Monday, 29 October 2012


Last week was full of TUC general Secretaries; well 2 anyway; the current GS Brendan Barber and the GS designate, Frances O'Grady.

Brendan was speaking at the retirement Gig for an old friend, Jonathan Baume, the General Secretary of the FDA, the top civil servants union. Jonathan has been in his role for nearly 13 years and so overlaps myself and we have got to know each other well (he is an Anglican on the Catholic wing too!). ACEVO and the FDA have much in common as a "bosses union". His leaving do at the Atheneum was a joy. Packed to the gunnells with present and past Permanent Secretaries and other doyens of the establishment, we even had Francis Maude MP making a valedictory address; that was after a witty and punchy speech from Brendan. But it was also packed with the Union establishment; my old friend Ray Collins who I knew doing education for the TGWU (now Unite) in Transport House back in the 70s was there. Of course he is very grand now as Lord Collins following his sterling career as the Labour Party GS.

So a networking dream; had a fascinating chat with Sir David Normington who, as the civil service Commissioner is my Boss as one of the independent public appointment assessors. He is about to become Vice Chair of NSPCC and they are recruiting now for a new CEO.

My second TUC event was an ACEVO lunch on Friday with Frances and a group of my members to talk about relations between unions and the sector. As I said, these ought to be better. Anyone who knows the union movement realises the important work they do in both supporting and representing members, in ensuring proper health and safety regulations are adhered to, and in training. They have been a strong force for promoting diversity (despite the rather overwhelmingly macho image of the leadership) and the TUC in particular have a great record on economic analysis and advocacy.

This is often drowned out by the more strident voices and an image that they see the third sector as an inferior place to work compared to the public sector. The rhetoric on "trojan horses" and "marketisation" is hardly helpful to rational debate on the future of public services and can be seen as degrading the mainstream work of many staff in our sector. Its also a curious recruitment strategy and one of the reasons union membership in our sector is weak.

We had a useful debate on these issues; Frances reminded me she had worked in the voluntary sector, just as I had once worked in the TGWU! And Joe Irvin, NAVCA, reminded us he had gone from working in the TGWU to the voluntary sector. He, Ray aka Lord Collins, and I were good friends from those days!

I had to dash from the lunch as I was on the Judging Panel for the Health Services Journal innovation awards (a fascinating experience!)so I missed the news item about Kate Allen. Apparently Unite have demanded her resignation. Unite seem to be specialising in these personal attacks; there is a long list of people who they want to expel or resign.

There may well be issues in Amnesty International which have led to the recent strike but these need to resolved in an appropriate fashion; attacking Kate is disgraceful. Kate is a great Sector leader, her work in Amnesty over the years has been a beacon in highlighting the plight of prisoners of conscience;including many trade unionists locked up for their union activities. Attacking her in this way seems a funny way for a union to act.

But overall a good discussion and Joe and I promised to reflect on how we can move relationships on in a way that reflects what we both have to offer in building a better and more just society.

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