Hidden cash

That the Tory donor list is dominated by hedge funds may come as no surprise, but did you know that many of the businesses bankrolling the Conservative party sell items you might yourself have at home?

 
As the Mirror reported yesterday (March 25), some of the most everyday products fuel an ideology that’s determined to undo protections for working people, rip apart our public services and browbeat the most vulnerable with austerity, punishing the victims of a financial crisis which was itself orchestrated by the mega-rich.

 
The Mirror’s list includes:

 
Melton Mownbray Pork Pies and Ginster Pies

 
The makers of the popular pies are the Leicester-based Samworth Brothers, who have poured in oodles of money into Tory coffers over the years. Director Mark Samworth has donated £585,000 to the Conservative party since 2010, while the company itself donated just over £30,000 in 2002 and 2003. President David Samworth donated £26,000, which brings Samworth’s total Tory party donations to more than half a million pounds.

 
Next clothing and accessories

 
The clothing retailer funnels hundreds of thousands into the Tory party, with its CEO Lord Wolfson having donated more than £400,000 to the party since 2006. The resulting nepotism is not surprising—Wolfson was made a peer by prime minister David Cameron in 2010.

 
Although Next may be a purveyor of fashionable clothing, the most unnerving thing about the retailer is its staunch refusal to pay its workers decent wages, despite having reported record profits valued at almost £700m.

 
Lord Wolfson criticised Living Wage campaigns last week, saying the £6.70 an hour many of his workers were on, which is just barely above the minimum wage, was “enough to live on.” This coming from a man who is worth more than £100m and earns a basic salary of £350 an hour – over 50 times more than your average Next employee.

 
Lycamobile

 
Lycamobile is a massive mobile phone virtual network operating in various countries, including Australia, the United States, and various EU countries including the UK.

 
It is one of the Tories’ biggest corporate donors, having extended more than £800,000 to the Conservative party in total, despite coming under intense criticism for not paying any corporate tax in the UK on its massive profits since 2007.

 
The Guardian also reported earlier this week that Lycamobile executives were present at a Tory fundraising ball, where they were seen bidding £200,000 on a statue of Margaret Thatcher and also placed winning bids on two other prizes – lunch with Michael Gove and tea with London mayor Borish Johnson.

 
This was the same ball where a Tory foreign office minister was secretly recorded making jokes about benefits claimants.

 
Crombie coats

 
Crombie, purveyors of luxury coats, is owned by former Tory vice-chairman Alan Lewis, who has donated almost £250,000 to the Tory party.

 
The Mirror reported in 2013 that Crombie’s parent company, Hartley Investment Trust, is part-owned by two companies operating in the Isle of Man. These companies are in turn owned by companies doing business out of the British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas—two notorious tax havens.

 
That the Tory party welcomes donations from tax avoiders shows just how much the party is committed to doing anything at all about the mega-rich refusing to contribute their fair share.

 
Autotrader

 
Autotrader UK, an automobile classifieds publisher that once published a printed magazine, has since 2014 been owned by Apax, a private equity firm run by Tory donor Adrian Beecroft. The Guardian sold its stake in the publisher for hundreds of millions under a controversial offshore deal in the Cayman Islands.

 
Beecroft, who has donated almost £600,000 to the Tories, also infamously authored a report in 2012 that sought to tear up employment protections that have been in place for decades, including slashing redundancy notice periods, capping tribunal pay outs and allowing employers to opt out of flexible parental leave.

 
Unite political director Jennie Formby said the list of household consumer goods funding the Tory party comes as no surprise.

 
“This list is yet further evidence proving the extent to which the Tory party is the party of people in high places,” she said.

 

“The big business cash injected into the Tory party is no casual coincidence – many of these businesses and the millionaires who run them are afraid to be taken to task by a government truly serving the people, and so push to purchase into power the party that will protect their interests.

 
“Many of these Tory donors refuse to pay their workers the Living Wage despite massive profits, and they avoid paying tax at all costs,” she added. “They dream of a deregulated world in which global capital controls everything – even in the sphere of public services.

 
“Who else to make this dream come true than the Tory party, the party that opened up the NHS to rampant privatisation and supports massive trade deals such as TTIP, which will inevitably create a race to the bottom for workers’ rights?”

 
See the Mirror’s full list of products funding the Tory party here.

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Egyptian teachers protest short term contracts

A picture from an earlier teachers' protest. A 34 year old sociology graduate and teacher named Ammar holds up his contract. It states his pay is 110 Egyptian pounds ($18.60 US) a month with an annual Labour Day bonus of ten pounds ($1.69). Photo by Austin G Mackell

A picture from an earlier teachers’ protest. A 34 year old sociology graduate and teacher named Ammar holds up his contract. It states his pay is 110 Egyptian pounds ($18.60 US) a month with an annual Labour Day bonus of ten pounds ($1.69). Photo by Austin G Mackell

The practice of hiring teachers on short term contracts has been widespread in Egypt and nothing much has changed since the time of the Mubarak dictatorship which was overthrown by the uprisings in 2011, in which teachers played a prominent role.

As we reported in 2012: Under the Mubarak dictatorship, education spending was steadily run down, partly at the behest of the IMF. This situation persists, as does the fact that more and more money is extracted from the poor to fund public schools. This takes the form of fees extracted from parents for books and even building maintenance, but most especially from institutionalised systems of private tuition, which bring in money for the management, as well as supplementing teachers’ salaries.

Teachers on permanent contracts earn between $65 and $115 a month in regular salary. The majority of teachers however are on temporary contracts and they earn up to $16 a month – some earn nothing at all – on the basis that they will obtain the money for survival by taking private tuition lessons at the end of the school day. These lessons, which are more or less compulsory, can have twenty plus students per teacher and those who cannot pay, cannot attend. This situation forces teachers – themselves poor – to become the oppressors of other poor people who typically pay twenty per cent of their incomes for their children’s education. It is a form of insidious privatisation which enables the state to cut education budgets and offload its constitutional responsibility onto teachers and the poor.

The Mubarak government was replaced first by a repressive Muslim Brotherhood regime under Morsi and now by the rule of the army under Sisi, which is carrying out violent and repressive measures against any kind of dissent. Just as teachers stood up to Mubarak and formed an independent teaching union in 2010, despite the ever-present threat of the security forces, so now teachers are once again demanding justice.

When a choice isn’t worth having

Margaret Thatcher’s now notorious Sermon on the Mound gave the notion of “choice” a central place in both public policy and Christian thinking. Nearly 30 years later, Thatcher’s heirs are elevating choice to the paramount principle of pensions policy-making. I have written...

The New Housing Question

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UK coal mines hanging on a thread

Today, in refusing to back UK Coal’s bid for State Aid, the government has almost shut the door on UK Coal mining. A £10m loan will avoid the inconvenient closure of UK Coal’s Thoresby mine during an election period. As TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said today, “Immediate help for UK Coal...

London’s NHS in crisis

A report launched today (Thursday 26 March) reveals that London NHS’s crisis has moved into intensive care.

 

London’s NHS – into the unknown outlines a further unravelling of services as the NHS becomes more fragmented and financially squeezed.

 

Roy Lilley is the chair of the inquiries that formed the basis for the reports. “We would like to report that the picture had improved over the last 12 months – however, the situation has moved from serious to being in intensive care.”

 

The report is a follow-up to London’s NHS at the crossroads which was released in March of last year. Both reports were funded by Unite.

 

“This second report brings a detailed, but disturbing, analysis of how the Health and Social Care Act has caused havoc to NHS services in London,” said Unite regional secretary for London Peter Kavanaugh.

 

Almost all of London’s 19 acute hospital trusts are deep ‘in the red’ and braced for an end of year deficit of almost £270m.

 

Most of the planned ‘savings’ centre on unproven plans to reduce numbers of patients treated as emergencies, as waiting list patients or as outpatients – all of which would drain vital funding from hospital budgets and put services and whole hospitals at risk.

 

To make matters worse, the plans to reduce access to hospital care are not matched by equivalent investment in services outside hospital – community health services, district nurses, or GPs.

 

The funding gap between resources and demand for social care, provided by local boroughs in London, is growing rapidly. Councils warned that the gap by 2017/18 in London alone could be more £900 million.

 

“Some clear strategic thinking is desperately needed before the service implodes under the mounting pressures,” added Kavanaugh.

 

Some recommendations the report makes include an immediate reversal of the worst aspects of the health and social care act, which has wasted £3bn of NHS funding.

 

More investment in ambulance services, which are losing 26 paramedics-a-week and struggling to fill 400 vacancies and the closing down of Healthwatch England with patients interests being represented by new bodies similar to the former community health councils.

 

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Keeping the fight alive

The growing connection between Unite’s community and industrial members saw the unveiling of the world’s first dual-purpose trade union banner by the Derby Unite Community branch last week (March 19).

 

Historical images of a Derby strike pre-dating the Tolpuddle Martyrs have been combined with a 21st century communication Quick Response (QR) code. When scanned by a mobile phone this leads people to a website which will encourage them to get involved by informing them of the nature of the protest.

 

Anyone scanning last week on the Unite National Day of Action against Benefits Sanctions was taken to Unite Community’s website detailing the day of action.

 

The cost of the banner has largely been paid for by the Rolls-Royce manufacturing branch of Unite. It has been designed by local Unite community member Jim Griffiths and beautifully created by Ed Hall, Britain’s leading manufacturer of marching banners for trade unions and other campaign groups.

 

The banner states We Honour the Derby Silk Workers 1833-34 and will be carried on the annual commemorative march organised each weekend before May Day by the Derby Trades Union Council.

 

Honouring the sacrifices made by early trade unionists, the banner pays tribute to a moment in history when up to 2,000 Derby silk workers left work in November 1833 to June 1834. Following the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824, the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union, in which Robert Owen was prominent, was established with an important branch in Derby that included weavers, iron workers, builders and silk thrusters.

 

When silk manufacturer, Mr Frost, discharged one of his employees, his fellow workmates walked out in support. Within a week 800 people, in a town of 24,000, were affected. When many local employers then declared they would not employ trade unionists, another 500 walked out and by February the numbers had leaped to 2,000. Attempts to persuade strike-breakers imported from London led to many strikers being imprisoned.

 

The strike continued for many months but eventually collapsed as starvation set in. Many strikers were subsequently victimised and never worked in their trade again. Nevertheless, in late 1834, the Dorchester Agricultural Labourers at Tolpuddle took up the struggle for trade unions, which only exist today because of the sacrifices made by the likes of the Derby silk workers, Tolpuddle Martyrs and London Dockers of 1889.

 

Helping to unveil the banner, Paul Bickerton, who in addition to being an elected workplace rep is treasurer of the local Rolls-Royce Unite branch, said:

 

“Our members back the local Unite Community branch that is doing great work in defending the welfare state and helping prevent a split between those in and out of work. I’m keen to see the banner on the annual march, which rightly keeps alive the silk worker’s fight, and pleased to know Unite is leading the way in modern up-to-date methods of communicating with the public.”

 

“We would like to thank Rolls Royce Unite members for their financial support and look forward to working closely with them in the future in opposing austerity,” said Derby Unite Community branch chair Cecilia Wright.

 

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London’s NHS in intensive care, says new report

NHS-bannerLondon NHS’s crisis has deepened and moved into ‘intensive care’, according to a report – launched today – which investigates the capital’s health service over the last 12 months has concluded.

London’s NHS into the unknown outlines a further unravelling of services as the NHS becomes more fragmented and financially squeezed, which is coupled with a continued management vacuum at the strategic level – with the public still having no real voice in decisions that affect them.

The report is a follow-up to London’s NHS at the crossroads which was unveiled in March last year. Both reports, which gathered evidence from interested parties, were funded by Unite.

Roy Lilley , chair of the inquiries that formed the basis of the reports,said: “We would have liked to report that the picture had improved over the last 12 months – however, the situation has moved from serious to being in intensive care.

“Again, we have prepared a template for action to ameliorate the growing demands that threaten to overwhelm increasingly stretched services. We call on ministers to give the crisis facing the NHS in London the urgent attention and resources it needs.”

The key findings:

  • divisions within the NHS in London have never been deeper, and decisions by local GP-led commissioning groups are putting the future of frontline hospital services at risk. Almost all of London’s 32 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), which hold the purse strings for the capital’s health services, are comfortably in surplus, and predicting a total of over £150 million underspend by the end of March.

Meanwhile, almost all of London’s 19 acute hospital trusts are deep ‘in the red’ and braced for an end of year deficit of almost £270 million.

  • the situation is set to worsen. While CCGs group together in five collaborative organisations and draw up strategic plans to tackle an estimated £4 billion gap between service needs and NHS resources by 2019, almost all of the savings and  ‘efficiencies’  they propose will be dumped onto the hospitals, mental health and community health services trusts.
  • most of the planned ‘savings’ centre on unproven plans to reduce numbers of patients treated as emergencies, as waiting list patients or as outpatients – all of which would drain vital funding from hospital budgets and put services and whole hospitals at risk.
  • to make matters worse, the plans to reduce access to hospital care are not matched by equivalent investment in services outside hospital – community health services, district nurses, or GPs and primary care.
  • the funding gap between resources and demand for social care, provided by local boroughs in London, is growing rapidly; councils warned that the gap by 2017/18 in London alone could be more £900 million.

The 10 key recommendations include:

  • a renewed call for a review of funding in London, given the increasing population.
  • the creation of a new type of London strategic health authority with democratic involvement – at present, commissioning is fragmented across the clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).
  • a swift reversal of the worst aspects of the Health and Social Care Act which has led to a wasted of £3 billion reorganisation, fragmenting NHS services.
  • further investment in ambulance services, which are losing 26 paramedics-a-week and struggling to fill 400 vacancies from as far afield as Australia.
  • the closing down of Healthwatch England and that patients’ interests are represented by new bodies fashioned in the style of the former community health councils.
  • adequate protection for whistleblowers.

Unite regional secretary for the London region Pete Kavanagh said: “This second report brings a detailed, but disturbing, analysis of how the Health and Social Care Act has caused havoc to NHS services in London.

“Some clear strategic thinking is desperately needed before the service implodes under the mounting pressures.”

 

Unions announce milk strike as relations sour in Leeds

milk bottlesMilk supplies to supermarkets in the north of England will be disrupted over the Easter holiday, as a group of 100 drivers next week stage a 72-hour strike in a holiday pay and pension benefits dispute.

The complex dispute stems from the decision earlier this month of Leeds-based dairy company Arla Foods to TUPE the GMB and Unite members to Moran Logistics, also based in Leeds.

However, even though Moran Logistics is now the employer, the unions argue Arla Foods is ‘shortchanging and not honouring agreements’ with the drivers over outstanding holiday pay and pension benefits which, depending on the individual, could amount to several thousands of pounds.

It is these issues that will prompt the three days of strike action from midnight next Wednesday that will hit milk supplies to Aldi, Asda, Morrisons and Tesco across the north of England. GMB members voted by 85% to strike, with Unite members voting by 91%.

Unite national officer for road transport Matt Draper said: “This dispute is quite complex. Arla Foods transferred the drivers to Moran Logistics without settling the holiday pay and pension benefits issues that could amount to several thousands of pounds, depending on the individual driver.

“So even though the outstanding issues are with Arla Foods, because the new employer is Moran Logistics the strike action is directed towards this company. Arla foods is shortchanging and not honouring commitments to our members.

“Ironically, we have had productive talks with Moran Logistics about achieving union recognition for the drivers and talks continue to achieve a potentially favourable outcome.

“Arla Foods could settle the holiday and pension issues very quickly, if it wanted to and so avoid milk supplies over the Easter holiday being severely disrupted with anticipated shortages in the supermarkets throughout the north of England.

“The ball is very much in Arla’s court, and Unite and the GMB are ready for constructive talks at any time.”

GMB regional officer Rachel Dix said: “Whilst there has been considerable progress to resolve a number of the outstanding issues with the new employer Moran Logistics Arla, the previous employer, are viewed as the key obstacle to remedying problems that occurred under their employment regarding a shortfall in holiday pay and pension benefits.

“The joint trade unions met with Moran Logistics last week and our talks were productive. We are hopeful that we can reach an agreement soon and that as a consequence, we can work constructively with the new company under new bargaining arrangements.

“The fly in the ointment however is Arla. Our members feel like they have been short changed by their former employer over past underpayments in holiday pay and by the company not committing to past agreements that should have transferred to Moran. They are prepared to take strike action against their new employer in order to defend these rights. We had a return of 85% in favour of taking strike action which illustrates the strength of feeling amongst our members.

“Arla could sort easily sort this out and in doing so they could spare us all the severe disruption to milk supplies and anticipated shortages in supermarkets across the north of England that awaits us at Easter.”

 

UNISON members vote to re-open local government pay negotiations

UNISON logo iUNISON members yesterday voted to re-open pay negotiations in local government with the aim of achieving at least the Living Wage for all workers.

The decision came at a special conference in London to debate the lessons of the recent pay campaign and agree a set of strong proposals to increase member engagement and democratic participation in every aspect of future pay campaigns.

During a day of impassioned speeches and strong feelings about the impact of the government’s continuing pay freeze and years of declining pay in local government, a range of composites and motions were agreed.

Composite A recognised that “years of pay freezes and pay caps in local government mean that many of our members are now forced to rely on in-work benefits or to take on extra jobs…or even rely on food banks”.

It pledged the union to ensure a UK-wide perspective on all pay campaigning; to put women and gender equality at the heart of campaigning; to work jointly with other unions and to build bargaining and industrial strength through a massive recruitment and organising effort.

Most importantly, future campaigns needed to increase member participation and engagement in the fight for fair pay.

Delegates also agreed Composite B to amend the local government service group’s procedures to ensure that “meaningful, clear and transparent” consultation is carried out with branches.

It also called for at least one lay representative from the appropriate sector committees to have the opportunity to be involved in all pay negotiations.

Composite C called on the union to lodge an additional pay claim for 2015/16 with a settlement date of 1 April 2015 to include a Living Wage rate as the minimum pay value of the NJC pay spine and an equivalent flat rate pay increase to be applied to all other scale points.

Delegates agreed motions from Wales and Scotland calling for a range of measures to increase member engagement in pay campaigning and for the development of a “consistent, sustained and coherent political strategy, allied to our bargaining and industrial strategies.

UNISON Northern Ireland and Scotland moved a motion calling for future claims to be based on a strong central claim but allowing for local improvement in devolved nations, while opposing any moves to undermine National Joint Council bargaining or move towards regional or local bargaining.

The conference also agreed a report from the service group executive to alter the union’s pay consultation processes to improve participation – including allowing branches to carry out consultation using electronic polling methods.

Service group executive Glen Williams said electronic voting and polling was not intended to replace face to face consultation but supplement it.

“These are principled, practical proposals designed to increase participation,” he said.

Heinz meanz what? Workers seek reassurance after merger announcement

HeinzReassurances about future UK job security are being sought by Unite, following yesterday’s announcement that US food giant Heinz is to merge with Kraft Foods Group.

Unite national officer for the food sector Julia Long said: “We will be seeking urgent meetings with Heinz management about the future security of our members’ jobs.

“We also want to know what the combined company’s future business plan will be for its sites in the UK.

“We and our trade union colleagues in the food industry around the world know from experience that deals like this often involve job losses and ruthless cost-cutting, as global capital wants a quick return on its investment.

“News of this merger is a bolt from the blue for our members at Heinz. They deserve better, and we will be fighting for a better deal for them.

“The fact that shareholders have been hosed down with cash, while workers seem to have been kept in the dark is concerning.

“We sincerely hope that this is not the shape of things to come. These companies have worked with unions to build their prosperity in the past and need to do so in this new entity too.”

Unite has more than 1,000 members at the Heinz site at Kitt Green, Wigan, which is Europe’s biggest food factory manufacturing over one billion cans of beans, soup and other products each year.

Unite has just under a total of 1,300 Heinz members across UK and the Republic of Ireland out of a total Heinz workforce of 2,500.

Unite has also members at the following Heinz sites: Hayes, Kendal, Leamington Spa, Luton, Norfolk (Westwick, near North Walsham) and Telford, as well as Dundalk in the Irish Republic.

In 2010, Kraft Foods bought Cadbury and two years later Kraft Foods ‘spun off’ the North American grocery side to become Kraft Foods Group. The remainder became Mondelez International – Cadbury’s parent company – which is not affected by this deal.

The deal, which is set to create the third-largest food company in North America and the fifth-largest food and beverage company in the world, was masterminded by Heinz’s owners, the Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital and billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Both companies’ boards have unanimously approved the deal, however it still requires approval from Kraft shareholders.

Barnet care workers out on strike again over 9.5% pay cut

Barnet UNISONUNISON members in Barnet are today taking their second of three day’s strike action this week over a 9.5% pay cut.

The cuts were made by Your Choice Barnet, the private company that has slashed 30% of jobs since taking over the running of social care services for Barnet Council two years ago.

As a result of earlier strikes, bosses offered workers a one-off £400 payment, but this was rejected after members were “very underwhelmed”.


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UNISON branch secretary John Burgess said: “Still Barnet Council is refusing to be a part of the negotiations on a business which it owns 100%. We view this as neglectful with respect to the workforce and the service users.”

 

Safety fears as fire chiefs take steps to replace new equipment with old

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue ServiceA new round of cost cutting measures could see Cambridge and Peterborough firefighters lose their specialist aerial emergency vehicle, leaving only “unreliable” combination vehicles to protect the local area.

As part of the £4.3m budget cuts Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority plan to cut the turntable ladders and replace them with Multistars. Turntable ladders are the specialised equipment used to tackle high rise fires.

Multistars are a combined fire engine and aerial vehicle – used to tackle fires and rescue people from tall buildings – that have been plagued with years of defects and faults.

Cameron Matthews, secretary of the FBU in Cambridgeshire, said: “Since their introduction Multistars have experienced a catalogue of failings which have repeatedly put them out of action. In the past quarter year alone Multistars in Cambridge have suffered 11 significant defects and have been made unavailable.

“Ironically even as firefighters were told the news that our current, functioning vehicles would be cut, the aerial capability of the Multistar was unavailable.

“Firefighters see sense in the concept but have lost confidence in the vehicle and serious concerns around firefighter and public safety have been raised about relying solely upon the Multistar when it has broken down so many times.

“I know if I purchased a car for £650,000 with the record this vehicle has, I would most certainly be taking it back to the dealer and demanding my money back. These vehicles fall far short of expectations.”

Numerous incidents have been reported prompting safety fears:

  • In February a Multistar was required for use at a three storey house fire in Cambridge city. However it was unavailable and the turntable ladder was required.
  • In March at the Tivoli pub fire, the turntable ladder needed to use its pivot facility which is not available on the Multistar.
  • On several occasions, while on route to an incident, the Multistar aerial has become displaced forcing the driver to stop and complete a five minute fix before carrying on. In a fire every second counts. A delay of this kind could result in life being lost.

Matthews added: “We would appeal to the chief fire officer to reconsider such a move. If the decision goes ahead to remove the back-up turntable ladders from Cambridge and Peterborough there is a real risk that in the event that Kings College or a high rise flat in Peterborough catches fire, we fear these unreliable aerial vehicles will be unavailable to aid firefighters in saving life and property.

“In such an event the outcome could be devastating.”

UNISON Special Local Government Conference 2015

I am not a member of the Local Government Service Group anymore (even though my pay and conditions like many UNISON Community members are still determined by the National Joint Council) so I was not there yesterday and don't know how accurate this UNISON Active post is but it has a ring of...