Saturday, 31 December 2011

Review of 2011 - Keep on keepin' on 'till the fight is won

2011 has been a challenging year – we’ve won some and we’ve lost some. Thanks must go to all North Somerset UNISON members who have got involved in the branch, either by becoming branch officers, reps and contacts, or by simply standing up and being counted on picket lines, and at marches and rallies.

In January and February the branch did a lot of work lobbying North Somerset Council in the run up to their budget setting meeting, where they were proposing to make £18.5 million of cuts, including cuts to services to the elderly, disabled, children and young people. We spent a lot of time trying to get the council to undertake equality impact assessments on all their cuts proposals. We provided councillors with numerous documents and spoke at and lobbied both January and February council meetings. The council finally produced a 100 page document of equality impact assessments for their budget cuts 1 week before their budget setting meeting.

In March the branch took 2 coach loads of members and their families to the March for the Alternative in London. 500,000 people marched against the Tory Cuts and for the alternative, which is about making our taxation system fairer, clamping down on tax avoidance and tax evasion, and taxing those that caused the financial crisis. It was a truly historic day.

In March the branch was involved in a number of events on Weston High Street and at Weston General Hospital talking to members and non-members about the NHS bill.

In April UNISON members met in Liverpool for the annual Health Conference, where most of the debates were about Tory plans to privatise the NHS. We also saw what has become the video of the year – the Andrew Lansley Rap – “Andrew Lansley greedy, Andrew Lansley T****r… The NHS is not for sale you grey-haired manky codger.” Sadly, later in the year, the bill passed through parliament almost un-noticed by national TV news, and is currently making its journey through the Lords. But it’s not too late to stop it.

Also in April the branch finally made in onto Facebook, even though we’d had a website, blog and Twitter account for quite a while. Facebook was the final frontier.

In May the branch banner played a starring role in an exhibition of Trade Union banners designed by Ed Hall at the People’s History Museum in Manchester. The banner went backwards and forwards between Manchester and Weston a couple of times, as we needed it for the 30th June Day of Action against the Cuts, and the Tolpuddle festival.

In May the local elections returned the Conservative administration in North Somerset with their majority only slightly cut. This was very disappointing and the low numbers of opposition councillors continues to make things difficult for us, despite many of the opposition councillors being sympathetic to UNISON’s aims.

Also in May our branch secretary Helen Thornton stepped down after almost 3 years in the role. Helen had always intended to step down after 2 years away from her job, and with a temporary secondment to UNISON regional office, and her strong feeling that it was time for somebody else to have a go, Helen stepped down to become Communications and Service Conditions Officer. The branch was without a branch secretary for a few months, although our Chair Helen Davies was during this time effectively branch secretary in all but name. After a few months Helen eventually took on the role, and is doing a brilliant job.

In May the branch moved office twice – first to another location in the town hall, and then to Badger House – this is a temporary location due to the refurbishment of the town Hall.

In June a couple of North Somerset UNISON delegates spoke at UNISON’s national conference in Manchester. Toni Mayo spoke about the cuts to Sure Start, and Pat Barrett spoke about the cuts to the NHS and pensioner poverty.

Also in June North Somerset UNISON showed its support for the 30th June strike by our sister unions PCS, NUT, ATL and UCU, with a number of our retired members attending the march and rally in Bristol.

Through the summer our pensions campaign started to get off the ground. Our retired member Pat Barrett was the “poster woman” for the UNISON South West campaign, with a particularly good video performance, where Pat talked about her so-called gold-plated pension! Through September, October and November, the branch held numerous meetings throughout North Somerset on pensions and cuts.

On 30th November North Somerset UNISON members took industrial action over pensions. After some picketing in the morning, members travelled into Bristol to join 20,000 other trade unionists from 30 different unions in a march through Bristol and a rally at Castle Park.

For most of the year we successfully fought off attempts by North Somerset Council to remove / reduce unsocial hours payments from some of our lowest paid members. The council began its attack with the Home Care START team. In the last few months of the year our members accepted a compromise deal negotiated by UNISON. But this issue is set to rear its ugly head in the new year.

Throughout the year the branch has been involved in numerous service reviews, and represented well over 100 members in individual cases.

In the final quarter of the year we have been involved and resisted the massive reorganisation of Children’s and Young People’s Services, which will result in a service focusing on only 300 families in North Somerset, with little early intervention or preventative work done, along with the complete removal of Youth Services. Young people from North Somerset Youth Clubs have shown their feelings about the cuts by launching a campaign to save youth services, and we have helped them by providing transport to council meetings and putting them in touch with the media. We’ve had some great local TV coverage for our lobby of the November council meeting, and the Youth march in December – on both occasions the young people really did themselves proud.

Throughout the year we have worked with colleagues in other Trade Unions through the Weston and North Somerset Trades Union Council, and the Weston Anti-Cuts Alliance. We held a number of public Anti-Cuts meetings, and also a few Weston High street events, where we have spoken to members of the public about the cuts. Colleagues from the PCS, NUT, UNITE and RMT also joined us at our many council demonstrations.

For our Anti-Privatisation campaigns we have had some successes and some failures. Throughout the year most North Somerset secondary schools either became or plan to become Academies. Our members at the Winter Gardens, Playhouse, Tourist Information, Museum, and Dual Use Sports Centres were transferred to the private and voluntary sector. Our members at North Somerset PCT were transferred to a Social Enterprise in October.

We continue to put pressure on the council regarding their outsourcing of Support Services, as we believe it is not making the savings claimed, and that services are poorer as a result of the privatisation. Throughout this year we put numerous freedom of information requests in regarding the performance of the Support Services contract, and finally got access to some crucial documents in November. We also did our own survey of members on the performance of the contract – both those members who had been transferred, and those council workers who continue to receive support services. We wrote to the council to ask them to review the contract – their initial response was that they had no plans to do so, but they have since changed their mind. The results of our members survey will be shared with the council as part of this review.

As we start 2012 we will continue to fight the cuts in North Somerset – we have lobbies planned for the council meetings in January and February, as well as weekly members meetings in the run up to their budget setting meeting on 21st February. In 2012 it looks likely that we will be fighting against pretty much all of Adult Social Care going into a Social Enterprise, along with cuts to the Library service, which may result in the increased use of volunteers, and maybe even library closures. We also have a possible reduction in our facility time to contend with.

Also, in January and February we will be running meetings to update members on the latest news on the pensions dispute. 2012 will be another challenging year for UNISON members, but we have shown by our action on 30th November that we’re up for the fight. We will, in the words of the Redskins, that great Socialist band of the 1980s “Keep on keepin’ on ‘till the fight is won.”

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