Monday, July 06, 2015

The Kindertransport "hero" Sir Nicholas Winton RIP

On the way back home on Saturday from the UNISON Labour Link forum in Manchester, I went through London Liverpool Street Railway station.

At the station I passed the statues of the "Kindertransport" children who were rescued from Nazi Europe and arrived in this same station just before the Second World War.

Early Thursday morning in Manchester while out jogging along the River Irwell, I had heard about the death and great life of Sir Nicholas Winton aged 106 on radio 4.

Nicholas Winton had helped organise the transport to safety in the UK of over 600 Czech children from almost certain death in 1938-39. There were a number of different "Kindertransport" rescue missions. Most were Jewish but some were also the children of socialist and communist opponents of the Nazi.

His story is incredible and inspiring. He didn't think he was doing anything special and that anyone would have done the same as him if they could.  It goes to show that matters of principle and of doing the right thing matters. No matter how difficult, demanding and sometimes dangerous.

If you commute in and out of London via Liverpool Street, give these statues a gentle pat on the back as you go by. Be prepared also to support modern day Nicholas Winton's who may be trying even now to get children to safety from extermination in modern day Syria or Iraq. 

Sunday, July 05, 2015

UNISON Labour Link 2015: Day 2 - meet the "Newbie" MPs

Day 2 of the National UNISON Labour Link Forum in Manchester started this morning with a "Parliamentary Panel" of MPs and  MEPS (see picture). It was inspiring to see 3 new MPs who come from our movement sitting for the first time alongside longer serving panel members. Former UNISON NEC member, Dave Anderson MP, spoke first about the risk to the union from indiscipline and how we must remain loyal and united to fight off Tory attacks on the union and the cuts.

Next was the first "Newbie" MP (as she described herself) former UNISON branch secretary and regional convener, Angela Rayner MP.  Angela described her first few weeks in Parliament as getting "constantly lost" and grappling with the often arcane practices and procedures. Especially when it comes to what she can and cannot say about her political opponents during debates. In her first speech to the House of Commons she spoke about her life experiences as a single Mum at age 16 and working as a home carer.

In a question from the floor about the proposed new trade treaty with Europe and America (TTIP) MEP Jude Kirton-Darling, promised to oppose it if it threatens any form of public services.

2nd Newbie was former UNISON regional officer, Melanie Onn MP, who told us about her joy at winning her seat (and defeating UKIP) and her sadness about resigning as a union official since she worries about her members, especially those facing the Tory cuts onslaught. She recalled how she was nervous about her first speech to the Commons  but she had carefully prepared a short timed speech only to be told immediately beforehand by the Whips that she had to pad it out to 20 minutes!

Not a newbie but always good to see and hear was Lilian Greenwood MP who told us how awful opposition is and how we need to go and speak and listen to the general public before we decide what to do next. We cannot just say to them that we were right and you were wrong.

Final "Newbie" was Daniel Zeichner who is a new MP but has worked for UNISON Labour Link for many years and has helped run this National Forum. Daniel thought we had 3 things to do. First, defend public services. Second, defend the union since the Tories are coming for us. Thirdly, we had to build an alternative political narrative for the public. He also described how unpleasant it was to be sitting for 7 hours a day in front of 350 Tories.

Final speaker was MEP Theresa Griffin, who defeated BNP leader Nick Griffin last year. She put down one reason for her success was ordinary UNISON members passing messages to other UNISON members.

After the panel we had a discussion and vote on the UNION Labour Link annual report followed by motions. First debate was on Local Government Finance. The mover brought alongside a jar of pickles to compare the value of former Minister Eric. There were other motions on Employment tribunals; engagement of young people; encouraging Black Labour Link officers; BME representation and equalities. Husband of Angela, Mark Rayner gave a passionate speech about the importance of doing every things we can to get more unison candidates to stand as Labour candidates in 2020. There was also motions on TTIP, "Fit to Work" Scheme, affordable housing and Union busting by UK Public Service providers and final one on human rights.

Chair Eleanor Smith closed the conference by hoping at next year's Forum following successful results in the elections in London, Scotland and local councils we will be in better spirits than this year.  

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Happy 123rd Anniversary of Keir Hardie election of first ever Labour MP

Today (4 July) is not only the anniversary of the United States Declaration of Independence (arguably the only successful British Revolution) but also the election of the first ever Labour MP, Keir Hardie.

He was elected for West Ham South in 1892. Photo is of the statue in Stratford Old Town Hall (modern West Ham) where the election count took place and Keir later spoke to the cheering crowds from its balcony.

Picture hat tip Keir Hardie Society. 

Friday, July 03, 2015

Unison Labour Link 2015: Day 1. "...We will never walk away from the Labour Party"

The UNISON political fund representing members who have decided to affiliate to the Labour Party began its Annual Forum this morning in Manchester.

The forum was opened by Dave Prentis who promised delegates that as long as he is General Secretary, unison will never walk away from the Labour Party. The unions formed the Labour Party and we need the Party to make a fairer society.

Following the defeat in May and the Party leadership elections it was decided to cancel the usual workshops and hold hustings of leadership candidates at Forum.

The four candidates for leadership were given 4 minutes to speak, then there was a Q&A and finally they were given 2 minutes each to make a closing speech.

Andy Burnham was first and he stood on his past record, opposition to Tory welfare cuts and new anti trade unions laws.  Labour will be more diverse and look, sound and be different if he is the Labour leader.

Next was Liz Kendall who thanked Unison for all the help we gave during the general election and especially for the ethical charter for social care. She made it clear that the Party must elect the best candidate to become a Prime minster.

Former NUPE union official Jeremy Corbyn wanted the Labour Party to be and act differently and challenge the government over austerity.  You cannot cut your way to prosperity.

At noon the hustings stopped for a minutes silence in memory of the victims of the massacre in Tunisia, at least 3 of whom are Unison members.

Final speaker was Yvette Copper who started by stating that "opposition sucks" and described herself as the granddaughter of a miner, daughter of a trade union official and a working Mum.

Following lunch the deputy leadership hustings began. The format was the same as before.

Stella Creasy was first and she told us how proud she had been to work with Unison in successfully challenging loan sharks and support of a living wage.  She wants the Labour Party to be a movement and not a machine.

Former union official, Angela Eagle, argued she loves the Labour Party and that the Party and the trade unions are two sides of the same coin.  If elected she will be a members' deputy and will put you first.

Dave Anderson MP stood in and gave a speech on behalf of Tom Watson, who was attending a memorial service for victims of Tunisia in his consistency. It was Labours fault they lost the election since they lost trust with voters. He would restore it.

Ben Bradshaw wanted to mend not break the link with unions and the Party. He is not from the right nor the left of the Party but he is loyal and would tell the leader privately if they were wrong and not in a right wing tabloid.

Final candidate was Caroline Flint who gave a very personal account of why she joined the Party as the daughter of 17 year old single parent. The Party is not a pressure group but exists to change society by winning elections.

The National Labour Link Committee will meet on July 29th and make a decision about nominations.

After the hustings the forum started debating motions and passed significant policy on the response to the General Election; the crisis in Scotland; devolved power in England; Labour leadership ballot and the Labour Link & Fighting Austerity.

Forum finished at 5.30pm. The Labour Link Political Reception begins at 7pm. Business resumes at 9.15am tomorrow.

Picture of Leadership candidates with London delegates.

(Update: for a more detailed and thoughtful account of the Leadership husting see 

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Councillor Report to West Ham Ward 2 July 2015

Councillor Report to West Ham Ward


tel: 020 3373 2615 or email

Ward meeting 2 July 2015

Thursday 4 June I attended the ward meeting at Vicarage Lane and then the joint ward social at Nando’s restaurant in Stratford which I thought went really well. We had some great political discussions about General Election result.

Friday 5 June I met a Housing officer from Family Mosaic Housing Association for an inspection of Ladywell Street, E15 with local residents. The officer agreed to look into a number of communal repairs and suggested improvements. I have chased Officer for an update.

Saturday 6 June I meet West Ham CLP members at Stratford Station in order to go campaigning for John Biggs as Tower Hamlets mayor. I also went back to Tower Hamlets to campaign on the 9th and 11th (Election Day)

Monday 8 June I was pleased to hear that I had been re-elected as a member of the UNISON National Executive Committee for a third term of 2 years. In the evening I attended the Stratford and West Ham forum at Stratford Library. There was a very informative presentation by the Chair of Abbey Gardens, Torange Khonsari; important information on the proposed parking restrictions for the Rugby World cup (which may become permanent); a consultation on parking in Hartland Road and surrounding streets (at last!) and a report on Street Enforcement and applications for Community Grants.

On Wednesday 10 June it was the funeral of former Councillor, Alan Taylor, which unfortunately I could not make due to a work commitment. I attended my evening surgery at Brassett Point, followed by a meeting of the Council Investment & Accounts (staff pensions) Committee. There is a new contract for Actuarial services being proposed. I asked to make sure that we do not pick the actuary that has the most optimistic projections about liabilities and investment growth. There is also an “alternative financing...asset backed... pension plan” proposal which I have concerns about but will wait until I see the full details. After this meeting I was still able to make the end of West Ham CLP Executive Committee.

Saturday 13 June I had a morning surgery at Vicarage Lane. On Monday 15 to Friday 19th June I was away at the UNISON NDC conference at Glasgow.

Sunday 21 June I helped out at the reception and registration desk of the London Labour Party Mayoral hustings in the Old Town Hall in Stratford.

Monday 22 June I attended a “Safeguarding course” for school governors. I am the safeguarding governor for Rebecca Cheetham Nursery School. In the evening I attended the Newham local development planning committee and spoke in favour and responded to questions about the application for an “Educational Institute and Community Centre” in Plaistow Road by the Darul Jannah Trust.

Thursday 25 June I submitted a report expressing concerns to the Newham Cabinet meeting about proposals to give some Councillors and the Mayor a pension costing an extra 13.4% of allowances. At the West Ham CLP AGM in the evening I was re-elected unopposed as Agent.

From Wednesday evening to Saturday 4 July I will be in Manchester for the UNISON APF conference so I have given my apologies for the Ward meeting this evening.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if any ward member wishes any further details on this report.

John Gray

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

London Mesothelioma Action Day July 3 2015 "Banned But Not Gone: All Asbestos causes cancer"

London Hazards Asbestos Group will be holding a Mesothelioma Action Day on 3 July 2015 (this Friday)

The theme is "Banned But Not Gone: all asbestos causes cancer"

It will take place at Layden House, 76-86 Turnmill Street, London EC1M 5LG.


Release Doves at 10: 40 outside Farringdon tube near Cross Rail site.

Philip Lewis Chair London Hazards asbestos group opening remarks
Tony Lennon, SERTUC President
Gail Cartmail Assistant General Secretary UNITE
International Speaker from USA, Linda Reinstein, President & CEO ADAO Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization

Lunch 12:15 to 1:15
Refreshments provided by Leigh Day
Mavis Nye and Janice Allen mesothelioma cases
Harminder Bains, Partner Leigh Day
Julie Winn Pattinson & Brewer Solicitors
Dave Fisher Thompsons Solicitors

Q&A Motion "this meeting of the London Asbestos Group supports and signs up to the Asbestos Victims Charter for Justice" to be moved by Philip Lewis

Closing remarks by Pete Farrell, Chair London Hazard Trust Board.

Hat tip Phil (and Lenin). In 2013 as a local Councillor and trade union safety rep, I spoke at the action day which was held in Stratford Town Hall.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Eastenders and cowardly terrorists

Just heard some good news that a mate and East London Housing UNISON colleague, his family and friends staying at the Sousse resort in Tunisia were in a different hotel and unharmed in the recent cowardly massacre. They have though still decided to stay and finish their holiday. Not sure I would do the same but respect to them ‪#‎eastenders‬

Changing London...Discussion event Thursday July 2nd 8pm Forest Gate

Newham's youngest Councillor, Seyi Akiwowo, asked, me to give this event "a shout".

"Dear Friends

Forest Gate North Labour is hosting a 'Changing London' event on Thursday 2nd July from 8-9.30pm
at Coffee7, Sebert Road (opposite Forest Gate Station)

Are you concerned about ever-increasing inequality in London?

Do you want to play your part in influencing the candidates for London Mayor?

Then please join us and the authors of 'Changing London' (described as 'a rough guide for the next Mayor of London' with 'radical but practical ideas') in an interactive discussion to share ideas and suggestions, practical or symbolic, on how to tackle inequality.

We’ll put the best ideas in a letter for candidates to sign up to.

This is your chance to put inequality on the Mayoral election agenda and raise issues you think are important for a better London.

Labour party members, friends, supporters and hangers-on are all warmly welcome, so please bring them along / share the attached flyer".

Please RSVP to"

Changing London: a rough guide for the next London mayor can be ordered direct from the publishers: paperback £9.99 inc free P&P; ebook £4.50.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Bevan's Dreamers to Builders: 5 July 1945 Anniversary Tee-shirt by Philosophy Football

It has been a gap since last advert but another great tee-shirt from Philosophy Football. This time to honour the socialist wordsmith, Aneurin Bevan and the Labour Government of 1945. This is what democratic principled political power can deliver.

"We have been the dreamers. We have been the sufferers. And now we are the builders." Aneurin Bevan, 1945

LAUNCH OFFER £5 OFF JUST £17.99. Usual price £22.99 thereafter.

70 years ago, 5 July 1945 Labour achieved arguably its greatest election landslide ever. In a momentous upset the people while lauding Churchill for his war-premiership turned to Attlee to win the peace. Bevan's three line philosophy summed up what was about to be achieved. The welfare state established, an NHS created, a massive public housing programme, comprehensive education, the railways and other public utilities nationalised. A post-war settlement that lasted until 1979, whatever happened to that politics of hope?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Reflections on UNISON National Delegate Conference 2015.

It's now been over a week since the end of UNISON National Delegate Conference (NDC)  in Glasgow and I have just about recovered from the traditional post conference lergy.

This is what happens after being locked up for 4 days in what is really a very large shed, with dodgy air conditioning and thousands of other people.

NDC is one of the largest trade union events in the world. It was announced at conference that there was over 3000 delegates and visitors. The largest number ever registered which is interesting considering the challenges that unions, especially in the public sector face.

There are my personal views and reflections of what I actually think was one of the most successful UNISON conferences I have been to even though of course I have just a few little moans.

I was there as an elected member of the UNISON National Executive Council for Community (Housing Association and Voluntary Sector). My region Greater London, had over 200 delegates and my Branch, Housing Associations, had 4 delegates and had 3 ordinary and one emergency motion accepted for conference.

Two of our delegates managed to speak during conference and the other two tried a number of times but were knocked out by other delegates moving points of order to push conference business on. Most UNISON branches do not send any motions to conferences nor do they have any delegates speaking. So our branch still did well to represent the views of our rank and file members but we need to think again how we arrange speakers in conference to try and make sure that important debates are not closed down too early simply because some activists want their pet motions to be heard.

I admit to be a conference junkie and enjoyed reading all the flyers and the newsletters and listening to all the debates, even to those who try to explain how the revolution and a land of milk and honey is just around the corner, if only we demanded a "general strike". If only it was so simple.

There was also some amusing calls for unity by those who then went on to attack the unions lay leadership, our national officers, the Labour Party and uncle Tom Cobley.

Others appear to not realise that Labour has been out of Government since 2010 and that the Tories were actually re-elected in May for another 5 years.

Instead of complaining constantly that the Labour Party is not going to be the 5th International, we should be making sure that our members are supported and encouraged to further our union aims and values within our own political wing.

The vast majority of speakers and debates were fantastic and UNISON should be very proud of its delegates and their informed, intelligent and often witty contributions about the great issues of the day.

There is a genuine debate to be had about the future direction of the union and how we support and protect our members and strive for change. I feel confident that we can win battles if we choose carefully and don't seek out cliffs to march over in search of more "glorious defeats".

Our General Secretary, Dave Prentis, made it clear that we were prepared to take on the Government. We survived 2010 and we will survive 2015. He promised to increase number of stewards, treble the number of fighting fund organisers, double our legal funds and take a national lead in campaigning and protest.

We also had fantastic international speakers and fringe events.  Brilliant stalls and exhibitions in the UNISON zone. We even had our own demo and lobby outside Glasgow City Hall in support of sacked SECC UNISON steward Robert O'Donnell and striking Glasgow Homeless caseworkers.

I chaired a fringe on the Local Government Pension Scheme and spoke twice as a NEC member. Firstly to move the composite on Pensions on their behalf and then in support of the re-prioritised composite on Housing. Both composites had motions from my branch incorporated in them. Last year none of the motions I was going to speak upon came up so I did not speak. Such is life.

I thought my fellow NEC trustee on the UNISON staff pension fund, Lucia McKee, was one of our great lay Presidents and chair of conference. Lucia was fair minded but took no nonsense and was a good humoured but to the point champion of conference. I am a cynic about some things at times but am so proud that UNISON continues to grow its activists and show time and time again that genuine working class women and men can prove to be great leaders of our union.

At the end of conference the new NEC met for the first time and we elected our President for the year, former school meals cook and long time Labour Councillor, Wendy Nichols. London Ambulance Service Branch secretary, Eric Roberts, is now the senior Vice President and West Mids, Carol Sewell, was also elected as the new Vice President.

I eventually got home in London just before midnight and have spent the last week since largely coughing and spluttering with conference lergy.