ANNUAL REPORT 2011
Chelmsford and District TUC held ten General Meetings and eleven Executive Committee Meetings in 2011. Our branch affiliations now number 29. This is particularly pleasing as it reflects a growing interest in Trades Councils and the work that we do within our movement. Our new affiliates during the year were Equity Essex General, PCS DVLA Southern, UNISON Brentwood Borough Council, Unite 0444 and Unite London United Craft.
All branches and delegates are sent minutes of our meetings and, where e-mail addresses have been provided, copies of the Executive Committee minutes. Regular e-mails are sent to branches and delegates to keep them informed of events and activities. Our website is also used to promote activities.
Delegates gave their support to the Trades Union Councils’ Programme of Work and have done their best to fulfil its objectives. We have also discussed the 2012 programme and have sent a copy of its main objectives to every branch.
The Trades Council was represented at the South East Region TUC, SERTUC Trades Councils’ Conference and the Essex County Association of Trades Councils. Unfortunately, we were not able to find a delegate to represent us at the Annual Conference of Trades Councils, but our motion (proposed by TSSA Anglia 1) was accepted. This stressed the importance of having a long-term strategy against the cuts, the importance of further national demonstrations, rallies and any other public activity that engages working people, their families, the unemployed and senior citizens.
We responded to the Trades Union Council Audit which covered the number and range of trade unions represented, the frequency of our meetings, age, gender, ethnic origin, occupational backgrounds of delegates, the use of technology, our views on training for officers, our activities and campaigns, how we work with local bodies, opportunities and challenges that face the Council.
Every month delegates reported on issues arising from their place of work and events that they have attended on behalf of the Council. These included meetings held at the TUC, NHS Links, Chelmsford Transition Town, Chelmsford Fairtrade, Chelmsford Yes to Fairer Votes and Chelmsford Borough Council Citizen’s Panel. The Secretary attended the AGM of the Mid Essex Hospitals Trust where he raised questions on the accounts, what is meant by “liberating the NHS”, if there is to be any outsourcing of services, privatisation of services, sale of assets, cuts in departments or compulsory notices. The Trust responded by saying there would be a loss of 90 jobs but no clinical redundancies, more nurses are to be recruited, two hospital sites sold. There were no plans at the moment to extend privatisation but the door was not closed. Liberating the NHS was seen as cutting down on administrative staff. In the discussion it was revealed that further jobs will be lost and the Essex Chronicle had reported that, once again, the Trust is facing a financial crisis.
Delegate, Steve Kelly, gave us a report on the Joint Industry Board for the construction industry and the intention of the eight biggest companies to withdraw from the scheme and impose a new agreement that attacked workers’ terms and conditions. The biggest threat would be the introduction of a semi-skilled operative grade on much lower pay than skilled trades. This had provoked considerable activity and unofficial action, with picketing taking place outside some high profile sites. A rank and file group has been established. Attendance at branch meetings had increased massively; there had been prominent guest speakers at many meetings and the demonstrations had been colourful and very successful. We have followed the activities of those in the construction industry with great interest and congratulate all those concerned for the way in which they have conducted their campaign.
We have noted that our opposition to Fire Control Reforms has been vindicated as the Public Accounts Committee has reported to Parliament that the plan to replace regional fire centres had been a total costly failure.
The following speakers have addressed the Council at General Meetings: Jeeva Sethu (Thompsons Solicitors), on current legal issues, Beth Walker and Tim Hatcher (Chelmsford Yes to Fairer Votes), Karen Mitchell (Thompsons Solicitors), on her experiences in Cuba for the May Day celebrations, and Glyn Hawker, Unison Regional Secretary on activities against the cuts and the public pensions campaign. Following the December meeting delegates sat down to a dinner in The Orange Tree.
We congratulate Andrew Coburn on his re-election as Chairman of Essex County Association of Trades Councils, Dan McCarthy on his election to the NASUWT Executive and to Marion Wilson (NUT) who was elected as a Vice-President of the National Pensioners’ Convention.
It is sad to report that a former delegate to the Trades Council, John Baggett, has died. The funeral took place on 15 June and was attended by the Secretary and a former Treasurer of the Council, Basil License. John was a delegate from ASTMS and a vice-chair of the Council from 1990-1994.
PUBLIC ACTIVITIES Affiliates will be aware that our public and campaigning activities has steadily increased over the years but 2011 has been quite exceptional. This has largely been as a result of our activities against the Government’s cuts programme. However, this only took place because of the backing we have received from our affiliated branches and the generosity they have shown to finance our activities. We would also like to take this opportunity to thank the UNISON Essex County Branch and the UNISONS Regional office for printing our minutes and anti-cuts leaflets.
InFebruary we held a performance of Banner Theatre’s 1st of May Band’s production of Fighting the Cuts! This attracted 75 people. We thank our colleagues in the UNISON Mid Essex Hospitals branch, Thompsons Solicitors and SERTUC for sponsoring the event, and to all those who assisted by selling tickets and helping on the evening. As with all our public events Fairtrade refreshments were provided.
On 28 April we held three events to mark Workers’ Memorial Day. A health & safety exhibition was held in the public square of the library and at lunchtime a memorial event took place in Central Park. Contributions were made by Andrew Coburn, Hazel Corby, Chris Bishop (Chaplain Stansted Airport), Anna Konzon (Thompsons Solicitors), and Geoff Baker, Head of Operations - East (Health and Safety Executive). In the evening we held a public meeting at Friends Meeting House. The speakers were Janine Booth (RMT) on Poplar Council’s Victory against Cuts - a lesson from 1921 for 2011, and Tracey Lambert (UNISON) on the National Health Service. Arising from this hundreds of UNISON’s paper against the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill were distributed in Chelmsford.
We were approached by the TUC, at short notice, to organise a public meeting with Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary, as the speaker. This took place on 26 May in Trinity Methodist Church. However, quite late in the day, the format of the meeting was changed to one of ‘invitation only’. Although it was disappointing that the TUC changed its mind and this created a few organisational difficulties, approximately fifty trade unionists attended, including regional officers from UCATT and UNISON. The discussion was excellent and the general opinion was that the meeting had been very worthwhile. All costs were covered by the TUC. We received a letter from Brendan Barber thanking us for all our work against the cuts and for the “excellent” meeting.
Following a request from the FBU we wrote to every member of the Essex Fire Committee seeking answers for the dismissal of an Essex firefighter. We later received a letter from the FBU thanking us for our support and explaining that the member had been reinstated.
We held an exhibition to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, and two exhibitions in October. The first was on health & safety and the second was against racism.
Letters were sent to GAP and H&M on behalf of Labour Behind the Label as part of their Let’s Clean Up Fashion 2011. Labour Behind the Label’s campaign asked the UK’s top high street retailers what they are doing to ensure the workers who make their clothes are paid a living wage.
We wrote to Simon Burns MP asking him to support the Labour Party’s motion on News International. This he agreed to do, but he declined, as a Minister, to support an Early Day Motion on Palestine. In his letter he said that he didn’t think the time was right for making a decision on the establishment of a Palestinian state, and that a truly viable state would have to be by negotiation.
CAMPAIGNING AGAINST THE CUTS Following on from last year we have maintained a positive relationship with Chelmsford Against The Cuts. Meetings have been held nearly every two weeks to organise activity, with campaigning in the High Street taking place virtually every Saturday. We have distributed leaflets for trade union campaigns including the CWU’s “Keep the Post Public” on 8 January, and the health unions’ campaign against the Government’s NHS Bill. We supported the FBU’s opposition to cuts in the fire service and subsequently received a letter from the local branch thanking us for organising the stall and for the fantastic work and guidance it gets from the TUC. The branch said that it was proud to be affiliated and involved in such a movement.
We held a lobby of Essex County Council in January which was very successful as it attracted a number of people who had never before attended a demonstration. A few of us went in to the Council Chamber to listen to the debates. Later we published “An Open Letter to Trade Unionists and Employees”. This was issued to staff at Essex and Chelmsford Borough Council promoting Chelmsford Against The Cuts, and calling for trade unionists to attend branch meetings and non-members to join an appropriate union. We have also distributed leaflets on a number of estates and at Chelmsford College and Anglia Ruskin University. The Cuts Campaign Group has kept supporters in regular touch by email and through its website. One member attended a meeting of the reformed Eastern Trade Union Network on 5 March. We sent a number of letters to the press opposing the Government’s cuts and we were thanked by the NHS Support Federation for all the signed petition forms we had returned.
Although we declined to speak at the Prayer Vigil for the unemployed at Chelmsford Cathedral on 8 March, we published a four page leaflet which was made available to all those attending. We did, however, attend the press conference at the end of the vigil after which the Bishop of Chelmsford thanked the Council and the Cuts group for their work. In October, the Trades Council was represented at a seminar organised by the Diocese of Chelmsford on “Beyond recession - a future for our communities?” It is hoped that we can strengthen our links with the Diocese in our campaign against the cuts.
A considerable amount of work was put in by Chelmsford TUC and Chelmsford Against The Cuts to promote the TUC’s March for the Alternative on 26 March. Thanks to our colleagues in UNISON two coaches started from Chelmsford, with other unions, including the NASUWT, picking up colleagues in the town on their way to the demonstration. Fifty Morning Stars were distributed on the coaches and the Trades Council’s banner was featured, amongst many others, in the following day’s Morning Star.
After collecting hundreds of signatures for our Stop The Cuts petition the Secretary wrote to Simon Burns MP to arrange a meeting to discuss the cuts and to present him with our petition. This was arranged for 1 April. As this date had been designated by UNISON as its “All together for the NHS Day” we were asked to make it a joint event. We marched from the UNISON office to the Conservative Party office where a delegation of four, including the Trades Council Secretary, met Mr. Burns. As we only had thirty minutes to put forward our views the Trades Council set out its position against the cuts and in defence of the NHS in a letter. The meeting and march went well but although delegates viewed it as an enjoyable, colourful demonstration, there was some disappointment that the numbers (approximately 50) had not been as large as they might have been, given that UNISON had called on its members to support the lobby. Since the demonstration we have received a reply from Mr. Burns stating that he believed that the Chancellor’s economic strategy is correct.
The Council gave its backing to a PCS motion against the Government’s cuts and on 30 June we supported a well attended PCS picket line outside the Job Centre. It is pleasing to report that twelve members were recruited to the PCS as a result of their action. Another PCS picket line, representing those in the prison service, took place outside the Shire Hall. The Council recorded its thanks to Thompsons Solicitors and local UK Uncut members for providing those on the picket line with Fairtrade beverages and cakes. Chelmsford Against The Cuts then set up its stall in the High Street which attracted more leaflet distributors than ever before. At noon, everyone joined the teachers’ unions who marched from the High Street to the Baptist Church where an excellent meeting of over 350 people took place. The speakers came from all the trade unions that had taken strike action and our Chairman, Andrew Coburn, made an excellent contribution at the end of the meeting on behalf of the County Association of Trades Councils.
November was a particularly busy month. In preparation for an Essex Against The Cuts demonstration, which took place on 12 November in Chelmsford, we issued leaflets at various workplaces, colleges and the university. Approximately 180 - 200 people attended the march with representatives from most of the Essex anti-cuts groups, the NUT, UNISON, NASUWT, TSSA, FBU and Braintree pensioners. It was a colourful event, very enjoyable and with excellent speeches. ￼ We also supported the TSSA’s Together For Transport Campaign by passing out hundreds of postcards at Chelmsford Railway Station, in the community and in the High Street.
As part of the public services action planned for 30 November we assisted UNISON to encourage their members to vote ‘yes’ for the strike ballot by issuing leaflets at County Hall and at Broomfield Hospital. Following the successful ballot by all those unions taking action, some for the first time, we supported the march and rally in Chelmsford. It was a magnificent event with well received speeches. Our Chairman, on behalf of the County Association made the final speech and read out a message of support from the CGT based at the Roubaix Town Hall in France sending best wishes for the strike. We responded, thanking them for their email and sending a photo of our demonstration. It was pleasing to note that the press coverage and photographs in the Essex Chronicle continued for two weeks and were very supportive. We wrote to the editor of the Chronicle, thanking the staff for their coverage.
The Secretary was invited to attend a dinner by the campaigning group 38 degrees to organise a campaign against S. Burns MP after he called the thousands of people who had expressed their concern about the direction of the Government’s NHS policies “Zombies”. This, too, attracted considerable coverage in both the Essex Weekly News and the Essex Chronicle.
MEDIA ACTIVITIES A report of every General Meeting has been published in the Community News section of the Essex Chronicle and on our website where our Annual Report can also be read. During the year we have continued to update and develop our website. As part of our campaign against the cuts we have issued several press releases most of which have been used in local newspapers.
We have been approached by the local media for our view on a number of issues and have sent several letters to both local newspapers. One of these criticised the McNulty Report, emphasising the adverse effect it will have on both staff and passengers, and calling for a publicly-owned and integrated transport system. A similar letter was sent to S. Burns MP and the Minister for Transport but their responses conveyed nothing new or helpful.
It was noted that the Secretary had received a ‘thank you’ letter from a member of the ATL for his letter in the Essex Chronicle. This had been sent to the paper in response to a letter from P. Patel MP who had attacked trade unionism. We also wrote to both local newspapers about the Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) saying that we did not have any enthusiasm for the new body. Indeed, a recent survey had revealed that the Government’s plans could be put at risk because as many as 85% of 400 GPs interviewed felt that they didn’t have the skills necessary to handle their new commissioning roles, and almost 90% had real concerns about their legal liabilities as members of a CCG. We would like to thank the Red Lion for their support during the year. Chairman: Andrew Coburn, Secretary: Malcolm Wallace, Treasurer: Chris Habib
CHELMSFORD TUC 2011 AFFILIATIONS
ASLEF Bishops Stortford.
CWU Essex Amalgamated.
EQUITY Essex General.
GMB London Stores General. GMB London Central General.
National Association of Probation Officers (Essex).
NASUWT Essex Federation.
NUT Mid Essex.
PCS DWP Essex. PCS R+C Anglia. PCS DVLA Southern.
RMT Colchester & District.
TSSA Anglia 1. TSSA Anglia No. 2. TSSA Network Rail East Anglia. TSSA Underground Infrastructure.
UNISON Chelmsford Borough. UNISON Essex County. UNISON Mid Essex Hospitals, UNISON Brentwood Borough Council.
UNITE Chelmsford Central 1856. UNITE London Construction. UNITE TGWU LE/1/1400.2. UNITE TGWU LE/1/699. UNITE 0444. UNITE TGWU First Bus 1/237. UNITE London United Craft 3321. UNITE TGWU LE/1/1365.
ORGANISATIONS TO WHICH THE COUNCIL IS AFFILIATED Essex Pensioners’ Action Association, National Pensioners’ Convention, Chelmsford Fairtrade Town Campaign, Chelmsford Society, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Essex County Association of Trades Councils, Labour Research Department, Hazards, Trades Union Congress, Unite Against Fascism, Seachlight, Justice for Colombia, Charter for Women.