Up and down the country, people will be taking the knee outside their workplaces and in their communities. This has been an important action over the last year, from local street communities to professional sports people. Taking the knee didn’t start last year though – above is a picture of Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama, during one of the most famous marches in the history of the civil rights movement. It was taken up in the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests and has continued to be central today.
So if you are able to make the journey safely, or are currently working in a Camden building and can make it, please join us outside 5PS at 6pm on Tuesday where we can take the knee together.
Nationally, this is organised jointly by the TUC and Stand Up To Racism, and UNISON is encouraging members to take part.
London Borough of Camden
In April Diana Leach, joint Branch Secretary of Brighton and Hove UNISON, spoke at our weekly online members meeting to bring news of the action taken by UNISON, NEU and GMB members at Moulsecoomb Primary school against it being forcibly turned into an academy school, with Pioneer Academy trust as the front-runner.
Union members at the school took strike action (24 March and April 28-29) against the plans, which are also very unpopular with parents.
The school was closed as a result of the strike. Members of the three unions agreed to cover the cost of lunches for children at the school so they did not miss out as a consequence of the industrial action. The unions’ aim to keep Moulsecoomb Primary School as part of Brighton and Hove City Council Schools and hope that the academy trusts will withdraw their bids to take over the school.
Education watchdog Ofsted said that those running Moulsecoomb Primary School had taken effective action to educate pupils during the pandemic. Unions are outraged that Lee Mason-Ellis, head of the Pioneer Academy, grabs £145,000-£150,000 a year. They said such “bloated” pay “reduces resources devoted to children in the classroom”.
Members hope that the strike action will lead to an announcement that the academisation plans have been dropped for good, but there are more strike dates planned in the event their concerns are not listened to, and a march on 22 May.
Camden UNISON welcomes the verdict that Derek Chauvin, the killer cop, has been found guilty on all three charges surrounding the murder of George Floyd last year. Much has been made in the press of how this would not have happened without the camera phone footage, and subsequent appearance at the trial as a witness, by Darnella Frazier. That was very important – around the world we could see the brutality of the police and the contempt they held for the life of a Black man.
But other police murders have been filmed before. The Black Lives Matter movement that saw millions on the streets across the US and the rest of the world also led to that verdict, and we stand with everyone who took to the streets to march, held protest vigils and meetings, the Teamster trade unionists who refused to follow police orders to take protesters to the cells and more. This has been an important verdict for the Floyd family, and it is important for all of us who want to fight racism. Now we demand justice for Breonna Taylor, for Ma’Khia Bryant and sadly for many more.
There has also been much talk about how few police officers in the US have been charged or convicted following the death of a Black person at their hands or in their custody. The number is shockingly low. However, that number here in Britain is zero. On the eve of the anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s murder, this verdict highlights the existence of institutional racism specifically in the police, and also in wider society, and directly contradicts the government Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.
Camden Council has committed to challenging institutional racism and being an anti-racist employer and organisation, and as your trade union we will be doing everything that we can to make sure their pledges are put into practice.
Institutional racism is built into every aspect of society and as well as discriminating against people based on the colour of their skin, it also makes racists and racist organisations more confident. Almost a year ago, we said we are proud that Camden UNISON has been at the forefront of challenging this. As a trade union we want to see a better, fairer society. That means organising and resisting to end the low pay and poverty that is experienced in particular by our Black members, but also fighting for a world free from the racism and bigotry that can divide us. Today we stand by that. No Justice, No Peace.
The last year has been like no other for us in many ways – the pandemic has affected how we live and work and the Black Lives Matter movement has challenged racism in society and the workplace. This makes the branch AGM an important chance for us to discuss how we’ve responded to that and what we want to do over the next year. So please do join us at the online meeting and have your say. The Teams link and agenda has been emailed out to all members, if you haven’t received it or have any other queries please contact email@example.com
Many of you not only read about the government limiting the amount local government workers would receive if made redundant, you also wrote to the minister responsible for this, signed petitions and wrote to your MPs. The government pushed ahead with this and made it law in November. However, it faced a judicial review led by UNISON, and that combined with the campaigning you all did led to the Tories revoking the law after only 3 months.
The government, the Daily Mail and other right-wing cheerleaders said that these regulations were introduced to cut big pay outs to the highest paid public servants when they were made redundant. They set a ‘cap’ to pay outs of £95,000, which sounds a lot.
But in reality this payment cap meant that even lower paid staff could have been caught up by the law. In particular, it would have affected those in the local government pension scheme (LGPS) who were made redundant over the age of 55, as their benefits are payable immediately without any early retirement reduction.
Employers have to cover additional money for the early retirement (so-called ‘pension strain costs’) and when these are added on top off any redundancy payments, this can quickly mount up and exceed the £95,000 cap.
UNISON and other unions made a legal challenge that was due to be heard in a few weeks. However, just as we were finalising our evidence, the government backed down – sneaking out the news on a Friday evening, hoping to dampen down any press coverage! The government says that it has disapplied the regulations, with a view to revoking them completely, because it may have had ‘unintended consequences’.
It’s worth noting that these regulations would only have kicked in when someone was made redundant. And with thousands of jobs having already gone across public services over the last decade of austerity, one job going is still one too many.
The lesson for us here is that campaigning can work!
Vaccination and immunisation is an important issue in the midst of a pandemic. Many of us are too young to remember when diseases like smallpox and polio were common and so it can seem like they just ‘disappeared’, but this is not the case. But every new disease or virus brings new questions and concerns about how to stay safe individually and as a community. As a trade union, we want to make sure that our members have access to reliable sources of information before making a decision.
In order to do this, the council has facilitated a live webinar for union (UNISON, NEU and GMB) members. This will have a similar format to other webinars that have taken place in the last couple of weeks, with medical and public health speakers who will be able to answer questions that you have about the vaccine. This is a great opportunity to ask about anything you want to know about the vaccine. At this one there will also be the chance to ask coronavirus-related employment questions – we will try to answer as many questions as possible in the session, but if we run out of time or you ask a complicated one that we need to check out information to answer fully, then we will do a later response.
In order to get as many questions answered as possible – medical or employment – it would really help if you can send them in advance. You can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we can compile and forward them before the webinar. Please get questions to us by 12 noon on Tuesday 9 Feb and say if you would like to remain anonymous. There will be more about the webinar in a reminder email to all members early next week and the link to join it will be sent out again.
This week we saw the legacy of Trump’s time as US President. From the Make America Great Again (MAGA) campaign to the racist rhetoric and policies, he has mobilised a dangerous far right movement and dramatically polarised US society.
Thousands of his supporters marched in Washington and then some entered the Capitol building, waving the pro-slavery Confederate flag. Trump had prepared for this day – it’s the result of him telling the ‘Proud Boys’ to stand by, of saying there were ‘good people’ on both sides when Heather Heyer was killed in Charlottesville for protesting against white supremacists, of his systematic scapegoating of migrants, Black people, Muslims and Latinx.
This encouraged the racists, they had one of their own in the White House who spent most of last year denouncing the Black Lives Matter movement and defending the killer of two Black Lives Matter protestors in September.
Since the November election, Trump repeatedly denied losing, not just as an attempt to challenge the result in the Supreme Court, but also as a way to mobilise his supporters – if it wasn’t for those cheating liberals, he’d still be in the White House was his claim.
So on December 20 Trump tweeted, “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election, Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
Trump’s supporters had very different treatment at the hands of the police and National Guard than the Black Lives Matter protestors last year. This week, according to the Washington Post, “In a city on high alert, in a building with its own 2000-officer police department, people forced their way in with nothing more than flagpoles, riot shields and shoves.” Since then, pictures have surfaces of the police inside the building taking selfies with them. Compare this to the huge mobilisation of the National Guard up the steps of the Capitol building when people marched against the murder of George Floyd.
Unfortunately, the opposition to any campaign by Trump and his supporters is unlikely to come from Democratic politicians – they have had four years to build a movement against his racism and undemocratic politics and given very little challenge. It’s also worth remembering that even here, all the politicians who this week have condemned Trump have previously been happy to meet with him, to invite him over for state visits and some, like Priti Patel, want to bring in similar policies. When Jeremy Corbyn refused to dine with Trump and instead joined the massive protests in London against his state visit, other politicians and all the press at the time criticised him for not showing ‘respect’ to Trump.
The best way for us to counter Trump, his racist policies and his supporters including those over here is to continue to mobilise for Black Lives Matter, to continue to fight for funding our NHS including proper pay for health workers, and against the austerity that is used to divide us.
It’s shocking that as we start 2021, coronavirus is again sweeping through our communities, with more daily cases reported today than ever (even though the criteria was changed since the first lockdown) and hundreds of people dying every day. The responsibility for this lies firmly with the Tories – they’ve done too little, too late and have had to be forced into action all the way. The U-turns over school safety and restricting face to face education to key worker and vulnerable children demonstrates this clearly. One day all schools were safe to fully open, the next day some London schools weren’t safe, the following day no London schools were safe, a couple of days later no schools nationally were safe to fully open. Johnson may say that it was a decision made by him, but it was forced on him, not least due to the campaign by the NEU (teachers union) who had a union meeting last Sunday morning that was live streamed and viewed by 400,000 people! Locally, on New Year’s Eve when we heard that Camden was on the list where the government said all primary schools must fully open, Camden UNISON branch officers wrote to the Council Leader, the Councillor responsible for Education, the Chief Executive, the Director of Education and other senior managers to say that we disagreed with this, we believed the schools should open for key worker and vulnerable children only and that we were meeting with our stewards and members over the weekend to discuss this. We also said that we would make ourselves available to meet to discuss this over the following few days. On New Year’s Day we were meeting with the Council Leader when, after 18 hours of 2021, Johnson announced his first climbdown. There are still a lot of things we need to discuss about this lockdown though – in many ways its more Tier 4 with schools running as they were in the first lockdown. So a number of other services that were closed in March are still running face to face. We have had some meetings already this week with members in some of those areas, but if you want a meeting for UNISON members in your team then email email@example.com and we can arrange one with you. Obviously, we’d like to hear from you at the meeting on Thursday too, so come along to that with your views and ideas.
London Borough of Camden
Camden UNISON is proud to have signed up to the Camden Disability Network’s Charter, and some of our members are actively helping to co-ordinate the Network. Here Asif outlines the aims and plans of the Network and gives details of how you can get in touch and involved.
Camden Disability Network Mission Statement
Disabled staff across the organisation have recently come together to re-establish Camden Disability Network, and to support the organisation in ensuring it is inclusive of everyone’s needs, fostering a working environment that is equal for all.
“The network aims to ensure that all staff feel able to declare their disabilities and become positive role models for their disabled colleagues. Through the network we want to empower disabled staff, celebrate their talents and help them to achieve their hopes for the future.”
Camden Disability Network, November 2020
Camden Disability Network offers support for disabled staff across Camden Council. This is a safe space to express views or concerns, a platform for everyone’s voice to be heard and to influence decisions across the organisation. We will work together to ensure equal participation for all. We are committed to making the CDN a truly inclusive, equal and respectful place for disabled staff.
Camden Disability Network’s vision
We want Camden to be an organisation where staff members are not identified by their disability, but are seen as people
We want to be able see the talents and potential of all staff, regardless of their disability, and ensure that Camden provide reasonable adjustments when needed
We want all Camden Council workplaces and public spaces, as well as programs and services, to be accessible
We want to make our workplace somewhere where people with disabilities can be, and want to be, their best selves
In the immediate term we want to provide internal support to staff. In the long term we want to instigate projects to help engage the wider community of Camden and recognise the needs, interests and concerns of disabled residents.
How Camden Disability Network will help Camden to achieve this vision:
Working with HR to review HR policies, and ensure disabled staff are protected, according to the Equality Act 2010 and relevant case law
Encouraging open and honest conversations between all parts of Camden and other organisations
Increasing disability awareness
Working closely with the Rainbow Group, Camden Black Worker’s Group, and other Employee Support Groups, and Trade Unions
Promoting Disability History Month to raise awareness of disabled staff for all staff
Producing the Disability Charter
Acting as a disability and change champion
The Network’s core beliefs
Disabilities are a natural part of life. Anyone can acquire a disability at any time
Many of the difficulties faced by disabled people are a result of attitudes and environments, and not the disability itself
Disabilities positively affect and enhance the diversity of our community
The term ‘disability’ is not to be viewed as something negative, a taboo, or something which makes an individual in any well less than others
Everyone should have the opportunity to express their strengths, abilities, and talents:
Discussing disabilities is to be encouraged in order to help people
Data about disabilities is treated with confidence at all times
Summary of what Camden Disability Network has achieved so far:
Camden Disability Network aims to welcome disabled staff, colleagues who work with disabled staff or residents or communities.
Camden Disability Network Working Group aims for Executive Board overview of disability issues will cover review policies, consultation, communication, working with senior management, etc
Set up Camden Disability Network Yammer Group – If you are interested, you can join Camden Disability Network Yammer to contribute your disability, resources, ideas, stories, etc.
Heads of Services to advise Team Managers to promote the Camden Disability Network through to their members of staff
Disability History Month – 18th November 18th December 2020
Camden Disability Network is launched new Logo and email banner signature
Jenny Rowlands, Chief Executive’s statement of support for Disability History Month and Disability Network via Essentials
Promote staff personal stories i.e. if staff have a role model or anyone who has inspired them internally or externally. We are keen to promote awareness of disabled staff internally and externally through Essentials, Yammer and Twitter
Disability History Month conversation video will be on Essentials and Yammer on 18th November 2020.
Promoting training sessions: Emma Watson and Emma Chimonidou, Executive Member of Disability Network Working Group, will be running 3 x dyspraxia sessions on 19th, 24th November and 1st and 17th December 2020 during Disability History Month.
Camden Disability Network delighted to be working in partnership with Islington Disabled Staff Forum as they share the following lunch time drop in training sessions to all Camden and Islington staff.
Camden Disability Network is proud to announce that Camden Council will provide a purple light at 5PS offices on Thursday 3rd December 2020 to celebrate International Day for Disabled People and recognise disabled staff’s great achievements and value their contribution to Camden. This will include signing the Camden Disability Network’s Disability Charter as well.
Camden Disability Network Charter will be signed by Jenny Rowlands, Chief Executive and Councillor Gould, Leader on Thursday 3rd December 2020 in conjunction with the celebration of the International Day for Disabled People.
Camden Council will seek a Disability Champion role that can be used to engage/ involve with disabled staff and to raise the profile of Camden Council.
Working partnership with Islington Disabled Staff Forum
Recently we have met Islington Disabled Staff Forum to see how we can work in partnership, share information and network as it could be beneficial for our long term planning.
Branch elections for all steward and branch officer posts are scheduled each year. The timetable for standing and details of the available posts will be included in an email to members from Camden Unison next week (and there will be emails specifically about the elections too) but please to think about how you can be involved, or if you’re interested in standing for any of the roles and want to find out more about them. Any union branch is only strong and able to make a difference because of members being involved, so we’re always keen to increase our numbers of stewards and officers – it really does make a difference.
We also have an annual general meeting each year, and again there will be lots more information about it in future email, but it’s the afternoon of Weds 3 March 2021. We will be asking for time off to attend as usual, and are making provisions for it to be either online, in real life or a combination of the two, depending on circumstances. Please put the date in your diary now though so that you can come along.
Camden Black Workers Group AGM 3-5pm, Thurs 26 Nov Teams
Camden Black Workers Group Annual General Meeting is scheduled to take place on Thursday 26 November 2020 from 3.00 – 5.00 pm. Time off has been agreed by management. Managers have been notified to release members but please give your manager enough notice so that you can be released to attend this very important meeting.
Guest speakers include Jenny Rowlands (Chief Executive), Hanad Mohammed (Director of Equalities and Disproportionality) and Diane Abbott MP (Former Shadow Home Secretary). No registration is required and the meeting is open to members of the group and other Black and minority ethnic staff.
Come along to contribute to the discussion and share your view on the items on the agenda and more. You can also find out more about the group at the meeting.
There’s still a climate emergency!
The coronavirus pandemic has meant that the climate emergency has not dominated the news in the same way as it did last year, but the threat to our planet has not gone away. We wrote last year about the planned events in Glasgow for the COP26 talks (when world leaders meet to discuss climate change and what actions need to be taken) but COP26 is now pushed back to Nov/Dec 2021. However, the COP26 Coalition who have been organising an alternative conference and activities have gone online, and over the next few days there are loads of meetings and debates that you can register for and take part in. Details and a full timetable are in the link below and there are some really interesting ones so do take a look and go along if you can.
As a trade union, we want to know all about our rebellious history! Quite often this is a hidden history, and that’s even more so for Black rebels, so Camden UNISON is holding a lunchtime online meeting on Black British Rebels 1pm on Tuesday 8 Dec. The speaker, Hassan Mahamdallie, has written a book on the subject so make a note of the details and come along with your questions and points of view.
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