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Wednesday, 11 July 2018

International solidarity - support fired farm labourers

Two migrant farm labourers on a tobacco farm in North Carolina owned by grower Randy Blalock were abused, denied work and then summarily fired after describing substandard living conditions to an inspector from the state Department of Labor. 

IUF UITA IUL affiliate, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), is supporting the workers in their conflict with the grower and is seeking to recover thousands of dollars in stolen wages.

These two workers' story reflects the experiences of many other tobacco farmworkers who have no freedom of association and no union protection. And because there is no transparency in the tobacco supply chain, it is impossible to determine which company buys the product from Blalock; FLOC believes it is either Reynolds America Inc. or Alliance One.

Click here to send a message to the grower, his anti-union lawyer and the tobacco companies, telling them to stop these abuses, pay the workers their stolen wages and guarantee freedom of association.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

ARMs Forum supports 5% pay claim

The Forum supporting the 5% pay claim, with Mark Serwotka (front row, 2nd left)
The successful 2018 ARMs National Forum took place in Liverpool yesterday. PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka addressed the delegates with a wide-ranging speech that expressed appreciation of the enhanced role that ARMs now plays in the union.

The photograph shows the forum demonstrating support for the current 5% pay claim, support that will be more than verbal as ARMs members prepare to roll up their collective sleeves and once again get stuck into actual campaigning. Mark was clear that, with savage cuts in reps' facility time, help and support from ARMs was both appreciated and needed.

Click on the picture to enlarge it.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

"You've never had it so good"

Britain needs to have a more balanced view of what it is like to grow older and stop suggesting that "pensioners have never had it so good", according to a press release from the National Pensioners Convention (NPC).
  • The UK has the lowest state pension in terms of the amount of average earnings it replaces, of any developed country, ranking last out of 37 OECD countries.
  • Around 1.9 million older people are living in poverty. Current poverty levels of those aged 75 and over are 18.5%, compared to 11% among the whole population and just over 10% for the age group 66-75.
  • Over the past seven years, the proportion of older people unable to afford a decent standard of living has increased from 23% to 32% – a reversal in a long-running trend of improved living standards for this age group.
  • An estimated 4 million older people in the UK (36% of people aged 65-74 and 47% of those aged 75+) have a limiting longstanding illness. This equates to 40% of all people aged 65 or over.
  • There has been a cut of £6bn to adult social care budgets since 2011 and now 1.2 million older people in England have care and support needs that the state does not meet.
  • Between 500,000 and 800,000 older people are subject to abuse and/or neglect in the UK each year.
  • Only about a third (36%) of people aged 50+ are confident that older people who receive care services, such as help with getting dressed or washing, either at home or in a care home, are treated with dignity and respect.
  • Nearly one in three of the oldest households in England (where the oldest person is aged 75+) live in housing which has failed the official decent homes standard and around 4 million UK households are in fuel poverty, unable to afford to live in a warm, dry home.
  • People over 60 are more than twice as likely to be homeless now, than they were in 2009, with homelessness amongst the elderly surging by 100% in seven years. 
  • 53% of adults agree that once you reach very old age, people tend to treat you as a child and 52% of older people agree that those who plan services do not pay enough attention to the needs of older people.
Jan Shortt, NPC general secretary said: "Over the last few years, pensioners have often been described in very negative ways or portrayed as the cause of society’s problems. Terms such as bed blocker are usually linked with older people to give the impression that the shortage of beds in the NHS is the fault of the individual, rather than the collapse of the social care system in the community. Equally, older people have been said to have escaped austerity and are the cause of all the problems faced by younger generations. Pensioners are invariably shown as gallivanting on SAGA cruises or jumping out of aeroplanes on their 90th birthday, but the reality is that 20% of older people live in poverty and at least 50% are living on an annual income of less than £11,500 a year.

"We can only start to address the very serious issues facing older people when we accept a more balanced view of what life is like for millions of pensioners in 21st century Britain. With this understanding we can then start to design and map out the kind of services and welfare that is needed to look after and support people after a lifetime of work. At the moment, the UK is not the best place in which to grow older and that needs to change for both today’s pensioners and the pensioners of tomorrow."

The full Age Audit 2018 is available on the NPC website.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

NPC Campaign! Bulletin

Please find a link to the June 2018 issue of the National Pensioners Convention's Campaign! Bulletin here.

They have also produced a print friendly version which reduces the amount of ink needed if you want to print the document. This can be found here.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Digital divide affects up to 4 million pensioners

Nearly 4 million pensioners are routinely ripped off because they don't use the internet, according to new research from money saving experts. Official figures show that 4 in 5 of those who don't have access to the internet are aged over 65 - equal to 3.8 million of a total of 4.8 million in that age group. They face a raft of penalties designed to push customers to internet deals for essential services because these are cheaper for big companies to run. For example, phone companies make millions a year by charging up to £2.50 a time to send out paper statements.

Some telecom firms force homeowners to pay for broadband if they want a phone line - even if they don’t own a computer or tablet, and all 6 major energy firms impose fees of up to £94 for paying bills by cheque. British Gas has even prevented customers who don’t use the internet from getting its best energy tariff, while savers are deprived of £500 a year in interest because the best deals are online. Peter Rayner, NPC vice president said:"Older consumers without access to the internet are being punished, and this has got to stop."

From the NPC Campaign, May 2018.

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

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
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 with your details. The interview can be completely anonymous.

If you can help it would be appreciated.

Friday, 9 February 2018


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.