Trade unions are about how we organise collective resistance, about solidarity and unity. Whenever we are divided, we are weaker, and when we are weak those in power stay there unchallenged running a system that goes unchallenged. Racism runs through every aspect of society and needs to be challenged everywhere.
As members of a trade union though, we can come together in our workplaces to discuss and organise how we can fight racism. Sometimes this is about how policies are systematically used in a disproportionate way, sometimes like during the protests after the murder of George Floyd, it’s about taking action like the Teamster union members who refused to take protesters to the police station in their buses despite police orders. At the meeting we’ll hear from speakers who have been organising against racism and racist events, and will have chance to discuss what we can do too.
So please do try to come along to the Camden UNISON meeting.
London Borough of Camden
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.
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
The government has put a cap on the amount you can get if you are made redundant at very short notice and with no meaningful consultation. Most people effected by this will be those who are made redundant who are over the age of 55. It will come into force on 4 November and means from then on, severance packages will not exceed a maximum of £95,000 in value. Although that can seem like a lot, it includes:
Statutory Redundancy Pay
Discretionary Severance Pay
Pension strain costs (see below)
Pension strain costs
Under current regulations a member made redundant or retired on the grounds of efficiency over the age of 55 has to take the pension they have earned in their current LGPS service immediately at the point of redundancy (including any previous LGPS service that a member has combined with the current service). This pension is not reduced by an early retirement factor for early payment as it would be if it was the member retiring voluntarily. The LGPS employer then must pay their LGPS fund the cost of removing the early retirement reduction. The cost is based on the member drawing their pension from their normal pension age. If they draw their pension before their normal retirement age, they are receiving their pension for longer. Depending on how early this can be very expensive and put a strain on the LGPS fund if not paid for. That is why the employer is asked to pay the fund for this cost. This is called the strain cost.
So how will this affect the £95,000 cap?
This strain cost that the employer pays will be included in the £95,000 exit cap. The cap will also include statutory redundancy pay and any other severance payments.
This means that even some low and medium paid staff may hit the cap if they have more than 30 years’ service and made redundant in their mid to late 50’s.
UNISON has consistently and strongly opposed all the above changes since they were first proposed in 2015 and will continue to do so through any means available.
UNISON is responding to the MHCLG consultation arguing that severance should not be eroded and is completely opposed to offsetting the severance payments, including Statutory Redundancy Pay, against payments to remove reductions for pensions for those over 55. This is penal and potentially discriminatory.
What can you do?
In recent email to members, we have attached letters for you to send in as part of the consultation – please do this as soon as possible. And please keep an eye on any further information we send to you in emails.
Every 5 years, all UNISON members (including retired members) have the chance to vote for our general secretary. This will be a vote by postal ballot, and you will receive the ballot paper to the address you have given UNISON. Ballot papers start going out on 28 October, so you should expect yours within the next few days. The mailing will include a covering letter, and booklet with each candidate’s election address and a list of the bodies that have nominated them, a ballot paper and a return envelope. As ever, please read all the election statements before voting.
A branch cannot tell members who they should vote for. However, all branches can nominate a candidate at a decision-making meeting of the branch, and at our branch committee meeting the decision was to nominate Hugo Pierre, and below is why:
As UNISON members, we are about to elect a new General Secretary. Our Branch decided to nominate Hugo Pierre as a candidate to stand in this election because Hugo wants our union to change into a fighting, democratic trade union prepared to meet the challenges we face as members: • National Action to fight Council cuts • National Action for NHS pay – 15% now • £15 an hour minimum wage • End privatisation and bring services back in-house • Labour Councils to set no cuts budgets • Election of Assistant General Secretaries and Regional Secretaries • Build our workplace strength • Branches have full right to campaign
If you have not received your ballot paper by 10 November, you must call UNISON Direct on 0800 0857 857 to request a replacement (have your membership number to hand if possible).
Voting in the election continues until Friday 27 November.
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