a consequence of this. Please understand that WASPI women are not complaining about the change of the State Pension age, rather the lack of notice of the change.

I’m also concerned that when questions are asked in Parliament about this issue the answer always refers to a small adjustment made in the time scale for raising the State Pension Age for both men and women in 2011, while ignoring the fact that the 1995 Act has meant that many women born in the 50’s are waiting up to an extra six years for their State Pension, with little or no notice.

I would like to hear from you about how you can take action to right this injustice for 1950s women.  There is an All Party Parliamentary Group with Carolyn Harris MP as Chair and I would like you to contribute to their efforts.  I would appreciate it if you would take up this matter with the Pensions Minister and ensure that he understands that the wait has not been 18 months, rather it has been years. You could also ask questions in the house as to why these women have been treated so unfairly, and what the Government intend doing about it.

One thing is for sure, the WASPI campaign gains strength every day representing the views of the 3.5 million women across the UK who have been adversely affected by this issue.

I can confirm I am a constituent of (insert name of constituency) and set out my address below.
I look forward to hearing from you. I also request you note the comments of the Pension Minister Guy Operman on 5/7 that WASPI women should take out apprenticeships and consider signing Early Day Motion 63.

Yours sincerely,

Name
Address

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Lib Dem Lord: drop triple lock as pensioners 'have it easy'

Peers suffering from austerity - on £300 per day
Commonly known as ‘Dick’, Baron Richard Newby, Leader of the Lib Dems in the House of Lords, has decided to share his wisdom about the generational divide he seems keen to propagate. £300-a-day Dick – his expenses for sitting in the ‘Upper Chamber’ – believes 'pensioners have it easy' when compared with young people’.

The report here in the New Model Adviser business magazine sets out his thinking on the issue. However you may want to bear in mind some of the following.

It may be Dick (64), along with former Lib Dem Coalition Pensions Minister Steve Webb, think that the new state pension system, has been through some kind of reverse time warp. They allege pensioners now receive a state pension of around £8,000 a year. In reality the new system is not fully operational until 2051. In the interim it will leave many millions of pensioners struggling on much less than that figure, including everyone who was in receipt of a retirement pension before 6th April 2016.

Let’s not forget that this whole package of ‘Pensions reform’ including the penalising of contracted out public sector workers and the adverse changes to state pension retirement age were in support of Tory/Lib Dem austerity policies designed to save £500 billion over a 35 year period.

Of course many current pensioners receive much less every month than Dick would get for 2 days slumbering in the House of Lords. And as for bridging the generational divide the Tory/Lib Dem coalition did not leave out other sections of society.

The young whose Tuition Fees were trebled and employment rights trampled on in the burgeoning and unregulated Gig economy. The working families whose employment rights were attacked, occupational pensions undermined and tax credits cut. The disabled whose benefits were cut and job opportunities destroyed.

Dick, Steve and their Tory allies having imposed 7 years of austerity upon everyone but themselves and the wealthiest people in society who have prospered during austerity now believe that they have something to say that you should listen to.

The truth is they have had their say; they have cast a blight across the vast majority of our population and they deserve nothing but contempt for seeking to lecture us about what we should do in the future.

Many people have been saying they want an alternative to the ‘different shades of grey’ offered by politicians up to 2015. Now the Labour Party is offering that alternative the challenge is to seize it and never forget the sacrifice and despair Dick and his friends are offering.

Eddie Spence
ARMS National Vice Chair

Thursday, 14 September 2017

How do we bridge the Generation Gap?

If you believe some media commentators and politicians the 'Generational Divide' is the most corrosive issue in our society. They say wealthy Baby Boomer pensioners have swallowed up all the wealth whist younger generations struggle with student debts, lowly paid jobs and inadequate housing.

The media often characterises pensioners as playing golf on lush courses or enjoying luxury cruises without a care in the world. I find it strange I don’t know one such person. However I do know older people who struggle with their health either through age, disability, loneliness, isolation and of course poverty. I also know young people who worry about their education and whether they or their family can afford it. I know many more who struggle to find a decent job with reasonable working conditions and pay and who are exploited by employers without an effective regulatory system to safeguard their rights and many without a union to fight for them.

With all this in mind it is heartening to see a more constructive analysis of the issues that can and should be tackled. It is also of interest how uniting across our generations might start to challenge the real inequality in our society between the vested interests a rich, powerful global elite, its hangers on and the rest of us. It is worth taking a moment to read the article here, and why not share your views in the comments box below this post?

Eddie Spence
ARMS National Vice Chair

Friday, 1 September 2017

DWP blunder - office repossessed

Workers arriving at Bridge House Jobcentre in Blyth near Newcastle on 30 August were confronted with a bailiff's notice on the front door. The landlord of the site, contracted to Telereal Trillum as part of the DWP jobcentre network, has posted the notice to advise that bailiffs can enter and "repossess" the building.

The department had originally planned to close Bridge House, but reconsidered its decision on 10 August. This incident with the bailiffs has simply created more confusion for the 27 workers at the site. The embarrassment comes as the DWP plan to push ahead with their plans to close dozens of jobcentres across UK, a decision which will jeopardise local economies and service delivery.

A PCS spokesperson said: "This is the latest gaffe for the DWP and again shows that they are out of touch with what's happening on the ground. They don't know the needs of the workers, service users, or of the local community. Workers are growing increasing concerned and confused about the future of their role. This is no way to treat anyone. How can the department be trusted to push ahead with their radical programme of office closures when they can't even pay the bills on time?"

PCS has called yet again on Department for Work and Pensions management to halt its planned Jobcentre closure plan, after this blunder. It would be comical except that real jobs and real clients are affected.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

A woman in your 60s affected by changes in retirement age?

Women aged between 60 and 62 are an average of £32 a week worse off due to changes in the state pension age. The Guardian Newspaper would like to find out how this affects you.

Women in their early 60s have lost an average of £32 a week from changes in the retirement age, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) reported today.

The increase in the age that women can receive their state pension has lowered the income of more than a million women, according to the IFS study, while the government has saved £5.1bn a year.

Many women are working for longer as a result of the changes and some are now facing hardship after many years of work and paying National Insurance Contributions with the expectation of an earlier State Pension, an expectation which will bring the state pension age to an equal level - 65 - for men and women by November 2018, before rising to 66 by October 2020.

PCS ARMs is supporting the 'WASPI Campaign' to address this injustice but we need to keep it in the public eye and expose what the Government has done and their refusal to properly address this injustice. You can help by telling your story or letting a family member, friend or neighbour know about this continuing campaign.

Are you a woman aged between 60 and 62 affected by the changes? Are you struggling financially? Have you decided to work for longer? How has this affected your life?
Share your experiences:

The Guardian Newspaper would like to hear from women in their early 60s affected by the change in state pension age. If you would like to share your experience, please fill in the form at this link, anonymously if you prefer. The Guardian will feature some of your responses in their reporting.