CHELMSFORD & DISTRICT TRADES UNION COUNCIL ANNUAL REPORT 2008
Chelmsford and District TUC held ten General Meetings in 2008 and the Executive Committee met on eleven occasions. The Council has gained one new affiliation during the year, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association’s Network Rail East Anglia branch, bringing our number to 24. This, given all the amalgamations that have taken place in recent years, is a reflection of our public work and a record of which we can be proud. We are also pleased to tell you that we will be starting 2009 in great style as we have a new affiliation, ASLEF (Bishops Stortford) branch.
All affiliated branches and delegates are sent minutes of our meetings including Executive Committee minutes by e-mail if addresses have been provided. Regular e-mails are sent to branches and delegates to keep them informed of events and activities.
It is sad to record the death of Robert Eschle, a long-standing delegate from the NASUWT. Robert was a great stalwart of his union, a county and town councillor, and an activist in the Fairtrade Campaign. In respect of his services to the Trades Council a donation was made to the Marie Curie Cancer Research Fund. Another colleague who died since our 2007 report was published was a former delegate, Paddy Baldwin, a member of Unison/NALGO and an active co-operator. A number of delegates attended Paddy’s funeral.
Delegates noted that the national Trades Councils’ Programme of Work for 2008 – 2009 identified issues on which unions and other organisations share a common agenda. This included; making the case for a broad coalition to tackle injustice in the workplace and the community. The key areas of work being: vulnerable workers, combating the far right, public services, TUC activity in the community and manufacturing. We are endeavouring to fulfil these tasks to the best of our ability.
The following speakers addressed the Council at its General Meetings: Samantha Vallis (Thompsons Solicitors) “Harassment and Bullying in the Workplace”, Jane Perry (TU Disability Alliance), Peter Rayner (National Pensioners’ Convention), and Nagina Kayani who spoke about “Diversity”. We marked Fairtrade Fortnight with a Fairtrade Tasting, courtesy of the Co-operative Group and Sainsburys. Following the General Meeting in December, thirteen delegates and friends sat down to a meal in the Red Lion.
The Trades Council was represented at the following events: The Holocaust Memorial Day at Hylands House by the Secretary. The Annual Conference of Trades Councils, (where Andrew Coburn, our Chairman, spoke to a composite motion on “The role of Trades Union Councils, Trade Union Rights and Community Campaigning”. Our section related to the hosting and organising of the Annual Conference of Trades Councils.
The SERTUC Trades Councils Conference, which was attended by the Secretary and Chairman. SERTUC, where our Chairman proposed a motion on the benefits of public liability insurance being provided to Trades Councils on a national basis. The TUC’s Black History events i.e. the Bonnie Greer Lecture, and the World Day for Decent Work, were attended by the Secretary. The Essex County Association of Trades Councils where we had three delegates, Andy Window, Malcolm Wallace and Andrew Coburn. Andrew Coburn is also Chairman of the County Association.
The Council purchased four shares to the value of £5 each in Wortley Hall, an 18th century mansion which was opened as a holiday and educational centre for the Trade Union, Labour and Co-operative Movement in 1951. In 1998 we purchased shares (TC 11629) to the value of £5 in the People’s Press Printing Society, the co-operative that owns the Morning Star. This year we increased our shareholding by £50. We applied for a TUC grant and purchased a roll up banner that will be used for displaying posters at public events.
PUBLIC ACTIVITIES One of our most important public activities of the year is the May Rally. This year it was held at Friends Meeting House, with Dr. Francisco Dominguez representing the Venezuela Information Centre, as our speaker. Display tables were provided by local groups of UNICEF, Oxfam, Green Party, Respect, Fairtrade, Co-operative Party, Amnesty International and Thompsons Solicitors.
Twenty-five delegates and friends attended our Workers’ Memorial Day event on 28 May. Chris Bishop (Industrial Chaplain at Stansted Airport) took the service which embraced a “Period of Reflection” at our Memorial Tree in Central Park. A wreath, donated by Thompsons Solicitors, was left at the tree, and after the event Thompsons kindly provided us with lunch.
In conjunction with Fairtrade colleagues we had a joint trade union information and Fairtrade stall in the High Street in October and sold approximately £40 worth of Fairtrade goods. We had a similar joint event in Chelmsford Museum on Slavery Remembrance Day, where we distributed anti-racist and related literature.
We held a poster exhibition and leaflet display table in the public square of Chelmsford Library to mark some of the key events in the trade union calendar; these were International Women’s Day, Workers’ Memorial Day, European Health & Safety Fortnight and Black History Month. These exhibitions were on display for approximately one week and a considerable amount of literature was taken by the public. This year we gained additional publicity for our Black History exhibition as, for the first time, Chelmsford Borough Council celebrated Black History. We were promoted on the Council’s poster and in a review in the Borough Council’s “Life” magazine, our exhibition was featured.
WE SUPPORT OUR NHS In January, we received a further response from the Department of Health regarding our opposition to the building of an Independent Sector Treatment Sector at Braintree, and the threat it posed to the NHS. This reiterated the Department’s case for “contestability in the local healthcare economy” but we are pleased to report that the project has now been dropped.
For some time we have endeavoured to learn the cost of the new Broomfield Hospital development after its 35 year PFI lease has expired. We were eventually told by the Trust’s Chief Executive Officer that, following legal advice, she was unable to provide this information as it was considered “confidential”. A number of options were considered and it was agreed that we would write to S. Burns MP to see if he could obtain the information. However, at the Trust’s AGM the opportunity was used to raise the question, and we were told that the estimated cost would be approximately £12 million per year, sufficient to pay for nearly three hospitals of the same size as the Broomfield project. We told Mr. Burns that we had obtained the required information but when the Trust responded to the MP he was denied an answer. Mr. Burns found it interesting that the Trust could reveal the information verbally at a public meeting but was unwilling to put it into print. We are now concerned that the phase 2 facilities provided at Broomfield and the cancellation of the Braintree private hospital could mean that the Trust will not be able to meet demand. This we also raised at the Trust’s AGM. We were not entirely convinced with the response that all will be well.
The Council has promoted membership of the Mid Essex Hospitals Trust and submitted a paper to the Trust regarding its application for Foundation status. In our paper we supported the proposed democratic principles but raised a number of issues including our fear that the Government’s long-term reason for establishing Foundation Trusts is that they are a step towards privatisation. We took the view that, as Foundation Trusts will be operating in a competitive, commercial market, services will suffer and this could lead to a two-tier health service. We raised a number of issues regarding structure, good governance, the voting constituency, and challenged the need for Foundation status. Needless to say we opposed the Foundation’s powers to set wage levels on a local basis and said that all NHS hospitals should maintain national rates of pay as agreed with the appropriate trade unions. We said that locally negotiated pay will lead to greater confrontation, inequality between hospitals and the certainty that some Foundations will encourage staff to move away from other Trusts and Foundation hospitals, causing chaos within the NHS. We reiterated our policy that the Trades Council, along with all its colleagues in the Trade Union Movement, is totally opposed to privatisation, and we will do everything in our power to preserve our NHS.
We have attended three meetings of the new Essex LINk organisation which has been established as a means of communicating information on health and social issues to the public. Unfortunately, this has not been very effective and is a very poor shadow of Community Health Councils.
OTHER ACTIVITIES On behalf of the local branch of the CWU we sent a motion to John Hutton MP rejecting privatisation of Royal Mail. We also sought to ensure that Labour’s policy of retaining the company as a wholly publicly-owned and integrated group is maintained. Furthermore, customers should be provided with an excellent service, and its employees have rewarding employment. We also called for the ending of the Post Offices closure programme. We were thanked by the branch for our action.
After sending in a submission to Chelmsford Borough Council’s Town Centre Plan we noted that one of our points had been included i.e. our concern at the lack of reasonably priced meeting rooms in Chelmsford. Unfortunately, no solutions were proposed. We wrote to Chelmsford Borough Council asking what its intentions are regarding implementing the Sustainable Communities Act but although the Council seemed, initially, to be unaware of the Act, it was approved in October.
Immediately we became aware of the budget cuts at Chelmsford College we made contact with members of the University and Colleges Union as the proposals would mean fewer staff to help students with dyslexia. A member of the branch attended one of our meetings and we heard that contracts are being changed, and that the union’s wish to put its case to the Governors had been denied. We assisted in collecting signatures for a petition against the cuts and sent a letter to the Principal condemning the action of the College. We have been thanked by the branch for our action.
In November we were told by TSSA Anglia 1 that National Express East Anglia was proposing to cut 314 jobs. This, at a time when the company has achieved a profit of £90 million for its Rail Division, and customer revenue has increased by 9%. We told all affiliates and asked the County Association and other regional TUCs to write to the Managing Director and express their opposition. Information was placed on the East Anglia Social Forum website and the NUJ advised.
ANTI-RACIST CAMPAIGNING Following our activity last year and the launch of our Anti-racist Statement we wrote to Chelmsford Borough Council and asked the Council to give it their support. It agreed to do so and we were thanked by the Council for initiating the Statement. Furthermore, key elements of the Statement are to be incorporated into the next review of the Borough’s Race Equality Scheme. We advised Searchlight, Essex Racial Equality Council and Unite Against Fascism of the progress made. We also wrote to Essex County Council and make it aware of this development, and asked the Council, once again, to sign the Statement. However, after further correspondence, we received a lengthy response which detailed their work to date but it gave no indication of their willingness to sign.
We became aware that the BNP was intending to contest a by-election at Witham (West) and at a meeting of the County Association of Trades Councils we were given the responsibility to co-ordinate a campaign. We immediately contacted SERTUC, Unite Against Fascism and Searchlight. A leaflet was in the process of being printed and all the arrangements were in hand to contact supporters, when we heard that the candidate had withdrawn. We did, however, manage to stop the print and have the draft leaflet for future use.
In October a BNP recruitment leaflet (Essex Patriot Britain First!) was distributed to houses in the Westlands area of Chelmsford. We are pleased to record that the Trades Council immediately responded and the Secretary and his wife distributed over 1000 Unite Against Fascism leaflets. Thanks were received from a resident for the prompt action taken. To ensure that we are ready to combat any further activity we purchased 2,500 leaflets from Hope Not Hate. In December, we formulated an anti-racist strategy which will be updated during 2009 as circumstances dictate.
INTERNATIONAL WORK We attended a meeting called by Thompsons Solicitors at which a “Colombia Prisoner Campaign” was launched. Arising from this we sent letters calling for the release of Fanny Perdomo Hite and Carmen Mayusa to the Foreign Office, Cllr. Ian Gale, S. Burns MP, J. Whittingdale MP, J. Titford MEP, C. Beazley MEP, G. Van Orden MEP, A. Duff MEP, T. Wise MEP, R. Sturdy, R. Howitt MEP and A. Smith MP. The Foreign Office said it would monitor the cases and make representations to the Colombian Government. Others expressed varying degrees of support and Simon Burns MP was particularly positive, stating that he had signed Early Day Motion 101. We are pleased to report that both Perdomo Hite and Carmen Mayusa have been released from prison but it is sad to record that two weeks after Carmen’s release her brother was murdered by paramilitaries.
We wrote to the US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, regarding the “Miami 5” and to the British Ambassador in Guatamala (via Bananalink) regarding violence to banana trade union leaders. A letter was sent to the High Commissioner, Swaziland protesting at the arrest of trade unionists and asking for their release. We passed the ITF leaflet “Free Osanloo” to affiliated branches and, in conjunction with TSSA members, distributed campaign leaflets at Chelmsford Railway Station on 6th March, World Action Day.
The Council wrote to all the Eastern Region MEPs asking them to vote against the proposed EU-Israel Association Agreement as it would strengthen economic, trade, academic, security and diplomatic relations with Israel, at a time when the European Union should be holding it to account for its persistent violations of human rights and international law. Indeed, in 2002 the EU Parliament voted to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement on the grounds of Israel’s violations of human rights. Since these violations are still ongoing, we could see no reason for the EU to change its decision.
Another major event of the year was our “International Solidarity Evening” which was sponsored and organised in conjunction with Thompsons Solicitors. This took place on 26 November at Chapter House. The evening started with an aperitif and an excellent buffet. There were approximately 67 people present from a wide variety of organisations hearing excellent speeches from the Secretary of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Bernard Regan, Matthew Willgress from the Venezuela Information Centre, and Matt Dykes who spoke on behalf of the Justice for Colombia Campaign.
Much of the discussion focused on the positive developments in Venezuela and the medical and literary assistance given by Cuba to many countries. Deep concern was voiced at the jailing of the Miami 5 who had been convicted in the USA for infiltrating the organisations responsible for a bombing campaign against Cuba. The huge number of trade unionists that have been murdered in Colombia and the political prisoners jailed for expressing their opposition to the Government, was condemned. Two short films were shown to complement the speeches. After a wide ranging discussion Karen Mitchell reported on the prisoners’ campaign that Thompsons Solicitors had launched earlier in the year. The Chairman, Adrian Weir (SERTUC International Committee), thanked both Thompsons and Chelmsford TUC for the evening. Amongst the many banners and posters on display were those of the Chelmsford Fairtrade Town Campaign, SERTUC, and Chelmsford Co-operative Party. We would like to place on record our appreciation of the contribution that Thompsons Solicitors has made to our work.
MEDIA ACTIVITIES A report of every General Meeting has been published in the Community News section of the Essex Chronicle and placed on our website. Our Annual Report can also be read on the website. During the year we have received several enquiries through the website including one requesting guidance on how to join a trades council. A letter was sent to the local press expressing our disappointment at the closure of the Chelmsford Environment Partnership. We wrote to the media calling for public ownership of the railways and raised a number of issues around the PFI project at Broomfield Hospital. A letter on the final cost of the PFI project was also published in the Morning Star.
Following the launch of the local No2ID Campaign and the TUC’s policy to resist Identity Cards, we attended two of its meetings. We also sent a joint letter to the press on the subject. Adverts promoting our International Conference and May Rally were published in the Morning Star.
Chairman Andrew Coburn
Secretary Malcolm Wallace
Treasurer Greg Grant