CHELMSFORD & DISTRICT TRADES UNION COUNCIL ANNUAL REPORT 2012
Chelmsford and District TUC held ten General Meetings and eleven Executive Committee Meetings in 2012. Our branch affiliations now number 33 and it is particularly pleasing that the range of industries we cover has widened over the past year. As a result of illness, bad weather and other important commitments towards the end of the year, our average attendance dropped from 10 to 8. 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 our work.
Following the closure of the Red Lion most of our 2012 General Meetings took place in the Unite office, Springfield Road. However, as the accommodation is now being used for training purposes, we have moved our meetings for 2013 to The Bird in Hand. We would like to take this opportunity of thanking our Unite colleagues for their assistance.
Delegates adopted the 2012 Trades Union Councils’ Programme of Work and have worked hard to fulfil its objectives. We have also discussed the 2013 programme and sent a copy to every branch. This, too, we intend to complete as best we can.
We submitted the following motion, submitted by TSSA Anglia 1, to the County Association but it was not selected for debate at the Annual Conference. “That this Conference notes that the cost of the HS2 railway is expected to cost the taxpayer at least £16.3bn to build the first phase to Birmingham and £32.7bn by 2033 to take the line to Leeds and Manchester. Conference believes that if the taxpayer is to invest such huge sums in this massive undertaking then it is the people that should get the reward, not private enterprise. Conference, therefore, calls on the TUC to campaign for the HS2 project to be run within the publicly owned sector and through Parliament to be publicly accountable.”
During the year we have sent letters and emails to several organisations. We wrote to the party leaders of the City Council asking them for their views on health and safety and expressed our opposition to any weakening in the law, and the number of inspections held. The Council responded and told us that there had been no reduction in inspections and no reduction in inspectors. However, like the majority of regulatory inspections, the Council has moved to a risk based system i.e. the frequency of inspections is determined by the risk posed by the activity. This has had the effect of reducing the number of inspections to premises such as office-based workplaces that, in the opinion of the City Council, present very little risk compared to garage workshops. Furthermore, no guarantee was given by the Council that inspections or inspectors will not be reduced in the coming years. Arising from this a letter was sent to Simon Burns MP expressing our concern at the government’s policies.
Arising from this we wrote to the press about the importance of adequate health and safety inspections, our opposition to a reduction in the number of inspectors, and promoted Workers’ Memorial Day. During the year we bought a Workers’ Memorial Day Banner.
We also wrote to Mr. Burns MP highlighting the fact that the Chancellor had broken his promise over age-related tax allowances. His response was passed to the National Pensioners’ Convention which said “It was a standard response from a loyal government supporting politician – which typically either evades the issues or only gives half the story”. We asked branches to sign a petition calling for the freeze on age-related tax allowance to be reversed. We were represented at the NPC’s rally and lobby of Parliament to defend universal benefits on 31 October.
A letter was sent to the Colombian Embassy regarding Liliany Obando who was later released.
We promoted an appeal from Chelmsford Cycling Club which was attempting to set up a depot in Chelmsford for people to drop off their unwanted bikes before being transported for shipment to Africa. The appeal also came to the attention of Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society and hundreds of bikes have been stored by the Society and dispatched.
During Fairtrade Fortnight we had a Fairtrade tasting from products provided by The Co-operative. It is disappointing to report that our investment in the Fairtraders Co-operative Society has still not made a return. The Society has 534 members including schools, co-operative societies, Caribbean banana farmers, suppliers, and private individuals from the Holme Valley to Australia. Sales for the year amounted to £105,960, overheads were £39,133 giving a loss after interest of £33,225. Plans are in hand to bring it into profit.
Delegates have represented the Council or attended a number of conferences including Speaking Up For Libraries. We also attended a conference on CrossRail which was organised by the SERTUC Transport Committee. We were at the Morning Star Conference in the Bishopsgate Institute; our Chairman attends the South East Region TUC. We are also represented at the Essex County Association of Trades Councils by the Chairman, Secretary, and Treasurer of our Council; the Chairman of the County Association is Andrew Coburn.
We have attended meetings of the local transition group and Chelmsford Fairtrade Town Campaign, both of which were established by the Trades Council. We have publicised several of their events and encouraged branches to affiliate to Chelmsford Fairtrade Town Campaign; we are pleased to report that a number have done so. A small number went to the Burston School Strike Rally which they thoroughly enjoyed.
The Secretary attended a number of LINK NHS meetings during the year and went to the Mid Essex Hospitals Trust AGM where he raised two questions; one questioning the PFI costs we obtained in 2010 as compared to the publication of more recent figures a delegate had obtained. The second question related to how the savings of £61m over the next three years (as stated in its Annual Report) will be achieved.
As these were not fully answered at the meeting we followed them up in correspondence and were told that although the cost of the 32 year contract is £326 million, when maintenance and service costs are added, the total amounts to approximately £766 million. On the day after the Council discussed this matter the Essex Chronicle published a major article on the cost of the Broomfield project. We used the opportunity to send a letter to the Chronicle detailing our experiences and the difficulty of obtaining information.
The extensive building programme at Broomfield has given the Trust many ‘state of the art’ healthcare facilities, but at a cost that is double that of many of our neighbouring trusts. As far as savings are concerned we have noted that Mid Essex has to find 45million through to 2014/15, but a further efficiency challenge cannot be ruled out. We were told that savings would focus on procurement, service redesign, productivity gains, savings in office and corporate services, and site and estates rationalisation. How the Trust mitigates these costs is a key part of the programme. Delegates will be monitoring this with great interest.
We wrote a letter to the Chelmsford Weekly News regarding the establishment of the Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) stating that we did not share our local MP’s enthusiasm and pointing out that a recent survey had found that as many as 85% of 400 GPs felt that they didn’t have the skills necessary to handle their new commissioning role. In November we were invited to a meeting called by 38 degrees to discuss the new Mid Essex CCG and it was decided to put forward suggestions for its proposed constitution. This was approved by the Council and passed to relevant branches for their additional support which a number have agreed to.
On 28 November we participated in the GMB lobby of the East of England Ambulance Trust as it is proposing to cut the number of emergency hours.
Following an approach from us to Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society, its Board of Directors have agreed to provide funeral plans to our affiliates and their families in Essex. Details have to be finalised and we expect that the scheme will come into operation during 2013.
The Council is pleased to record the excellent role played by Unite branch delegate, Steve Kelly, in the national campaign against blacklisting, and those contractors, engaged by Crossrail, who sacked 28 workers when they raised safety concerns. At the December meeting a motion from TSSA Anglia 1 was received on blacklisting; this will be considered at the AGM for submission to the 2013 Annual Conference.
Thanks are also due to NUT delegate Marion Wilson for attending the Women’s TUC conference, for chairing the rally at the NPC’s Lobby of Parliament on Care, attending the SERTUC Pensioners’ Conference and Lobby of Parliament, the NPC Parliament and, on behalf of the TUC, the European Federation for Retired People’s Women’s Committee in Brussels.
We only had one guest speaker this year, Henrietta Phillips (Thompsons Solicitors), who addressed the Council on ‘Women and the Law’. Following the December meeting seven people sat down to a dinner in The Orange Tree.
At the October meeting our Secretary Malcolm Wallace said that he would be stepping down as Secretary and discussions have taken place within the Council to ensure a smooth transition of duties.
Malcolm became a delegate to Chelmsford TUC in 1972 after having been a delegate to the Grimsby and Epping TUCs since 1965. He was our Vice-chair from 1976 -77 and 1989-90. From 1977-1983 and from 1990-1998 he was our
Chair. Since 1998 he has been the Secretary. Malcolm wrote the history of Chelmsford TUC in 1979 and updated it in 2000. We would like to thank Malcolm for his work and contribution to our Movement.
A number of meetings were held in Chelmsford after S. Burns MP called the 91,729 people who had objected to his health policies by signing an online petition “zombies”. At the beginning of the year the Chairman attended a meeting in the Shire Hall which was organised by 38 degrees. On 23 February 38 Degrees published a full page advert in the Essex Chronicle stating “Mr. Burns, if you don’t want to listen to voters why are you our MP?”
We marked Workers’ Memorial Day with a health & safety exhibition in the public square of Chelmsford library. We also distributed leaflets in the High Street against the government’s cuts and promoting the benefits of health and safety. This was followed by an excellent memorial event and wreath-laying ceremony in Central Park.
On 8 March we held an exhibition to mark International Women’s Day. Two further exhibitions were held in October against racism and promoting health and safety.
On May Day we held a public meeting at Friends Meeting House with guest speakers Manuel Cortes, General Secretary TSSA, and Hope Daley UNISON National Health & Safety Officer. The entertainment was provided by the Strawberry Thieves Socialist Choir. It was an excellent evening and we thank our colleagues at Thompsons Solicitors for sponsoring our public meetings and providing the Fairtrade refreshments.
CAMPAIGNING AGAINST THE CUTS
We have continued to work closely with Chelmsford Against The Cuts with leafletting and petitioning taking place on most Saturdays throughout the year. Until November, planning meetings took place virtually every two weeks but these are now taking place monthly unless issues requiring action arise. Similarly, our High Street activities were slightly reduced in December. We organised an Essex-wide conference against the cuts at Friends Meeting House on 10 March which enabled us to formulate a strategy and to plan activities. This was supported by all the anti-cuts groups in the county. As part of our campaign to gain more trade union activists in our anti-cuts work we encouraged branches to invite a speaker from Chelmsford Against The Cuts to explain what it has been done over the past months, and what is planned for the future. This did not receive the level of response we would have liked. On 28 March the NASUWT, NUT, PCS and the UCU held regional demonstrations and strikes against the Public Service Pensions Bill. A successful rally and march took place in Chelmsford which was supported by Chelmsford TUC and Chelmsford Against The Cuts. During the event we collected hundreds of signatures for our petition against the attack on pensions and distributed our ‘Proud 2B in a Union’ badges.
After three years of campaigning and selected strike action, the Essex FBU voted by 2 to 1 to accept new terms of conditions. These included an assurance that up to March 2015 and beyond, the overall number of whole-time firefighters across Essex would be no worse than projected. The only caveat being that it was subject to central government funding. During the firefighters’ campaign we collected hundreds of names for our petition and thousands of leaflets were distributed. We also participated in the march in Chelmsford on 18 July. We congratulate them on achieving a positive outcome. It is important to note that the public’s support for the firefighters was very positive, as indeed was our campaign against cuts in the NHS.
During the Chelmsford ‘Altogether Now’ Cultural Festival we encouraged people to attend two events; the film ‘Crisis of Civilisation’ and the debate ‘Dealing with the Deficit and Facing Austerity’. Unfortunately, the Tory representative failed to turn up to the debate on austerity but the LibDems, Labour Party, Co-op Party, and Chelmsford Against The Cuts, represented by Tony Sullivan, attended. The debate was considered to have been worthwhile but it tended to focus on ‘which political party was to blame for the crisis’. The numbers at both events were disappointing, probably because of the poor publicity put out by the organisers.
Following a discussion initiated by branch delegate, David Sherman (PCS), on the Government’s proposal to close DVLA offices and enforcement centres by 2013, it was agreed to send PCS leaflets to branches and distribute them to the community through Chelmsford Against The Cuts. We also submitted our opposition to the Department of Transport’s proposals through its website.
We signed the original statement opposing cuts to public services by Own It! This was later placed in the Guardian. In due course, its title became We Own It (after a conflict with a company over the original name). Other groups are being encouraged to join and a website has been launched at http://weownit.org.uk/.
We held a public meeting with Chelmsford Against the Cuts on 28 September at Friends Meeting House. The speakers were Richard Edwards (PCS) and Nick Mayes (FBU). Both were excellent but the numbers attending were disappointing. In conjunction with UNISON colleagues we leafletted outside Chelmsford Railway Station to promote the TUC’s demonstration on 20 October. A coach for the rally was organised by UNISON.
We were disappointed that the TUC and national unions did not participate in the November European Day of Action. As we did not have any special leaflets to distribute we used TUC ‘join a union’ and PCS leaflets which we distributed around the locality.
Early in the year, as part of the railway unions’ campaign against fare increases, we distributed nearly two thousand leaflets promoting ‘The Great Train Robbery’ at the railway station, in the High Street, to various political and social groups, and to houses. Then, on 11 December, we distributed ‘Action for Rail’ cards at Chelmsford railway station. This was extremely successful with ten people assisting from Thompsons Solicitors, the NUT, UNISON, TSSA and Chelmsford Against The Cuts. It is quite clear that the travelling public are extremely concerned at the increasing cost of rail travel.
CAMPAIGNING AGAINST THE ENGLISH DEFENCE LEAGUE (EDL)
At the start of the year we were approached by Luton TUC and asked to add our name to a leaflet opposing the EDL and supporting a counter demonstration; a number of people from Chelmsford participated in this event. Then, in July, approximately thirty EDL supporters made a brief appearance in Chelmsford to protest at the proposed new mosque in Regina Road. At this stage we were making plans to support colleagues at Waltham Forest where the EDL was planning to march in August. However, this was postponed and the EDL decided to demonstrate in Chelmsford on 18 August. With only two weeks’ notice we initiated a campaign of opposition.
Trade unionists, political parties and anti-cuts groups throughout Essex were immediately notified about the proposed demonstration, and United Chelmsford was established on 2 August. At this meeting a programme of action was agreed. This included a demonstration in the High Street followed by a march, a series of leaflet distributions, a petition, a meeting of faith bodies, procedures for communicating with the police and City Council, the production of press releases and invitations to speakers.
The Secretary and Stephen Collins, an activist in Chelmsford Against The Cuts, attended a meeting at Walthamstow which resulted in attracting support for our march. On 1 September, a number of delegates and friends from the anti-cuts group joined the demonstration in Walthamstow when the EDL held their postponed march.
As the EDL’s objective was to register their opposition to the new mosque that is to be built in Regina Road, the Secretary wrote to the Ali Reza Islamic Centre, expressing solidarity, and offering assistance. He attended a meeting with members of the mosque and although they were very supportive, they eventually decided not to join the rally and march. A meeting was held at Friends Meeting House, which was primarily designed to attract people of differing faiths. It was disappointing that after contacting all the Chelmsford churches and both mosques, the representatives only came from the Moulsham Street mosque and the Quakers. However, it was a positive gathering and we would like to place on record our thanks to the Quakers for providing the hall.
Discussions took place with the Essex police and these were, at first, quite positive, with all our proposals being accepted. However, when the EDL said that they, too, wished to assemble in Tindal Square, negotiations became difficult. We offered a compromise but the EDL then said that they wanted to assemble in the same place; after this, the police agreed to our original proposals and a route to follow the rally was agreed. Although the EDL marched close to where we were having our rally the police numbers were heavy, and it all passed without any incidents of note. A video of the event can be seen at http://bambuser.com/v/2912081.
A new banner had been purchased showing our opposition to racism, fascism and Islamophobia and approximately 250 participated in the march and rally on 18 August, as opposed to approximately 65 EDL supporters.
The speakers were: Jean Wardrop (Chelmsford Quakers), Jerry Glazier (Essex NUT), Weyman Bennett (Joint National Secretary UAF), Cllr. Waida Forman (Harlow), Cllr. Chris Fegan (Chelmsford Labour/Co-operative Party), Tony Sullivan (Chelmsford SWP), Nick Mayes (Fire Brigades’ Union Essex), Dean Harris (We are Waltham Forest), Ben Mcbride (Thompsons Solicitors), Ayman Syed (General Secretary Chelmsford Muslim Society), Tracey Lambert (Unison Eastern Region), Vince Charles (Luton UAF), Jacob Wills (Travellers Solidarity Network), Steve Kelly (Unite), Dave Smith (Love Music, Hate Racism).
We also had messages of support from Martin Gould (President SERTUC), Cllr. Chris Rycroft (Libdems), Canon Ivor Moody, Bishop of Chelmsford,S. Burns MP, Robert Halfon MP for Harlow, Manuel Cortes (TSSA General Secretary), Rob Williams (National Shop Stewards network) and Gerry Gable (Searchlight). The television, local radio and all the newspapers covered the march in some depth both before, and after, the demonstration.
Of no small,importance was our Statement Against Racism and Fascism published in 2007 and signed by all the political parties, the Bishop of Chelmsford, both local MPs, many representatives of churches and the Moulsham Street mosque. We asked people to add their names to the Statement and over 800 members of the public did so at our stall in the High Street. The new Bishop of Chelmsford and three more churches have also signed the Statement; this can be seen on our website.
Although the funding for the campaign was paid by the Trades Council we received a grant from SERTUC, and donations from the NUT, TSSA Anglia 1 and 2, and the Essex Region NASUWT. We would like to record our thanks for their generosity.
On 13 September the Secretary attended a meeting with SERTUC officials at Luton along with representatives from the Luton, Waltham Forest, and Norwich Trades Union Councils to review their activity against the EDL with the aim of providing a report to the SERTUC Executive. On 10 November the Secretary attended an anti-EDL march and rally in Norwich. Nearly 1500 people marched and assembled at City Hall. We have been told that an anti-EDL march has been organised by Cambridge Unite Against Fascism and Cambridge Trades Council in Cambridge on 23 February when the EDL are intending to visit the city. We have signed their statement promoting the march as has United Chelmsford.
As part of our ongoing campaign with colleagues in United Chelmsford, proposals have been made to the leaders of both Chelmsford mosques for a meeting in the New Year.
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.
Our activities with United Chelmsford were widely reported in all the local newspapers and considerable space was allocated to our anti-racist work. We also had interviews through regional television and local radio. During the year we issued a number of press releases including one criticising the Chancellor’s autumn statement.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank UNISON Regional office and the Essex County branch for printing our minutes, leaflets against the cuts, and our anti-racist material.
Chairman: Andrew Coburn, Secretary: Malcolm Wallace, Treasurer: Chris Habib