26 Jun 2008

Labour Funds and the Unions

Anne Alexander looks at whether Labour can dig itself out of its funding hole. Lord Levy calls for reform of party funding.

Watch here.

2012: Will Sugar say You're Fired to Boris?


Alan Sugar has not ruled out standing for Mayor of London in 2012. The Amstrad chairman and star of The Apprentice speaks to Vanessa Feltz on BBC London 94.9. A Labour Party supporter, he has been called into the office by Gordon Brown on a number of occasions to advise on business issues. Labour’s biggest individual cash donation in 2001 was £200,000 from Sir Alan Sugar.
We know though that he is no advocate for equality with some of the questions that he asks of candidates. Katie Hopkins, was questioned whether she would be able to cope with a job at Amstrad when she had two young children at home in Devon. Hopkins left the show and the TUC said that the Apprentice was sending the wrong signals to employers over the hiring of female staff.
Regardless of what I think about his ethics or his ability to run London, he does have a knack for running a successful business although it is dwindling a bit at the moment. He does have a good team with Margaret and Nick the voices of reason. Boris won not for his politics but the celebrity status and perhaps Alan Sugar would be able to do the same. He is perhaps one of the only suspects who could actually point the finger at Boris and get to say 'You're Fired'.
The fact is that people might say that Alan Sugar is not a serious contender but he has been a life long Labour Party supporter and member and we may start to see another side to him when he gets to discuss real politics. However, with his draconian views on working Mothers and women in the workplace which are bound to be transferred over into the political sphere, I very much doubt he will have my backing.

The Londonist comments. See The Independant 22 March 2008, The Evening Shamstard reports 'Sir Alan Sugar lined up to keep out Ken Livingstone'

Equal before the law

Today the Equalities Minister is due to announce the provisions of the long awaited Single Equalities Bill. The BBC reports that age discrimination and equal pay will feature and there will be a ban on secrecy clauses allowing employees to discuss their salaries. I particularly am also interested in what is proposed about positive duties and whether they are to be extended across all equality grounds.

24 Jun 2008

Heinz 57 Varieties Unless You're Gay


Watch the ad here that they pulled after receiving 200 complaints that it was offensive and inappropriate. The ads shows two gay men one of whom is preparing the packed lunch and 'their childen' call mum. The other is going out to work. Well that's the Yanks for you. Then the men share a goodbye kiss as one goes off to the work and the other stays at home to do the housewifey bit. The Heinz Deli Mayo ad has been pulled after less than a week on air after viewers complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that it was "offensive" and "inappropriate to see two men kissing". Other complaints include that the ad was "unsuitable to be seen by children" and that it raised the difficult problem of parents having to discuss the issue of same-sex relationships with younger viewers. See the Guardian for the full story.

Now I think it is offensive and inappropriate to pull it for the reasons given. But if I had seen the ad, I might have been moved to compain myself about the caricatures of gay men that the ad portrayed. Gay men who rear children call themselves Dads. The message being given out that same sex couples somehow mirror gender sterotypes and that 'Mum' stays at home whilst Dad goes at work takes us back decades.
Well, I'm sticking with my HP Baked Beans and they taste particularly good with onions and black pepper!

UNISON pledges "Key Role for Equality Reps"

Today there was a joint TUC / Government conference on Workplace Equality Representatives. Theses are the ones for which UNISON has secured funding from the union modernisation fund to run a pilot scheme. Part of this is to try and convince the Government that equlity reps need statutory time off. Reported on UNISON's website, "UNISON has pledged to work with the government to further expand the role of workplace equality reps.". yet in the NEC's support of the Branch Disabled Member Officer, you would have thought they had never heard of the scheme despite referring to it in their motion on Organising and in the Annual Report.


The Cabinet Office press release today stated "Workplace equality reps can assist employees who are facing discrimination and provide support to people on a wide range of matters, such as flexible working for parents and those caring for older relatives, disability, age, equal pay, and harassment. They also negotiate with employers to help individuals get a fair deal at work or stop them falling out of the workplace, for example by supporting disabled people (or those who become disabled)."

UNISON Local Government Members Agree to Strike


Well 55% of UNISON members working in Local Government who voted in the ballot, voted for sustained industrial action. I was one of the 55% and I know many of my colleagues who have not been keen on losing a chunk of their salary before also voted YES because they are fed up with below inflation pay rises. One of my colleagues said that her gas bills had increased so much that she was paying £1000 a year and both she and her partner are out all day and unlike to me go to bed at a decent time. I commute to Blackpool using the trains and I have seen increasing costs every few months but no improved service. My gas and electricty has risen so much I try and avoid the meters being read. And as for food I try and avoid buying it.
At Blackpool, we still have not completed our pay reviews because the employers will not agree the pay spine on the basis that they do not want to increase the council tax. So we are still in limbo with that not knowing whether our salaries are going to decrease or increase. They reckon it will not be agreed in this financial year.
Union Futures has blogged that the NJC have agreed to strijke action and confirmed that the 16th and 17th will be the dates for industrial action. (Dependant on the ballot results, it will be the 18th in Scotland). However, we still have to see what the Industrial Action Committee says on Friday.
Also see Jon's union blog, UNISON reports here and here, BBC News, More BBC News
Tory leader David Cameron warned the government it was going to have to be "extremely tough" on unions to avert a wave of strikes. He said Labour was "so reliant" on unions for funding they felt they had a "stranglehold" over the party and could "dictate terms". And he backed tough action on strikes as they "rarely achieve their goal", he said.
If that was the case, we wouldn't be going on stike would we, duh! A taster of the anti-trde union laws that will put back in place should Shameron get in power.

22 Jun 2008

Paul Ince becomes first Black Manager of a Premier League Foortball Club


We ask has racism really been given the red card when we see that Paul Ince has been appointed as manager of premier league footbal club, Blackburn Rovers? But the fact that he is the first Black English manager in the Premier League shows that we have a long way to go to kick racism out of football.
Jean Tigana born in Mali but played extensively in France managed Fulham and Ruud Gullit from the Netherlands managed Chelsea and Newcastle are the only other two black managers to have managed in the Premier League. Last week the Premier League gave Rovers dispensation over Ince's failure to hold a Uefa Pro Licence. The former West Ham, Manchester United, Inter Milan, Liverpool and England midfielder will be allowed two years to earn his licence. The licence requires 240 hours of study and usually takes a year to gain.
Black footballers have been playing association football since the 1880s. Did you know that Arthur Wharton, the world’s first black professional footballer was playing way back then for my beloved home team of Preston North End? And yet we still racist chants and abuse thrown at players. Only one Black English manager in the Premier League speaks for itself too.
At UNISON's National Delegate Conference last week, it was therefore great to see that the President's nominated charity 'Show Racism the Red Card' being given such a high profile.
Good luck to Paul on his new management post and on gaining his Uefa pro licence.

NW Media Coverage on EU directive

BBC NW Politics Show feature on the EU directive on anti-discrimination including specific reference to sexual orientation and interview with ILGA-Europe. Arlene McCarthy Labour MEP speaks in support.

Serves You Right in Political Life

Stonewall have just produced a report Serves Your Right – Lesbian and Gay Peoples expectations of Discrimination. In December 2007 they commissioned YouGov to survey a sample of 1,658 lesbian, gay and bisexual people across Britain. They open the report with a quote from Alan Johnson Secretary of State for Health;

“Genuine equality will not be achieved by providing the same service for everyone; equality of opportunity is not enough. It means delivering the same outcome for everyone, recognising the diverse needs of different communities and individuals and responding appropriately to those needs.” (19 February 2008)

In 2008 there are no openly gay or lesbian people in the British cabinet, the Scottish cabinet or the Welsh cabinet. There are only two openly gay peers in the House of Lords out of more than 700 members and only one openly lesbian MP in the House of Commons and no Lesbian peers in the Lords. There are no out Trans politicians or anyone who is open about being bisexual.

The report states that despite modest efforts by some political parties, the majority of lesbian and gay people expect to experience discrimination if they seek selection by a political party to run for parliament. Nearly nine in ten lesbian and gay people think they would face barriers from the Conservative Party; six in ten think they would face barriers from the Labour Party and nearly half expect to face barriers if they sought selection from the Liberal Democrats. Women are more likely to think this: two thirds of lesbians expect to be discriminated against if they wanted to be selected by the Labour Party.

The report also claims that political parties have even failed to convince their own lesbian and gay supporters that they can play a full role in political life with significant numbers expecting to face discrimination should they seek selection as a parliamentary candidate. The Conservative Party is regarded least favourably out of the main parties with seven out often lesbian and gay party supporters expecting barriers to selection. Stonewall though claim that, nearly half of Labour supporters say they would also expect problems from their party getting selected along with three in ten Liberal Democrats.

Living Together, a YouGov survey of more than 2000 adults commissioned by Stonewall in October 2006, found that nearly nine in ten voters would be ‘comfortable’ if their MP was lesbian or gay, yet more than half felt that lesbian and gay people were likely to conceal their sexual orientation in politics.

Local politics is little better. Lesbian and gay people expect to face similar barriers if they want to be selected to run as local councillors. Nearly two thirds would expect to face barriers from the Labour Party, nearly nine in ten would expect to face barriers from the Conservative Party, and half would expect to encounter barriers from the Liberal Democrats.

The report also gives examples of homophobia endemic in politics citing the incident during the 2005 General Election campaign, when Sayeeda Warsi, the Conservative candidate for Dewsbury, published campaign materials saying that the equalisation of the age of consent had allowed “school children to be propositioned for homosexual relationships”. They also use the example of Miranda Grell, a Labour candidate for the Leyton Ward in the London Borough of Waltham Forest, who as we know was convicted under the Representation of the People Act (1989) on two counts of making false statements about another candidate to gain electoral advantage. Grell was accused of telling one prospective voter that her opponent, Cllr Barry Smith, a gay man in a civil partnership, was a paedophile who had a 16 year old boyfriend. Mr Smith’s partner is 39. Mr Smith was subsequently abused in the street for being a paedophile.

Stonewall have made various recommendations as a result of their report:
  • Political parties should actively encourage lesbianand gay people to become MPs, MSPs, AMs and local councillors. Similar initiatives should be put in place for lesbian and gay people to those already in place for women and ethnic minorities.
  • The Electoral Commission should encourage registered political parties to abide by a code of conduct prohibiting campaigning based on discriminatory attitudes to sexual orientation, race, disability, gender or gender identity, belief or age.
  • Political parties should state that they will deselect any candidates who engage in homophobic campaigning.
  • Local political parties should engage with their gay constituents to encourage lesbian and gay people to participate in the political process.
  • Political parties should take measures consistent with their own rules and political philosophies to encourage lesbian and gay members to stand as candidates and to help them win selection.
  • Government, with the support of all political parties, should appoint more lesbian and gay people, on merit, to public office and the House of Lords and so enable gay people to become more visible in public life.

21 Jun 2008

National Delegates Conference - Disabled Members Officer

What I said about rule amendment 5 - Disabled Members Officer :

"Louise Ashworth National LGBT Delegate and a disabled member opposing this rule amendment.

The LGBT group have not taken the decision to oppose another self-organised group lightly.
But this rule amendment is not about disabled members self-organisation – it is about branch organisation, about equalities in general and about member representation. This rule amendment has an impact on members of all of the self-organised groups and could create a precedent of how we may be represented in the future.

A motion at Disabled Members Conference proposed a Disability Officer to work specifically on behalf of disabled members because disabled people encounter particular disadvantage in the workforce.

We are not denying that disabled members do face particular disadvantage but so do our Black members, our women members and our lgbt members. Will this just be the start of a barrage of rule amendments being submitted in the future?

Various reasons have been mooted why the post is required - employers not taking the DED seriously and more recently we were told that it is intended to be a caseworker taking on cases such as health and safety, sickness absence and capability hearings.

This rule amendment introduces a quagmire of equality and member representation at branch level and should be opposed. The amendment undermines the role of the equality officer, self organisation and workplace representatives. It introduces a hierarchy of equality epresentation and discrimination at branch level that we as a union have strived to overcome.

The rule book, code of good branch practice and guidance on self organisation already provide opportunity for branches to elect a disabled members officer and for members of self organised groups to be represented on the branch committee. But only 60% of branches have equalities officers whereas a fifth of all branches already have Disabled Members Officers in place.
This rule change proposes a Disabled Members Officer who may not be disabled and will not be elected by disabled members and may not have any connections with the branch disabled members self organised group.

The union has secured funding from the union modernisation fund for the workplace equality representatives project. This rule amendment confuses the aims of the project and should be opposed.

The key representatives for members in workplace issues are stewards – and equality is a workplace issue.

If a steward needs specialist advice on my disability, they can talk to me. If they need specialist advice on disability equality then can turn to the structures UNISON already has in place. It is every activist’s duty to take equality seriously. We should be all for one. Not one for all who are disabled or lgbt for that matter. Please oppose."

The result was For 538,903. Against 559,604. Amendment Lost. Majority Against 21,511.

For the truth behind the right of reply, read here.

A briefing paper has been produced to the reasons why the LGBT Group were opposed. I have read a few comments on blogs that the reasons we were opposed was the method in which the rule change had been approached i.e., without consultation. With or without consultation, the poposal is ill thought out and it is likely that our position would have remained the same. the arguments supporting the position were weak. It was suggested that it would help disabled people achieve in public life if they were elected into such positions. However, the very fact that the position does not have to be a disabled member means that is not necessarily the case. The mover stated that 881 branches already have Disabled Members Officers thereby proving that there is already provision for the position to exist. The argument that a DMO would deal with health and safety cases undermines workplaces and health and safety representatives and also detracts from the specialist area of disability equality. There is also an underlying current of medicalisation of disability and a movement away from self organisation to facilitation of disabled members. I even heard a comment that allowing should means that it would be easier for disabled people who have not disclosed their disability to take up the position. However, how could you then distinguish or share preference between the disable person who has not disclosed their disability and the non-disabled erson who run in a contested election? Nonsense.

UNISON National Delegate Conference - Women into Public Life

The motion on Women into Public Lfe at UNISON's National Delegate Conference although high up on the last day of business was sadly not reached. The SOGs had asked for this to be the theme of a fringe meeting and were told that ther might be a guest speaker instead. But we did not get a guest speaker on the topic, nor did we get a fringe and in fact all the guest speakers at conference were men.

The LGBT group believed this motion shows that as a society we still have a long way to go to achieving gender equality particularly when it comes to politics and public life.

Therefore we particularly welcomed the launch of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Women Councillors Taskforce this May by Harriet Harman. The cross party taskforce which will take practical action is intended to help more black, Asian and minority ethnic women to become councillors and will be done through a series of activities such as outreach into communities and mentoring. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women account for less than 1% of England’s 20,000 councillors. Only 2 of the 19.5% of the women MPs come from Minority Ethnic communities. There has never been an Asian woman MP.

We also welcome the Government’s announcement that the Equality Bill will include provision for political parties to allow the adoption of all-women shortlists until 2030.

As far as LGBT women, in 2008, there is only one ‘out’ lesbian politician in the House of Commons and none in the House of Lords. There are no out Trans MPs or Lords. And no-one who has said that they are bi-sexual.

Stonewall have just produced a report ‘Serves You Right’ - lesbian and gay people’s expectations of discrimination. A you.gov survey was carried out and found that the majority of lesbians and gay people expect to experience discrimination if they seek election by a political party or run for parliament. And Women are more likely to think this as two thirds of lesbians thought they would be discriminated against. Local politics was not much different.

Stonewall have recommended that political parties actively encourage their LGB members to run for positions and agree to deselect any candidate who engages in homophobic campaigning. Stonewall is a LGB campaigning group and obviously UNISON’s lgbt group would extend this to Trans people as well.

This year UNISON submitted a motion to LGBT Labour on increasing the effective participation of women. LGBT Labour has launched Dorothys List, a campaigning fund to support LGBT candidates particularly women running for election.

It's not just going to be a clicking of the heels for us to get into public life. We have a long journey ahead of us even down the red brick road.

UNISON Organising for Equality


At National Delegate Conference, a motion on Organising was debated which referred to the new Equality Reps Pilot Scheme. UNISON secured funding from the union modernisation fund to enable the development of the workplace equality representatives project. UNISON has always argued for statutory recognition for equality representatives and it is hoped that the success of this project and similar projects in other unions will achieve this.

The pilot project will assess how the role of "Equality Rep" can help branches negotiate around equalities particularly in relation to the public sector duties on disability, race and gender. It is proposed that the work of the Rep will include:
  • working with the Branch Equality Officer to advocate for good equality practices in the workplace

  • raising awareness within the workplace of the work the union and the branch does around equality

  • encouraging the branch to prioritise equality issues

  • signposting members with potential equality related cases to branch stewards.

Equality is a workplace issue and equality is the responsibility of everyone in UNISON. Our members are best represented in workplace issues by our accredited workplace representatives and stewards.

UNISON has produced guidance on self organisation which states that

When members need union representation in a workplace matter, this is usually provided by their elected workplace representative or steward. All union reps should be competent and confident in carrying out their role and be able to deal with all issues of equality and discrimination, while knowing how to access specialist advice when needed.

The equality reps supported by the Branch Equality Officer is intended to be able to provide that specialist advice and if needed they can also seek support from the branch self organised group if there is one in existence.

This is a new and exciting way of organising for equality and comes at a time when UNISON has also introduced the unison equality scheme.

National Delegate Conference - Motion 63 - New Labour: What do we get for our Money? - My view

As a LGBT person I can tell you exactly what I have got for my money from New Labour:

  • an equal age of consent
  • an end to discrimination against my partner for immigration purposes
  • the right to adopt children
  • the scrapping of Section 28 (Clause 2a in Scotland)
  • the banning of discrimination in the workplace and in vocational training with the introduction of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations
  • the creation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission giving LGBT people statutory body protection
  • the widening of the definition of hate crimes, and increased sentencing for homophobic hate crimes
  • the removal of outdated offences such as gross indecency and buggery
  • the Gender Recognition Act, allowing Trans people to have their true gender recognised in law
  • the Civil Partnerships Act, allowing me to have my relationships recognised in law and have the same benefits as a married couple
  • discrimination in good and services outlawed
  • And we await a draft single equality act which will be lost if the Tories get in power

Much of what has been achieved is because of the voices and opinions of trade unionists and (LGBT Labour activists) within the party and in my view the weakening of that link will silence our voice even more.

At a time when we are in real danger of facing the prospect of a Tory government, we should be rallying together not dividing because that is what the Tories want. A party that is divided. Trade Unions turning their back on the party that we built. Spending time reviewing the link when we have more urgent things to get on with like defeating the BNP and the Tories.

I am not saying that New Labour has not made some drastic mistakes and that we have had a battle on our hands and still do. I am not saying that our public services have been put under pressure, that our pay does not matter, that our pensions don’t and that our rights as trade unionists should be eroded. We still have a battle. But with the Tories it would be a war. It would not be positively public. It would be positively private. UNISON – the private service union.

There is all this talk about New labour and Old labour – we are talking about the labour party here – our party - not the Government. The party is different to the govenment. Who else is a viable alternative? Respect? Socialist Workers Party? Lib dems? Dare I say it - the Tories?

I choose to pay into the affiliated political fund and it is financed solely by members who pay the levy not by the general membership.

Arguments for Keeping the 'Blood Ban'?

A survey carried out by the Medical Reasearch Council has found that 40% of Gay Men with undiagnosed HIV infection presume that they were HIV negative. The study also found that risky sexual behaviour was more common among men who were aware of their HIV-positive status than among men who were undiagnosed or HIV negative; even more so in those who had been HIV positive longest.

About 2,700 gay men in the UK were diagnosed with HIV in 2006 - double the number a decade earlier. Theses represent about a third of all new cases that year. The Terence Higgins Trust says funding for prevention work among gay men is under threat and that there is not enough discussion of the issue within the gay community. Will Nutland from THT comments here.

Craig has blogged previously about gay men and blood donation.

Also see BBC News and Pink News

European Disability Forum Opposed to Horizontal Directive


After months of campaigning the European Commission announced that it will be proposing a horizontal directive on anti-discrimination covering all the grounds. This confirmed by Commissioner Barroso himself during a meeting with a Social Platform delegation. Barroso had also called two MEPs, Kathalijne Buiteweg and Michael Cashman to tell them about the decision. The text of the directive itself will be presented on 2nd July along with the new EU Social Package. Although it is important to celebrate this great achievement now, it may be likely that there is quite a battle ahead at the Council level. It was only three months ago that Commissioner Spidla told ILGA-Europe that he had limited hopes of including age and sexual orientation in a new directive, and that he had more or less given up on including the ground of religion and belief. This has been welcomed by many civil society organisations and trade unions.
After adoption by the Commissioners, the proposal will go to European Council. At this stage, the proposed text will be up for negotiations by Member States. This process is likely to be long since a directive related to non-discrimination (i.e. based on Article 13 of the EU Treaty) needs to be adopted unanimously, i.e. by ALL Member States.

But now there is news that that the European Disability Forum is opposing the horizontal directive on the basis that a single directive "may not respond to the needs of a group as diverse as persons with disabilities. We face not only attitudinal, but also structural discrimination, and it is only by addressing barriers in the society that such discrimination can be removed. We fear that these specificities of disability-based discrimination may be diluted by the broad scope of the proposed legislation." The oncerns have been raised in an open letter to Commissioner Barroso. Obviously these are genuine concerns but can be dealt with in the scope of a strong, single directive. This has been a similar concern raised over the Single Equality Bill in the UK but we have campaigned long and hard for levelling up not watering down. The danger is that other groups will be left out in the cold with limited rights.

The case for a single directive:

ILGA-Europe (The European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association) and the
European Network Against Racism (ENAR) have been arguing for the need to propose a single horizontal anti-discrimination Directive, covering the grounds of age, disability, religion/belief and sexual orientation. Here is a summary of arguments in favour of a single equality legislation. A single comprehensive legislation is the most effective way to ensure legal clarity and coherence in relation to levels of protection against discrimination. Experience has shown that a harmonized and coherent single legislation is easier to implement than a legislative framework fragmented by grounds. A single piece of legislation considerably increases the ability to adopt a consistent approach and to deal effectively with any inconsistencies and/or tensions that may rise between grounds of discrimination. It is for similar reasons that countries like the United Kingdom which had ground-specific legislation have been moving towards single equality legislation.

  • A single legislation provides individuals with a clear means to know their rights across the
    EU. Having separate laws leads to fragmented legislation which has been shown to be confusing to the public in many countries.


  • A single directive offers maximum legal clarity for businesses and other providers of goods
    and services. A harmonized legislation would mean that employers and service providers can rely on a coherent, transparent, accessible and easily understood body of law to be informed about their obligations. A single comprehensive legislation is the most effective way to ensure that all grounds of discrimination are treated equally and to address multiple discrimination:


  • Creating separate rules for different grounds of discrimination often creates significant barriers to dealing with multiple discrimination. For instance, different definitions of direct discrimination and indirect discrimination, or the different material scope of legislation from one ground to another would make it difficult, if not impossible, to address multiple discrimination.


  • A single directive underlines the human rights nature of the issue of discrimination regardless of the discrimination ground and enables potential conflicts of rights to be addressed within the human rights framework, avoiding any actual or perceived hierarchy of human rights. A single initiative CAN address the specificities of the different types of discrimination:


  • It is the opinion of several well-respected European legal experts that the specific needs of the grounds of sexual orientation, religion or belief, disability and age can be equally met within single equality legislation. The different range of provisions that may be necessary to respond to the characteristics of each ground of discrimination (such as reasonable accommodation for disability or preferential treatments related to age) can be integrated in a horizontal directive, for instance under different chapters.


  • The Employment Framework Directive 2000/78 already demonstrates how European legislation can combine general provisions applying to all grounds with specific provisions addressing the different context of certain grounds (e.g. the reasonable accommodation duty). Proposing a horizontal directive is the most effective way to ensure the strong
    endorsement of a wide-ranging coalition of supporters


  • A single directive that fully addresses the specificities of each ground would be supported by a wide coalition of NGOs working on human rights, equality and non-discrimination and social issues at European and national level. It would support and strengthen social cohesion as well as solidarity between the grounds.


  • Representatives from some States have clearly expressed to ILGA-Europe and ENAR that they will be more willing to agree to EU legislation on some grounds of discrimination as part of a “package”, which they consider to be easier to introduce in their country. Fragmenting the grounds of discrimination in different pieces of discrimination will open up the door to “trading” in negotiations and allow for States to have an “a la carte” approach to legislation whereby they can choose the grounds of discrimination they wish to see protected and those grounds they wish to reject. Due to the need for unanimity, this could result in no protection for any ground.


  • A single legislation would also receive the support of several political parties, of trade unions, as well as of European and national human rights institutions and equality bodies.

UNISON Rules Debate - Putting the Record Straight

I am going to blog more later about why the the LGBT group decided to oppose the NDMC rule amendment to introduce a branch disabled members officer. But I just wanted to put therecord straight to something that was raised in the right of reply. The NDMC delegate said that there had been full consultation with the other self organised groups. This is untrue. Prior to the rule amendment being submitted to the NDC preliminary agenda there had been no discussions between the groups. At an equality liaison meeting in January 2008, the decisions from Disabled Members Conference and LGBT Conference were on the agenda for noting. The motion from Disabled Members Conference which urged the NDMC to submit a rule change was not pointed out whereas the LGBT reps pointed out any motions that may have an implication for wider equality structures, may involve a rule change or may effect other self organised groups.

The NDMC decided to submit the rule amendment and the first the NLGBTC became aware of this would have been on the publication of the preliminary agenda, but for the NLGBTC rep on NDMC being aware this was a possibility. However, the NLGBTC only become formally aware on publication of NDC preliminary agenda. At no time did the NDMC chairs contact any of the other National SOG Committee chairs. The NLGBTC Co-chairs were concerned about the implications of the creation of the post and wrote to the Co-chairs of the NDMC expressing these concerns prior to the next Equality Liaison meeting in April 2008. At that meeting, no useful discussion took place between the SOGs about the rule amendment and there was definately no consultation but the NLGBTC did put the NDMC and the NEC on notice that they were considering opposing the rule amendment.

Following this, a formal ballot took place of all members of the NLGBTC who overwhelmingly voted in favour of opposing both the NDMC and Suffolk County rule amendments. Motions have been passed at previous LGBT conferences on self organisation and equality representation.

The National Womens Committee met at a later date and discussed the rule amendment with opposition being voiced. National Black Members Committee also met and discussed the rule amendment and as their delegate said that although they decided to speak in support the issue of whether or not to support went to a vote so was not achieved by consensus.

There was a meeting of the National Disabled Members Committee at the end of May 2008 and the NLGBTC reps on the committee once again were open and transparant about the opposition to the rule amendment and were even prepared to put some of the arguments forward. However, again there was limited discussion as to the reasons why the NLGBTC is opposed to the creation of such a post but more to the fact that it was disgraceful that another self organised group is opposing the NDMC!

A further equality liaison meeting was held at the start of June 2008 and once again the NLGBTC co-chairs raised their opposition including some of the reasons (and quite strongly) in the meeting to both the NEC and NDMC in the presence of the other self organised groups and Young Members Officer. Again, the NDMC would not enter into a discussion and the only discussion was between the NLGBTC and the NEC on this matter.

Finally, on the day of the debate, we even published some of our reasons why we were opposed in our conference newssheet.

The national LGBT group has been honest and transparant and tried to enter into dialogue with the NDMC from the moment that the preliminary agenda was published but without any response. We still have not received a response to the e-mail we sent to the NDMC co-chairs in April.

Trevor Phillips addresses NDC - The conscience of our Nation


The UK faces two great challenges, Equality and Human Rights Commission chair Trevor Phillips told conference: "How we live with our planet, and how we live with each other."It is this second that concerns the commission, he said, pointing out that the new super watchdog was charged with being "the conscience of our nation".It was a duty it would not shirk from, Mr Phillips said. Like UNISON and its members, the commission had "a passionate commitment to the basic values of decency and fairness for all, and to building a society where human rights were sacrosanct."Our commission, like your union, even if we know our position is not popular with the public, will stick with it," he said, speaking of his support for "an idealism that has fallen out of favour". Of both UNISON and the commission, he said: "We are not simply here for ourselves, but to protect the fundamental principles of equality and justice... to create a community that is better, more equal and more humane."We will be here to remind people that this is what decent, civilised societies strive to do."

UNISON elects new President


Sue Highton, a nurse from Sheffield, has become the leading lay officer of public service union UNISON after being elected president for 2008-9 at the first national executive council meeting following the union’s national delegate conference in Brighton.She succeeds Norma Stephenson a mental helth worker from Teesside.Born and brought up in Sheffield, Sue's first job was in a local Woolworth's; she became a nurse with the NHS in the Sheffield Care Trust in 1975.Sue became an active union member in 1979, during the infamous "winter of discontent", when a male colleague assigned her to early morning shifts while giving himself comfortable afternoon slots. Sue had three young children at the time, and so took action against him.Today’s NEC meeting also elected two vice presidents to work with Sue as the union’s new presidential team: Gerry Gallagher is a police staff member working for Durham Constabulary; Angela Lynes is a local government worker in Glasgow.

Tory MP states that gender reassignment surgery is a choice

Pink News have reported that Mark Pritchard Tory MP or Telford and Wrekin has claimed that gender reassignment is a matter of choice.

Aceessing gender reassignment surgery is already difficult and as one of UNISON's Trans members recently said " until we can get full and equal access across the uK from the NHS it is a post code lottery. Trans people will continue to have to relocate to access treatment leaving potentially vulnerable people unemployed and totally isolated and at greater risk of mental ill health including suicide and self harm".

This is echoed in Krissie's comments on the Pink News article.

Visit Press for Change website to read more about the difficulties that Trans people face in accssing treatment and the discrimination they face.

UNISON withdraws support from RISE festival

Angry delegates today agreed to withdraw UNISON's financial support from the GLA-organised RISE festival, in protest at Boris Johnson's decision to drop the festival's anti-racist message. RISE was originally established by the TUC, as a dedication to the memory of Stephen Lawrence and other black citizens who have suffered from racism. It has since become the largest anti-racist festival in Europe. Regardless of this, the London mayor has declared that the festival would no longer have an anti-racist political purpose, and was instead "a celebration of music and culture."He has also banned the National Assembly Against Racism and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign from taking part. The BNP's newly-elected GLA member Richard Barnbrook has congratulated Mrt Johnson on the move. Annette Mansell-Green of the NEC told conference that the festival, which was supported in its original purpose by former mayor Ken Livingstone, "has become an important response to the rise of the right, especially the BNP. "The whole point of the festival is to support an anti-racist message and bring together thousands of people in the fight to keep the BNP out of London. This is political censorship, and UNISON will not stand for it." Ms Mansell-Green, joint chair of the general political fund which pays for the union's anti-racism campaigning, added: "No GPF money will go to RISE this year or any other year as long as it's not an anti-racist festival". Gloria Hanson of Greater London region, which has also decided to withhold financial support of the festival, called Mr Johnson "a disgrace", and his decision "an insult to London, an insult to trade unions and most importantly an insult to the memory of Stephen Lawrence." Delegates backed the move by the GPF and the region, urging the NEC to widely publicise their condemnation.

UNITE has also pulled funeding because Johnson refused a platform for the Cuba Solidarity Campaign saying that it was a political campaign group and therefore unacceptable.

Read more: Guardian News. NAAR's Reaction. BNP support Johnson's decision.

Also see Johnson aide quits over race row

UNISON 2007 / 2008

Watch here

James Clancy addresses Conference

Watch here

Dave Prentis addresses Conference

Prentis issues battle warning. Read here.

Watch here.


For views see Jon's union blog and Union Futures.

Show Racism the Red Card


Watch here

Union Futures Reporting from Conference

Union Futures

20 Jun 2008

UNISON National Delegate Conference - Official Reporting

Opening of Conference

The annual report

Gun and Knife Crime

Defending the minimum wage

Shared services

Diversity is not the problem

General Secretary's Address

Violence and aggression against staff

Support for Vulnerable Workers

Celebrate and Defending the NHS

Defending In-house services

Equal Pay funding

Widening Wealth Gap

Marketisation Threat

Teaching Assistants

Solidarity with Southern Africa

Gaza Siege Condemned

Colombia. Also read here.

Burma

Flexicurity

Ending the two-tier workforce

Zimbabwean Unions Discuss Support

Responsible contractor policy for pensions

In pictures

Video

Tanker drivers offered 14% over 2 years


Chancellor Alistair Darling also said the above-inflation pay deal was due to "particular problems" confined to the tanker dispute. "Settlements overall over the last 12 months are around 3.5% which is consistent with our inflation target," Mr Darling told the BBC. His comments come a day after the latest UK inflation data showed the annual rate rose to 3.3% in May, up from 3% in April and well above the target of 2%. Bank of England governor Mervyn King has warned that rising food and energy prices could push UK consumer inflation above 4% this year.

Just shows that public service workers have been forced to settle for below inflation targets and no account has been taken of the particular problems that we face.

15 Jun 2008

Local Government Conference

Carry on Campaigning

Apprentices welcome but...

Warning Over Shared Services

Get Involved

We'll fight tooth and nail for services

Live blogging from Local Government Conference



Don't forget to keep up to date with what Jon Rogers is saying.

UNISON National Delegate Conference


UNISON Conference Season has finally arrived. At the moment service groups conference are being held and no doubt there will be lots of debate at Local Government Conference on pensions and the pay offer. Equalities features highly with motions on the single equality act, public duties, local area agreements and the race equality duty, lgbt rights at work and women in local government.

National Delegate Conference looks interesting with a closed debate on equal pay, a debate on New Labour - what do we get for our money and what is likely to be be a controversial debate around the National Disabled Members Committee's rule amendment to introduce a Branch Disabled Members Officer which is to be opposed by the National LGBT Committee.

Other motions of interest for the National LGBT Committee include our own Making LGBT Equality a Reality and Human Rights are Fundamental. Also Women into Public Life, Organising, Human Rights in Sauda Arabia, Fighting the Far Right and Abortion Rights.

UNISON on You Tube

Watch here

Craig's LGBT Blog: Pastoral letter from Bishop Andrus regarding same sex marriage in California

Craig's LGBT Blog: Pastoral letter from Bishop Andrus regarding same sex marriage in California

The Big Anglican Gay Wedding


Traditionalists in the Anglican Church have been angered by reports that two gay clergymen have exchanged vows in a version of a marriage ceremony. The service, at St Bartholomew the Great Church in the City of London last month, used formal rites and was said to be the first in the Anglican Church. The event has no legal status but critics say it flouted guidelines.
The Reverend Peter Cowell and the Reverend Dr David Lord were already civil partners.
The couple are said to have exchanged vows and rings in front of hundreds of guests.

Read more. See what Thinking Anglicans say.



14 Jun 2008

Hamish Howitt to stand gainst David Davis


Pro-smoking v pro-terrorist that is Hamish Guy Fawkes Howitt's message. Blackpool's smoking ban rebel landlord has revealed he is to take on resigning Tory MP David Davis and stand for parliament. Hamish Howitt, who owns two pubs on Rigby Road, Blackpool, has consistently campaigned against the smoking ban and allowed customers to smoke in one of his bars since the ban came in last July. And he now plans to catapult the issue into the national spotlight by taking on the former shadow home secretary. Davis shocked the world of politics by stepping down from his post on Thursday to fight a by-election in his Haltemprice and Howden constituency, near Hull, on the issue of 42-day detention limit for terror suspects. And Howitt, standing under the party name Freedom to Choose, intends to challenge him, saying Mr Davis is standing up for terrorists while failing to stand up for: "ordinary working class smokers." "The man is a hypocrite and what he's doing is a publicity stunt," he said."Why, if he is campaigning about the erosion of civil liberties, is he standing up for the rights of suspected terrorists but not smokers?" My priority is to expose David Davis' hypocrisy and I actually think the majority of the public back plans for 42 days detention anyway. I'm hoping to arrange a big meeting and drum up some support. My wife is from near the constituency, so I have got some experience of the area." Mr Howitt, 55, who owns non-smoking Delboy's Sports Bar and the pro-smoking Happy Scots Bar, has also secured funding for his campaign from millionaire businessman David West, who himself defied the smoking ban at his nightclub in London. As well as Davis, he will likely be challenging Kelvin MacKenzie, the former Sun newspaper editor, who, backed by his former boss Rupert Murdoch, revealed he was likely to stand in favour of the 42-day detention limit. And another person set to be challenged by Howitt is Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden. The landlord has revealed that if he is unsuccessful against Mr Davis, he plans to oppose Mr Marsden at the next General Election."It's hard to take on the party machines," he said."I've got no money, no secretary or anything like that but someone needs to stand up for the ordinary working class people."Britain is crying out for someone to challenge the monopoly and lies of the big parties and that's what I've tried to do in standing up for smokers."The Labour Party and Liberal Democrats will not field candidates in the by-election, which takes place next month. Both Howitt and his wife Jo, from Park Road, Blackpool, face outstanding charges of breaking the smoking ban, and are due to appear at Blackpool Magistrates Court facing four charges each on Wednesday.Last November, Howitt became the first landlord in the country to be convicted of breaking the smoking ban, but efforts by Blackpool Council to close his bars down have so far been unsuccessful.

(Repreoduced from Blackpool Gazette 14th June 2008)


It will be interesting to see if Howitt and Mackenzie lock horns given the latters slurs on Scots despite his name.

Shell shocked


Unite the union which still which boasts 2 million voices reports that talks have broken down between Shell tanker drivers and Haver and Suckling. "Shell's failure to intervene in this dispute means that Shell's drivers have no alternative other than to go ahead with strike action, beginning on Friday June 13th, 2008. This dispute could have been resolved if Shell had advanced a fraction of the billions of pounds in profit they make every month. One of the world's richest companies is prepared to play Pontius Pilate and see the British public inconvenienced rather than settle this dispute for a sum smaller than the chairman's pay increase last year."

Unite says that Shell tanker drivers today earn a basic wage of just under £32,000 per year for a 48-hour working week. In 1992, a typical tanker driver directly employed by Shell earned approximately £32,000 per year for a 37-hour week. Well what have the unions been doing to allow this to happen?

Industrial action has now begun which has sparked panic buying. The companies say unions rejected a pay offer which would have taken the drivers' average salary to £41,500 by January 2009. But the Unite union says the offer would have increased salaries from just under £32,000 to £36,000.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has urged both sides of the dispute to resume negotiations, adding that contingency plans were in place to minimise the effects of the walkout. This has gained criticism particularly from the Left who see Brown as attacking the very right of trade unionists to strike:

LRC stated in a press release that the 'Labour movement unites against Government attack on right to strike'
"In a further erosion of our civil liberties, the Government has briefed the press that it is threatening to invoke emergency powers, contained within the Civil Contingencies Act, in the oil tanker drivers' dispute to draft in soldiers to drive the tankers. The drivers are members of UNITE. There is widespread concern within Parliament about these proposals as MPs have tabled EDM 1761 (full text at end) on this issue. John McDonnell MP, LRC Chair, said
"Just after the vote on 42 days detention you thought the assault on people's civil liberties couldn't get worse. When the Government introduced the Civil Contingencies Act many of us warned that it would be used against trade unionists and this latest threat from Downing Street confirms our concerns that emergency powers could be used to undermine trade union rights.
Just at a time when there are attempts to achieve a negotiated settlement to the tanker drivers' dispute this inflammatory threat will exacerbate the situation and undermine the potential for resolving the dispute." Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary, said: "The FBU is extremely concerned about the potential of the Civil Contingencies Act to be used to organise strike-breaking. There is no evidence that the UK fire service has ever failed to respond adequately to the seriousness of terrorist events. We believe that some employers, with the encouragement of the Government, are using this legislation to organise strike-breaking activities that can only undermine good industrial relations. We would urge the Government to avoid inflammatory actions against trade unions in the event of industrial action".
-Ends-

EDM 1761 Tanker Drivers' Dispute
That this House regrets that Government sources this week have threatened the use of emergency powers against striking tanker drivers, who are members of Unite, including through the drafting-in of soldiers to drive tankers for oil companies; and believes this inflammatory threat sets back the process of achieving a negotiated settlement in this dispute.
John McDonnell Jeremy Corbyn Peter Bottomley Kelvin Hopkins Linda Riordan

Its hardly that the emergency powers are being considered to strike break and not as an immediate measure but are being considered to avert a civil crisis should one arise. Shell cannot legitimately think that the armed forces can continue tto drive their tankers for ever. We have already seen panic buying just one day in to the action and today there was a blockade on the M6 which caused tailbacks and delays and could have resulted in an emergency.

I believe in every workers right to stike but I also believe in being fully aware of the facts. And far be it for me to believe the employers but they are saying that a pay offer which would have brought the average wage to £41,000 has been rejected. UNITE say the increase would bring the increase to £36, 000. I know it is a dangerous job and long hours, often unsociable. But so is working in the public sector and we get offered 2.45% with many of us on much less than £32, 000 in the first place for a 37 hour working week with many of us working outside those hours unpaid.

A step nearer towards a horizontal directive


The European Commission has announced it will bring forward an all inclusive anti-discrimination Directive. The European Commission had made a significant decision to bring forward a horizontal Directive combating discrimination in access to services and goods on grounds of disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief and age. The European Parliament's Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights congratulated the Commission on the right decision, which will end the hierarchy of discrimination in Europe and protect all European citizens equally. "We thank all those who have been involved in the campaign for an all inclusive non-discrimination Directive", said Michael Cashman, President of the Intergroup. "We congratulate the Commission and in particular Commissioner Spidla and President Barroso on doing the right thing. As ever the details of the proposal will be keenly awaited and scrutinised. And we will work with the Council and Commission to achieve our goal of making Europe a brighter, fairer, equal place to work and to live."

7 Jun 2008

Hilary Clinton endorses Barack Obama


Hilary Clinton endorses Barack Obama and says the democrats need to put all their strength behind him to get him elected as the next President of the US.
After saying that her supporters need to help Barack Obama get elected as the President, she then talks about the barriers that women still face implying that this may have affected her success. She says that this time the highest glass ceiling could not be broken but it has been cracked.

Lou's Blog: Putting her Straight!

Lou's Blog: Putting her Straight!

Police to investigate Iris Robinson over comments

British Embassy in Warsaw to fly Rainbow flag


Today is Warsaw Pride and the British Embassy is to fly a rainbow flag. Last week the Britsh Embassy in Riga flew a rainbow flag for the Equality March. Read more at Pink News. The Equality March in Riga had been threatened with disruption from the far right and at some stage there was also the possibility that it may have been banned. See here for a letter that has been sent to the authorites in Riga about restrictions on the march. Also in May, Around 200 gay activists marched through Bucharest, Romania in a heavily policed pride parade that defied efforts by religious and far-right groups to have the annual event banned.
This mark of solidarity is very much a result of the FCO's LGBT toolkit and is a symbol of the good work that has been carried out between LGBT stakeholders and the FCO over the past two years.
Warsaw will be host to 2010 Europride.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!

Barack declares himself the presidential candidate.

Hilary at first makes no decisions but then finally decides to formally end her marathon bid to become the United States' first woman president. She will use a party for campaign staff and supporters to suspend her 16-month campaign to become the Democratic Party's nominee.
She is expected to throw both her election machinery and support behind nominee Barack Obama.

Obama v McCain - World Views
China
South Asia
Russia
Britain

US Elections Issues Guide

Putting her Straight!

Iris Robinson DUP MP who is Chair of the Stormont Health Committee has said that with help gay people can be "turned around". She said on Radio Ulster that "I have a very lovely psychiatrist who works with me in my offices and his Christian background is that he tries to help homosexuals - trying to turn away from what they are engaged in," and "I'm happy to put any homosexual in touch with this gentleman and I have met people who have turned around and become heterosexuals."

The Rainbow Project have asked to meet with Ms Robinson to try and turn her around. Sinn Féin's Education Minister Catríona Ruane said politicians should be guided by equality legislation. "There are equality laws in the north of Ireland," she said. "I think it is really important that politicians play a leadership role and that leadership role should be not to say anything that could possibly inflame the situation or cause further distress." In a statement the Royal College of Psychiatrists reiterated that homosexuality was not a psychiatric disorder.

4 Jun 2008

3 Jun 2008

The Audacity of Hope


The Audacity of Hope is certainly what has got Barack where he is now.

In his speech addressing the Democratic National Convention in 2004, Obama said:

In the end, that's what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope? John Kerry calls on us to hope. John Edwards calls on us to hope. I'm not talking about blind optimism here -- the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don't talk about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. No, I'm talking about something more substantial. It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker's son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!

Two years later Barack wrote his book 'The Audacity of Hope' and this excerpt from the prologue reveals just what the title and he stands for:

"It's been almost ten years since I first ran for political office. I was thirty-five at the time, four years out of law school, recently married, and generally impatient with life. A seat in the Illinois legislature had opened up, and several friends suggested that I run, thinking that my work as a civil rights lawyer, and contacts from my days as a community organizer, would make me a viable candidate. After discussing it with my wife, I entered the race and proceeded to do what every first-time candidate does: I talked to anyone who would listen. I went to block club meetings and church socials, beauty shops and barbershops. If two guys were standing on a corner, I would cross the street to hand them campaign literature. And everywhere I went, I'd get some version of the same two questions.
"Where'd you get that funny name?"
And then: "You seem like a nice enough guy. Why do you want to go into something dirty and nasty like politics?"
I was familiar with the question, a variant on the questions asked of me years earlier, when I'd first arrived in Chicago to work in low-income neighborhoods. It signaled a cynicism not simply with politics but with the very notion of a public life, a cynicism that–at least in the South Side neighborhoods I sought to represent–had been nourished by a generation of broken promises. In response, I would usually smile and nod and say that I understood the skepticism, but that there was–and always had been–another tradition to politics, a tradition that stretched from the days of the country's founding to the glory of the civil rights movement, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another, and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done. It was a pretty convincing speech, I thought. And although I'm not sure that the people who heard me deliver it were similarly impressed, enough of them appreciated my earnestness and youthful swagger that I made it to the Illinois legislature.
Six years later, when I decided to run for the United States Senate, I wasn't so sure of myself.
By all appearances, my choice of careers seemed to have worked out. After spending my two terms during which I labored in the minority, Democrats had gained control of the state senate, and I had subsequently passed a slew of bills, from reforms of the Illinois death penalty system to an expansion of the state's health program for kids. I had continued to teach at the University of Chicago Law School, a job I enjoyed, and was frequently invited to speak around town. I had preserved my independence, my good name, and my marriage, all of which, statistically speaking, had been placed at risk the moment I set foot in the state capital.
But the years had also taken their toll. Some of it was just a function of my getting older, I suppose, for if you are paying attention, each successive year will make you more intimately acquainted with all of your flaws–the blind spots, the recurring habits of thought that may be genetic or may be environmental, but that will almost certainly worsen with time, as surely as the hitch in your walk turns to pain in your hip. In me, one of those flaws had proven to be a chronic restlessness; an inability to appreciate, no matter how well things were going, those blessings that were right there in front of me. It's a flaw that is endemic to modern life, I think–endemic, too, in the American character–and one that is nowhere more evident than in the field of politics. Whether politics actually encourages the trait or simply attracts those who possess it is unclear. Lyndon Johnson, who knew much about both politics and restlessness, once said that every man is trying to either live up to his father's expectations or make up for his father's mistakes, and I suppose that may explain my particular malady as well as anything else.
In any event, it was as a consequence of that restlessness that I decided to challenge a sitting Democratic incumbent for his congressional seat in the 2000 election cycle. It was an ill-considered race, and I lost badly–the sort of drubbing that awakens you to the fact that life is not obliged to work out as you'd planned. A year and a half later, the scars of that loss sufficiently healed, I had lunch with a media consultant who had been encouraging me for some time to run for statewide office. As it happened, the lunch was scheduled for late September 2001.
"You realize, don't you, that the political dynamics have changed," he said as he picked at his salad.
"What do you mean?" I asked, knowing full well what he meant. We both looked down at the newspaper beside him. There, on the front page, was Osama bin Laden.
"Hell of a thing, isn't it?" he said, shaking his head. "Really bad luck. You can't change your name, of course. Voters are suspicious of that kind of thing. Maybe if you were at the start of your career, you know, you could use a nickname or something. But now... "His voice trailed off and he shrugged apologetically before signaling the waiter to bring us the check.
I suspected he was right, and that realization ate away at me. For the first time in my career, I began to experience the envy of seeing younger politicians succeed where I had failed, moving into higher offices, getting more things done. The pleasures of politics–the adrenaline of debate, the animal warmth of shaking hands and plunging into a crowd–began to pale against the meaner tasks of the job: the begging for money, the long drives home after the banquet had run two hours longer than scheduled, the bad food and stale air and clipped phone conversations with a wife who had stuck by me so far but was pretty fed up with raising our children alone and was beginning to question my priorities. Even the legislative work, the policymaking that had gotten me to run in the first place, began to feel too incremental, too removed from the larger battles–over taxes, security, health care, and jobs–that were being waged on a national stage. I began to harbor doubts about the path I had chosen; I began feeling the way I imagine an actor or athlete must feel when, after years of commitment to a particular dream, after years of waiting tables between auditions or scratching out hits in the minor leagues, he realizes that he's gone just about as far as talent or fortune will take him. The dream will not happen, and he now faces the choice of accepting this fact like a grown-up and moving on to more sensible pursuits, or refusing the truth and ending up bitter, quarrelsome, and slightly pathetic.
Denial, anger, bargaining, despair–I'm not sure I went through all the stages prescribed by the experts. At some point, though, I arrived at acceptance–of my limits, and, in a way, my mortality. I refocused on my work in the state senate and took satisfaction from the reforms and initiatives that my position afforded. I spent more time at home, and watched my daughters grow, and properly cherished my wife, and thought about my long-term financial obligations. I exercised, and read novels, and came to appreciate how the earth rotated around the sun and the seasons came and went without any particular exertions on my part.
And it was this acceptance, I think, that allowed me to come up with the thoroughly cockeyed idea of running for the United States Senate. An up-or-out strategy was how I described it to my wife, one last shot to test out my ideas before I settled into a calmer, more stable, and better-paying existence. And she–perhaps more out of pity than conviction–agreed to this one last race, though she also suggested that given the orderly life she preferred for our family, I shouldn't necessarily count on her vote.
I let her take comfort in the long odds against me. The Republican incumbent, Peter Fitzgerald, had spent $19 million of his personal wealth to unseat the previous senator, Carol Moseley Braun. He wasn't widely popular; in fact he didn't really seem to enjoy politics all that much. But he still had unlimited money in his family, as well as a genuine integrity that had earned him grudging respect from the voters.
For a time Carol Moseley Braun reappeared, back from an ambassadorship in New Zealand and with thoughts of trying to reclaim her old seat; her possible candidacy put my own plans on hold. When she decided to run for the presidency instead, everyone else started looking at the Senate race. By the time Fitzgerald announced he would not seek re-election, I was staring at six primary opponents, including the sitting state comptroller; a businessman worth hundreds of millions of dollars; Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's former chief of staff; and a black, female health care professional who the smart money assumed would split the black vote and doom whatever slim chances I'd had in the first place.
I didn't care. Freed from worry by low expectations, my credibility bolstered by several helpful endorsements, I threw myself into the race with an energy and joy that I thought I had lost. I hired four staffers, all of them smart, in their twenties or early thirties, and suitably cheap. We found a small office, printed letterhead, installed phone lines and several computers. Four or five hours a day, I called major Democratic donors and tried to get my calls returned. I held press conferences to which nobody came. We signed up for the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade and were assigned the parade's very last slot, so that my ten volunteers and I found ourselves marching just a few paces ahead of the city's sanitation trucks, waving to the few stragglers who remained on the route while workers swept up garbage and peeled green shamrock stickers off the lampposts.
Mostly, though, I just traveled, often driving alone, first from ward to ward in Chicago, then from county to county and town to town, eventually up and down the state, across miles and miles of cornfields and beanfields and train tracks and silos. It wasn't an efficient process. Without the machinery of the state's Democratic Party organization, without any real mailing list or Internet operation, I had to rely on friends or acquaintances to open their houses to who ever might come, or to arrange for my visit to their church, union hall, bridge group, or Rotary Club. Sometimes, after several hours of driving, I would find just two or three people waiting for me around a kitchen table. I would have to assure the hosts that the turnout was fine and compliment them on the refreshments they'd prepared. Sometimes I would sit through a church service and the pastor would forget to recognize me, or the head of the union local would let me speak to his members just before announcing that the union had decided to endorse someone else.
But whether I was meeting with two people or fifty, whether I was in one of the well-shaded, stately homes of the North Shore, a walk-up apartment on the West Side, or a farmhouse outside Bloomington, whether people were friendly, indifferent, or occasionally hostile, I tried my best to keep my mouth shut and hear what they had to say. I listened to people talk about their jobs, their businesses, the local school; their anger at Bush and their anger at Democrats; their dogs, their back pain, their war service, and the things they remembered from childhood. Some had well-developed theories to explain the loss of manufacturing jobs or the high cost of health care. Some recited what they had heard on Rush Limbaugh or NPR. But most of them were too busy with work or their kids to pay much attention to politics, and they spoke instead of what they saw before them: a plant closed, a promotion, a high heating bill, a parent in a nursing home, a child's first step.
No blinding insights emerged from these months of conversation. If anything, what struck me was just how modest people's hopes were, and how much of what they believed seemed to hold constant across race, region, religion, and class. Most of them thought that anybody willing to work should be able to find a job that paid a living wage. They figured that people shouldn't have to file for bankruptcy because they got sick. They believed that every child should have a genuinely good education–that it shouldn't just be a bunch of talk–and that those same children should be able to go to college even if their parents weren't rich. They wanted to be safe, from criminals and from terrorists; they wanted clean air, clean water, and time with their kids. And when they got old, they wanted to be able to retire with some dignity and respect.
That was about it. It wasn't much. And although they understood that how they did in life depended mostly on their own efforts–although they didn't expect government to solve all their problems, and certainly didn't like seeing their tax dollars wasted–they figured that government should help.
I told them that they were right: government couldn't solve all their problems. But with a slight change in priorities we could make sure every child had a decent shot at life and meet the challenges we faced as a nation. More often than not, folks would nod in agreement and ask how they could get involved. And by the time I was back on the road, with a map on the passenger's seat, on my way to my next stop, I knew once again just why I'd gone into politics.
I felt like working harder than I'd ever worked in my life.
This book grows directly out of those conversations on the campaign trail. Not only did my encounters with voters confirm the fundamental decency of the American people, they also reminded me that at the core of the American experience are a set of ideals that continue to stir our collective conscience; a common set of values that bind us together despite our differences; a running thread of hope that makes our improbable experiment in democracy work. These values and ideals find expression not just in the marble slabs of monuments or in the recitation of history books. They remain alive in the hearts and minds of most Americans–and can inspire us to pride, duty, and sacrifice.
I recognize the risks of talking this way. In an era of globalization and dizzying technological change, cutthroat politics and unremitting culture wars, we don't even seem to possess a shared language with which to discuss our ideals, much less the tools to arrive at some rough consensus about how, as a nation, we might work together to bring those ideals about. Most of us are wise to the ways of admen, pollsters, speechwriters, and pundits. We know how high-flying words can be deployed in the service of cynical aims, and how the noblest sentiments can be subverted in the name of power, expedience, greed, or intolerance. Even the standard high school history textbook notes the degree to which, from its very inception, the reality of American life has strayed from its myths. In such a climate, any assertion of shared ideals or common values might seem hopelessly naive, if not downright dangerous–an attempt to gloss over serious differences over policy and performance or, worse, a means of muffling the complaints of those who feel ill served by our current institutional arrangements.
My argument, however, is that we have no choice. You don't need a poll to know that the vast majority of Americans–Republican, Democrat, and independent–are weary of the dead zone that politics has become, in which narrow interests vie for advantage and ideological minorities seek to impose their own versions of absolute truth. Whether we're from red states or blue states, we feel in our gut the lack of honesty, rigor, and common sense in our policy debates, and dislike what appears to be a continuous menu of false or cramped choices. Religious or secular, black, white, or brown, we sense– correctly–that the nation's most significant challenges are being ignored, and that if we don't change course soon, we may be the first generation in a very long time that leaves behind a weaker and more fractured America than the one we inherited. Perhaps more than any other time in our recent history, we need a new kind of politics, one that can excavate and build upon those shared understandings that pull us together as Americans.
That's the topic of this book: how we might begin the process of changing our politics and our civic life. This isn't to say that I know exactly how to do it. I don't. Although I discuss in each chapter a number of our most pressing policy challenges, and suggest in broad strokes the path I believe we should follow, my treatment of the issues is often partial and incomplete. I offer no unifying theory of American government, nor do these pages provide a manifesto for action, complete with charts and graphs, timetables and ten-point plans.
Instead what I offer is something more modest: personal reflections on those values and ideals that have led me to public life, some thoughts on the ways that our current political discourse unnecessarily divides us, and my own best assessment–based on my experience as a senator and lawyer, husband and father, Christian and skeptic–of the ways we can ground our politics in the notion of a common good.
Let me be more specific about how the book is organized. Chapter One takes stock of our recent political history and tries to explain some of the sources for today's bitter partisanship. In Chapter Two, I discuss those common values that might serve as the foundation for a new political consensus. Chapter Three explores the Constitution not just as a source of individual rights, but also as a means of organizing a democratic conversation around our collective future. In Chapter Four, I try to convey some of the institutional forces–money, media, interest groups, and the legislative process–that stifle even the best-intentioned politician. And in the remaining five chapters, I suggest how we might move beyond our divisions to effectively tackle concrete problems: the growing economic insecurity of many American families, the racial and religious tensions within the body politic, and the transnational threats–from terrorism to pandemic–that gather beyond our shores.
I suspect that some readers may find my presentation of these issues to be insufficiently balanced. To this accusation, I stand guilty as charged. I am a Democrat, after all; my views on most topics correspond more closely to the editorial pages of the New York Times than those of the Wall Street Journal. I am angry about policies that consistently favor the wealthy and powerful over average Americans, and insist that government has an important role in opening up opportunity to all. I believe in evolution, scientific inquiry, and global warming; I believe in free speech, whether politically correct or politically incorrect, and I am suspicious of using government to impose anybody's religious beliefs–including my own–on non-believers. Furthermore, I am a prisoner of my own biography: I can't help but view the American experience through the lens of a black man of mixed heritage, forever mindful of how generations of people who looked like me were subjugated and stigmatized, and the subtle and not so subtle ways that race and class continue to shape our lives.
But that is not all that I am. I also think my party can be smug, detached, and dogmatic at times. I believe in the free market, competition, and entrepreneurship, and think no small number of government programs don't work as advertised. I wish the country had fewer lawyers and more engineers. I think America has more often been a force for good than for ill in the world; I carry few illusions about our enemies, and revere the courage and competence of our military. I reject a politics that is based solely on racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or victimhood generally. I think much of what ails the inner city involves a breakdown in culture that will not be cured by money alone, and that our values and spiritual life matter at least as much as our GDP.
Undoubtedly, some of these views will get me in trouble. I am new enough on the national political scene that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views. As such, I am bound to disappoint some, if not all, of them. Which perhaps indicates a second, more intimate theme to this book–namely, how I, or anybody in public office, can avoid the pitfalls of fame, the hunger to please, the fear of loss, and thereby retain that kernel of truth, that singular voice within each of us that reminds us of our deepest commitments.
Recently, one of the reporters covering Capitol Hill stopped me on the way to my office and mentioned that she had enjoyed reading my first book. "I wonder," she said, "if you can be that interesting in the next one you write." By which she meant, I wonder if you can be honest now that you are a U.S. senator.
I wonder, too, sometimes. I hope writing this book helps me answer the question."