CHELMSFORD & DISTRICT TRADES UNION COUNCIL ANNUAL REPORT 2009
Chelmsford and District TUC held ten General Meetings and ten Executive Committee Meetings in 2009. Our affiliations now number 25. 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 keep branches and delegates informed of events and activities.
Delegates discussed the TUC’s Trades Councils’ Programme of Work for 2009 – 2010 and have worked to fulfil the main objectives i.e. organising, using the media, dealing with the recession, fighting fascism and the far right, and developing green TUC’s.
The Trades Council was officially represented at the following: South East Region TUC, SERTUC Trades Councils Conference, Essex County Association of Trades Councils (of which Andrew Coburn is Chairman), and the Annual Conference of Trades Councils. Delegates also attended a number of events at the TUC including “Tea with Mrs Pankhurst”. The Council donated £20 to the Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Committee.
To safeguard the vast amount of Chelmsford TUC material acquired over many years by our Secretary, our minutes, related records, and other Labour and Co-operative material, have been deposited in the Essex Record Office. This has been done on the basis that they are on loan and available to the public. A list of all the material deposited can be seen on our website.
The following speakers have addressed the Council at General Meetings: Jeeva Sethu, Thompsons Solicitors, (corporate manslaughter); John Kotz, Mid Essex Hospitals’ Trust, (NHS); Jerry Glazier, NUT, (Anti Academies Alliance). During the year we held a number of events after General Meetings including a film on equal pay. We also showed a film of Carmen Mayusa, thanking people for their support following her release from a prison in Colombia. We are pleased to record that, in May, a number of delegates attended a “Carmen Mayusa Celebration” hosted by Thompsons Solicitors in Chelmsford, with Carmen as the guest of honour. During Fairtrade Fortnight we watched a film about the La Riojana Co-operative in Argentina and held a Fairtrade Tasting, courtesy of Thompsons Solicitors, Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society and The Co-operative. We concluded one meeting with a discussion on the growing dangers of our surveillance society, the way in which it has developed within the UK, and the threat it poses. Following the December meeting fifteen delegates sat down to a dinner in the Red Lion.
CAMPAIGNING AND PUBLIC ACTIVITIES The Council gave its support to workers engaged in a dispute with the Linamar Company, and a letter expressing our solidarity, along with a donation, was sent to Rob Williams, Unite convenor of the Linamar car parts plant at Swansea. We also wrote to the company and told its Chief Executive Officer that we were outraged at his action. The Council was pleased to hear that Rob Williams was reinstated by the company as a direct result of widespread campaigning.
With the passing of the Sustainable Communities Act we wrote to Cllr. Whitehead asking him how the Borough Council proposed to implement the Act. Although there was some initial confusion within the Council about the Act, we were eventually advised that its Management Team would meet and a panel of representatives would be established.
In a letter to the Chelmsford Chronicle we expressed our opposition to Essex County Council hiving off its services to the private sector and in February delegates participated in the protest activities organised by Unison/Just at County Hall. We also wrote to Essex County Council when we became aware that it was to bring its IT services back from the private sector. A letter was sent to Lord Hanningfield asking for the reasons behind this decision, the costs involved, and in the light of this, why the Council intends to privatise all its services? A reply was received but it failed to provide the reasons for selling off the Council’s services.
A letter was sent to S. Burns MP supporting his positive article in the Essex Chronicle on domestic violence and drawing his attention to our leaflet on the subject. We also wrote to the NHS for information under the “Freedom of information Act” about its plans for a new GP led health centre including the tendering process, and asking what has been done to include the views of local people.
In July we responded to the Government’s consultation document regarding Workers’ Memorial Day; in December letters were sent to David Cameron MP and S. Burns MP expressing our concern at the Conservative Party’s proposals for health and safety should they be elected.
A letter was sent to Mid Essex Hospitals Trust on the high cost of car parking. We were represented at its AGM and raised questions relating to the Trust’s income, the new building and PFI. The Chief Executive stated that the Trust could cope with the loss of the Independent Treatment Centre that had been proposed for Braintree, and said that the £13m annual charge for the PFI project was in line with the Trust’s revenue predictions. We were assured that the Trust is well within its capacity to achieve a profit in the near future but we have noted that it still has significant losses. In response to a question on staff wages it was said that savings would be achieved through using less temporary staff and more permanent staff.
Following the receipt of an email that plans are being formulated to turn NHS Mid Essex (known as Central Essex Community Services) and NHS South East Essex (known as Community Healthcare) into providers of NHS care independent of the two PCTs, the Secretary asked Unison Mid Essex Hospitals branch for its views. As it was felt that the matter could impact on the hospital the information was passed to Unison officials for action. Delegates were pleased to note that after years of campaigning by the hospital’s Unison branch the Mid Essex Hospitals Trust has brought all its catering in-house.
The Workers’ Memorial Day service took place at our cherry tree in Central Park and was the best attended to date. We produced a badge to mark the event, and the service was conducted by Chris Bishop, the Stansted Airport Chaplain. We would like to thank Thompsons Solicitors for the wreath which they placed beneath the tree.
For the first time in a number of years we were able to hold our May Day Rally on 1 May. This year we decided to use a different format; to start the evening we had a range of local musicians, singers and poetry readings which was followed by a speech from Richard Howitt MEP. As usual a number of local organisations and political parties had stalls, and the evening was considered a success.
The Trades Council was very active in trying to save rail jobs at National Express. Contact was made with other Trades Councils in the region and letters were sent to a number of MPs. We were also represented at a lobby and meeting in the House of Commons; a copy of the RMT’s “A People’s Railway”, was sent to S. Burns MP, and a message of thanks was received from the RMT for our work. A letter was sent to Lord Adonis and Chelmsford Labour Party regarding the Labour Party’s policy to take the railways back into public ownership. This was in response to the Government’s decision to return the East Coast National Express franchise to the private sector within two years. Sadly, we did not get a response from either the local Labour Party or Lord Adonis.
The Council backed a petition from NAPO asking the Prime Minister to protect the public by maintaining current staff levels within the Probation Service. Delegates also supported a motion from the CWU Essex Amalgamated Branch which welcomed their union’s commitment to negotiate an agreement which would support the modernisation of the postal industry, but rejecting the recommendations of the Hooper Report to sell a minority stake in Royal Mail. The resolution was sent to S. Burns MP who said that although the Conservative Party supported privatisation this did not mean that it offered unconditional support to the Government’s proposals.
When the CWU took strike action a number of delegates visited the picket lines at Victoria Road and Boreham. Arising from this we gained some national publicity as our “Proud2B in a Union” badge was featured in photographs published in the Daily Mirror, Guardian and the Morning Star. In November, on the day that the CWU announced that an interim agreement had been reached and that strike action was suspended, we attended a meeting to establish a Postal Workers’ Support Group. The first formal meeting will take place on 14 January 2010 when an evaluation will be made of the progress towards the final agreement.
The Secretary was invited to a meeting of the newly formed GMB taxi drivers’ branch which has been extremely active in its demands for justice. At the meeting he outlined the role of the Trades Council and offered our assistance. A number of our leaflets were distributed and four copies of our history were purchased. The cause of the dispute is based on the Borough Council issuing far too many licenses which means that taxi drivers are working excessive hours in order to make a living. A number of visits were made to their picket line on 27 October when industrial action was taking place.
During the same period workers employed at First Bus came out on strike as the company had declined to pay a wage increase despite achieving substantial profits. The Secretary and other trade unionists visited the picket line at the Westway depot to express the Council’s solidarity.
During the year we spent a considerable amount of time campaigning against racism and the BNP. The Council supported the following motion and asked its affiliates to do likewise to mark Hope not Hate Union Day on 15 May:
“This branch believes that the British National Party is a racist and fascist organisation. It spreads hatred and division through racist scapegoating and lies. The BNP represents the complete opposite to the ethos of trade unionism. We stand for solidarity and believe we are stronger when we stand together. The BNP seeks to divide people on racial, religious and national lines and this would automatically reduce our collective strength and make us weaker. We fully support the Hope Not Hate Campaign and resolve to get involved in Union Friday and affiliate to Trade Union Friends of Searchlight.” Members of the Council leafleted in the town on 15 May.
The Trades Council is affiliated to Searchlight and Unite against Fascism. We responded to BNP leafleting and to a BNP stall that was held for a short period in the market area. Our delegates attended a meeting of anti-racists at Witham with the objective of combining resources; this proved to be very effective and good communications have been maintained. Several thousand leaflets were purchased from Hope not Hate and Unite against Fascism; These were distributed by delegates and friends in the High Street, at the railway station and to many houses in different areas of Chelmsford before, and during, the Essex County Council election. Although we worked with the Labour Party on one occasion it was felt that we should -
have tried harder to engage other community groups, political parties and trade union offices in our leaflet activities. A number of delegates and five other Mid Essex friends attended the demonstration at the BBC against its decision to invite N. Griffin (BNP) to speak on Question Time. Working with our colleagues in Chelmsford Fairtrade Town Campaign we held a joint stall in the High Street during Black History Month. We are pleased to record that a photograph of the display was featured in the TSSA’s Journal.
As last year’s international public meeting on Colombia had been a success we decided to follow this up with an “Evening of solidarity with the people of Palestine”. The speakers were Joni McDougall (GMB), Karen Mitchell (Thompsons Solicitors) and Dan Judelson (Jews for Justice for Palestinians). We also showed the film “Breaking the Silence” which featured Israeli soldiers speaking about their experiences in the Occupied Territories. The evening started in good spirit and by the end of the evening approximately 90-100 people were present. However, prior to the meeting two telephone calls took place between our Secretary and the Secretary of the Jewish Community who asked to have a speaker of their choice on the platform. This we denied as the evening was one of solidarity with the Palestinian people and Dan Judelson had been chosen to put forward a Jewish perspective. The Secretary did, however, emphasise that contributions from their group would be welcome during the discussion.
At the start of the evening the format of the meeting was outlined by the Chairman but the local Jewish community and their friends, including one from London, deliberately set out to disrupt the meeting within the first ten minutes; eventually, the Secretary called the police in case the situation got out of hand. The meeting did calm down somewhat but further disruption came from the same people during the question and discussion session.
Matters did not end there, and our request to the Cathedral office for the use of a room for May Day 2010 has been denied. We gave the Dean a full explanation of what transpired and told him that we have never experienced trouble of this nature at any of our previous events. The Dean accepted that we were not to blame but he came to the conclusion that as our events could be controversial, this was against their policy and further applications would be denied.
We then received a letter of complaint from the Jewish Community and three more from their supporters. We also had one congratulating us for putting on the meeting and expressing anger at the way in which the meeting had been disrupted. Those that complained accused us of bringing in additional people during the course of the meeting to oppose any comments against the speakers; this is not true. One complained that the audience should have been able to reply to the final comments of the guest speakers. However, the real cause of the complaints was that a Jewish speaker of their choice was not permitted to speak from the platform. Furthermore, criticism of the Government of Israel policies was considered to be racist and we were told that we had little knowledge of the complexity of the conflict. The UN was attacked. All the speakers, and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, were criticised for racist bias against Israel.
All of these letters were replied to in depth by setting out the TUCs position and the way in which the TUC and Scottish TUC had arrived at its policies on the Israel/Palestine conflict. The Secretary of SERTUC and the TUC General Secretary were kept advised, and Brendan Barber sent us a letter of thanks for the way in which we replied to the first letter of complaint.
It is worthy of note that one of those complaining accepted that the meeting “was well organised”, and we were to be “congratulated on a pleasant venue, a wonderful buffet and a generally congenial atmosphere.” He also accepted that one of the “Zionists had tried to high-jack the meeting.” The Secretary was thanked by another complainant for “being a civilised correspondent” and his “commitment and honesty” was appreciated.
It is important to note that the Jewish Community is the only faith body that has refused to sign our Anti-racist Declaration. The reason for this is that several of those that have signed have voiced criticism of Israel’s government policies towards the West Bank and Gaza, and this has been interpreted as racist. This was raised with the Jewish Community representatives after the meeting and although we were hopeful that their position would be reconsidered this has not proved to be the case.
After two further letters from the Chelmsford Jewish Community were received the Council felt that very little would be gained by a further meeting to discus Israel/Palestine issues but we would be willing to have a discussion on our anti-racist charter. Shortly afterwards we attended a similar meeting to the one we had held on Palestine; this was organised by the Society of Friends at their Meeting House. Sadly, the same disruptions took place but although the meeting had to be closed earlier than expected, it was all handled with considerable dignity by the Society of Friends who refused to be intimidated. The Council was thanked for its support by the Society of Friends.
A letter was then received from the local Jewish Community expressing disappointment that we had no wish to discuss Israel/Palestine with them and they saw no point in a meeting to discuss the anti-racism charter. We responded by expressing our concern at the way in which the Jewish Community and its friends had behaved at the Friends Meeting House and said that we will continue to oppose racism wherever it raised its head and continue to support justice for both the Palestinian and Israeli people.
On 30th November and working in conjunction with Thompsons Solicitors and Unison we assisted in the arrangements made to host two trade union leaders from Venezuela These were Eglé Sanchez, General Secretary of the Venezuelan Graphic, Print and Paper Workers’ Union, and Elias Rodriguez. After meeting the Mayor in his Parlour, touring the town and having lunch, the visitors were then taken to Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge. During the evening a discussion took place at Thompsons Solicitors with some of our delegates and other trade unionists on the progress made in Venezuela over the past ten years.
Our final public event was held in conjunction with Oxfam on 4 December at Christ Church, New London Road. This was planned to coincide with the UN Climate Change summit in Copenhagen; the theme of the meeting was Climate Change: What we can do in Chelmsford. The speakers were Helen Franzen United Nations (UK); Katy Wright Oxfam Political Campaigner and Dr. Steve Willoughby Coordinator of Walden in Transition, with Andrew Coburn as Chairperson.
We wish to thank both SERTUC and Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society for its financial support. To promote the meeting we printed 1500 leaflets which we distributed widely in the community. As a result the following gave their support:
Alliance for Green Socialism, Amnesty International, Anglia Ruskin University, ARU National Union of Students, Bookmarks, Chelmsford Borough Council Recycling Promotions Team, Chelmsford Cycling Action Group, Chelmsford Fairtrade Town Campaign, Chelmsford Labour Party, Chelmsford Liberal Democrats, Chelmsford Star Co-operative Party, Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society, Chelmsford TUC, Christian Aid, Colchester Greenpeace, Essex Wildlife Trust, Federation of Essex Women’s Institutes, Great Baddow & Galleywood Environmental Group, Green Party, Mid Essex Friends of the Earth, Oxfam, Soroptimist International of Chelmsford, The Centre for Environment and Rural Affairs at Writtle College, The co-operative, The co-operative bank, Thompsons Solicitors, Traidcraft, UN Association, Unicef. Fairtrade refreshments were offered to the eighty people that attended and there were eighteen stalls from the various groups, the most to date.
Exhibitions were held in Chelmsford Library’s public area to mark International Women’s Day, Workers’ Memorial Day, Health & Safety Month and Black History Month.
We would like to place on record our thanks to all those delegates and colleagues who worked hard to make our campaigning work such a success.
MEDIA ACTIVITIES A report of every General Meeting has been published in the Community News section of the Essex Chronicle. Our Annual Report can also be read on the website. We also used our website to promote petitions and other material from a number of unions including the CWU, RMT, TSSA, Unison and NAPO. The strikes of the CWU, taxi drivers, bus workers and the FBU have been featured on the site plus Palestine.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Thompsons Solicitors and the Red Lion for their assistance during the year. Chairman Andrew Coburn, Secretary Malcolm Wallace, Treasurer Greg Grant
CHELMSFORD TUC 2009 Affiliations ASLEF Bishops Stortford CWU Essex Amalgamated FBU Chelmsford GMB London Stores General GMB London Central General National Association of Probation Officers (Essex) NASUWT Essex Federation NUT Mid Essex PCS DWP Essex RMT Colchester & District Unite Amicus Chelmsford Central Unite TGWU ACTS Staffs Branch (Eastern Constituency 1/372) Unite TGWU/CYWU Essex Unite TGWU LE/1/1365 Unite TGWU LE/1/1400.2 Unite TGWU LE/1/699 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 North Essex Mental Health Service USDAW Chelmsford & Colchester Retail
ORGANISATIONS TO WHICH THE COUNCIL IS AFFILIATED Essex Pensioners’ Action Association, 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, Essex Racial Equality Council, Seachlight, Iraq Union Solidarity, National Pensioners’ Convention.