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Employer Wish List

please excuse the muddled editing that comes of disabled short-term memory; I don't know at the end of the page what I wrote at the start.

Anti bullying notes in the staff handbook

Are almost self-contradictory. If you work in the sort of place where people write a "policy" and put it in the staff handbook or on the wall, then it's also likely to be a place where machiavellis at all levels find ways around them, ignore warnings from their human resources staff, and so-on. Otherwise, what would be the point of a policy? Some people think "policy" is a sensible word but some of them are people who sit on committees and decide how other people do the work - that's how silly they are and it isn't big or clever or grown-up at all. It's just a sort of courtier class of people who insert themselves between payments inwards and payroll-out.

"Do you mind if I just grab £60,000 for bullying and machiavellianism? I won't be here long. Don't mind me, by the way, you won't hear from me and if I hear from you I'll fire you. The rest of the time I'll just find excuses to avoid the difficult decisions like how to organise an operating theatre and big-up the difficulties of commissioning software or fiddling a governement grant. I'm no trouble at all."

Silly as it sounds it is the normal way of running PLCs and taxpayer-funded organisations while alternatives are limited to small firms and sole traders: for anyone who wants to work in a large firm, the courtiers who get between the shareholders and the staff or the taxpayers and the staff are the people in power.

Anti Machiavelli policy in the staff handbook

This is a contradiction too: the consultants who are hired to write staff handbooks don't go back to their home offices and think

"what shall I do?"
"I know - I'll write myself a staff handbook to answer the question"

Nor do stallholders or builders. Nor does your newsagent. The only people who have staff handbooks are the ones who want to break their own rules after charging the taxpayer hundreds of pounds for writing them. Or, just possibly, to help those middle managers who simply don't know whether to be good or bad and need it written down in a book for them, and to have something to point to if someone up or down the management line disagrees. The rule is: make it look like you've followed a rule and the tribunal system

This rather plodding role in life leaves staff handbooks on the shelf. They never shed their lever arch overcoats, go on holiday and come back with new ideas about how to prevent staff bullying. What would they think of if they could get off the shelf?

A happy staff handbook would overcome a list of difficulties.
I think they are the problems of too little staff control.

  1. Takings fall: will staff accept a wage cut or do you cut-down to the most profitable parts of the business?
  2. A bully has become second headmaster, or head of services, or head of human resources. Who's going to ask that person to pass a complaint up the management line? Nobody. When it becomes obvious that things have gone too far, there is no way of solving the problem. One person at Edexel who nearly wrecked parts of the organisation by bullying her staff was given a higher paid job just to get her out of the building. But she still came back for a bit before they paid her even more to leave.
  3. Obvious problems aren't being solved. Maybe the cleaner knows how to clean better or the surgeon knows how to surge better, or maybe not, and there is no way of filtering-out the good ideas from the bad. Instead, the way to hold down a job is to keep your head down.
  4. Someone is hired-in to take control. Maybe a failing school hires a tough headmaster, or a failing factory is sold to a management buy-out in the hope of great changes. Which don't happen. As at HSBC where Sir Fred Goodwin was hired from Clydesdale Bank.
    "They had a party ... to celebrate that he had left"
    ...said a witness later, but there was no way of feeding Sir Fred's track record to the appointment committee until it was too late. Or the one from ASDA to RBS, who told a House of Commons Select Committee that he thought the problem had been bogus bonds or rather
    "the callibration: ... bonds valued at $1 were worth 10 cents"
    "Weren't you talking about that?"
    asked an select committee member, "because we were three years ago".

Whatever the best solution, it is something to do with sending unwelcome news and good ideas up and around the management diagramme, and feeding long-term rewards down in the form of shares and votes, rather than in the form of a short term performance bonus.


Bank chief executives will admit that there is a problem of inflated wages at the top of their organisations versus impossible targets to sell useless services to customers at the bottom. As Sir Fred Goodwin told the select committee

"The average salary is only £23,000" and "it troubles us in the industry"
that top wages are so high. I may have mis-quoted Sir Fred at the select committee, but in a broad ecoomic sense he was conceding that it's bad for shareholders to have to pay so much to their chief executives. Obviously any of us offered loads of money to make strategic decisions for a big organisation of low-paid people would keep quiet about the difference in itself being wrong, and keep quiet about the balance between long-term and short term interests until things have gone wrong, but there is a problem of legitimacy.

Legitimacy in PLCs and absentee shareholders

There's something wrong with a system where a bank employee pays-in to a pension, which has a manager who in theory can vote at any of the hundred-odd PLC meetings the fund invests in, while the bank employee who owns the money cannot vote. Even if she buys ten thousand shares, it's likely that some of the big shareholders fill-in a postal vote form so there's little point in anyone else trying to vote. Never having worked in a PLC I don't know first hand what the problems are, but an extra tax on shareholder dividends where these shares have an absentee vote given to someone with no other stake in the company might be an answer. Non-voting shares would rise in value. The taxpayer would raise money and discourage dodgy voting systems. What comes next I don't know, but people in each company could think of something.

Legitimay in large organisations and headhunted directors

Back to bank directors. Somewhere on Google is a quote from a colleague of Sir Fred Goodwin's asked what the first impressions of his management style were. From memory

"We heard they were having a party at Clydesdale Bank to celebrate that he had gone. That struck us as odd because they are usually very conservative in the way they do business at Clydesdale. And we wondered why they were having a party after he had gone."

Examples from public-funded organisations.

The first report into Harringay Social Services showed no criticsim of the 25 year-old social worker who had several jobs "plonked on her desk" by a superviser who wouldn't supervise.

For example an ex Harringay senior social worker, Deborah Cameron, was once my boss's boss's boss. I wrote her a whistelblowing report about bullying. She replied that it was not about bullying, but a grievance against a middle manager and forwarded the complaint to that person. The tribunal chair held that the complaint was out of time, or not plausible, or that my face didn't fit - the man's responses were not entirely rational and he made the decisions sitting alone in pre-hearing reviews without reading any of my evidence. Maybe he was better at being some kind of governement courtier than being a judge.

Meanwhile Ms Cameron has moved-on again and ran Addaction for three years [in] [out], a subcontractor to government that provides drugs rehabilitation with a duty of care over hundreds of staff and vulnerable clients. So such behaviour doesn't prevent you getting an ill-deserved reference for honesty, while people who blow the whistle find it more or less impossible to carry on in the same career for lack of a reference. To digress, the man most criticised for mis-running Harringay Social Services in his role as Chief Executive also got another job, for part of what's now the Equalities Commission. He claimed on his CV that he had learned so much from managing different kinds of social worker at Harringay that he was the ideal candidate. He, too, left quickly. He tried to insult a journalist while drunk and to pull rank outside his own enclosed world. "Do you know who I am?", he said, and the journalist did. In the private sector of firms like Foxtons, where performance is more easily measured, rediculous targets can be set that are only achievable with dirty tricks. A manager can bully an employee by choosing how much to overlook the dirty tricks.

There may be a role for the things though. Large numbers of people watch bullies on television, and think the behaviour tough, or normal, or inspiring. Maybe it takes a staff handbook and a talk from their boss to remind tham that it is not.

Anti madness policies

One of the features of reports like the Victoria Climbie enquiry or the Stephen Lawrence report is how stressed and unsuitable for the job the people one or two layers up the hierachy from the front line really are, and how distant the upper layers of hierachy are. In some of the worst cases, someone is over-promoted in order to get rid of them by proving that they can't do the job, as looked like the situation at Harringay as described in the Victoria Climbie enquiry. Nobody can ever really know. Some of the other madness enhancers are a distant mangement who don't really know what the job is but are also hiring for it (or delegating to the matron - it alternates) so that people with very few of the skills and nobody to ask are catapulted into management roles which often have supervision built-in to them as a sideline. The Harringay team leader tended to ring-in sick on supervision days, or if she couldn't do that she would tend to talk about herself - her race and religion - in order to make sure there was nothing she could be criticsed for.

The people at the top may as well be on the moon. For example both the team leaders who were juggling team A and B in Harringay seem to have been taking anti depressents at the time. Both were behaving bizarrely. In a machiavellian organisation it's normal for someone slightly mad to be appointed as henchman - the second headmaster is the usual role - so that the chief executive or headmaster can appear nice and escaple blame.

Those one layer down - foreman, heads of department, team leaders, ward sisters - are often people stuck in the middle of a hierachy with all the stress and vagueness of role that goes with it.

It does look likely that an employee benefit of personal 1:1 counselling including career counselling could help a lot of such people change career or change job earlier, before they crack-up entirely. Presumably few would take it up and many would opt for telephone counselling, which is cheap to provide, so the cost could be less than the cost of employing a preventably-mad person for another year.

Anti bullying practices

Some organisations are born to bully, almost regardless of who works in them. These help:

    • plenty of job applicants - arts, ambulance, social services, publishing, academia
    • difficulty measuring activity and a history of not seeing the need; a frustration with vague contracts and unwritten rule that sometimes people have to be eased-out by any means necessary after what happened with the dodgy book keeper etc.
    • difficulty in pinning down responsibility between the layers of management. A colleague at Nacro Housing in London - who employed about 50 people and had about 500 tenants - once found that a decision about a saucepan was referred up to the chief executive. In such a situation, communication is substituted for "high status person says this [if I remember right]" versus "low status person says that [if I heard right: I'm just in the middle here]".
    • points two and three tend to lead to a kind of management by chinese wisper. For example that groundsman is told to cut down a conker tree in the playground because the Head of Playgrounds had a word with the second headmaster who told him about a meeting (actually a phone call) with the legal services team, who aren't very good. What began as a not very good bit of legal advice becomes a tidal wave of muddled command by the time it has reached the goundsman.

      Will come back to this later

Union Democratic Agreements

...could be re-written with the word "democratic" in them.
For some reason they just have the words "union" "recognition" and "agreement" in them rather than the point of the thing which must be something to do with finding out what the staff think and want before turnover gets too high or they all walk out at once or lots of them sue or (not a fashionable statement, this) everyone toes the party line but service to customers is terrible.

This overcomes some problems.

  • The failure of ex employees to get equal legal representation doesn't seem a problem at first. Not to people at the top of the heirachy. It reduces the cost of getting rid of the problems caused by middle management, predecessors, and mostly ex-employees themselves. That "mostly" is judged from information fed-up the heirachy, but what can you do?

    It's when, say, five people take the same employer to court in three years amongst 100 staff that the top of the heirachy should be thinking: " are we hiring Machiavellis here instead of honest managers? " and of course in public funded jobs the answer is usually yes. Even at this point, if the second headmaster is often named in tribunal complaints (or their underlings for their faults and power games) then it's very hard for those at the top to find the time to get evidence against those in the middle. Who will give you evidence against the second headmaster or the council head of human resources? Only when staff can blow the whistle and give evidence can you get rid or the real problem, and the can only do this with the help of a good union (which is unlikely to exist) or a union forced to use proper consultation of all members and keep records of complaints made to them in confidence.

    I've suggested that bad people in the middle and near the top of a hierachy are often culprets, but the system itself is often to blame. The number of councils reported as using anti-terrorist legislation against people who over-fill their dustbins or move furtively to retain their siblings right to a posh school place suggests a dynamic in the relationship between councillors or trustees or governors and the people who run their organisations: various excuses are made for problems over the years like "you can't sack anybody nowadays, it's not my fault, please keep paying me £60,000 a year" until a majority on the committee thump the table and say "I'll get someone who can and do whatever it takes". The avarage working life of a hospital chief executive was surprisingly short, according the Gerry Robinson NHS programme, so it's not surprising that most of NHS chief excecutive's time is spent on finding ways to avoid doing any work to which blame can be attached if it goes wrong. Spanish Armada comes to mind.
  • Whistleblowing
    Anyone in any organisation can write to the person at the top.
    Anyone can look like a loonie.
    I don't know how it works in most organisations, such as HBOS or RBS, but it's likely that anyone there who wrote-in a while ago to say "those bonds you are buying are worth 10% what you think; you are hiring nutters who keep buying other companies like AIB, and customers hate you" is still not mentioned as an example to follow in the staff handbook, but such a person, if allowed to influence the thinking of those at the top amongst all those with worse ideas, would have saved both organisations huge amounts of money, Lloyds the crippling cost of buying one out, some Saltan the cost of propping-up Barclays and of course taxpayers the lost tax of all of these biggest taxpayers in the UK so it could be that independent thought and non-conformity is good for tha balance sheet.
  • Sparce meetings.
    In a smaller firm there may be no union help to encourage meetings, with any petty cash or visits by officials being kept for some regional thing. And attendence is limited to saints, socialites and people being sacked (or people who aspire to the first two and fear the third).
    Overworked people are less likely to attend so complaints at enforced innefficient ways of working are not likely to be raised. To be the one person who turns-up, volunteers to be a witness or some sort of rep at a dismissal meeting or to talk to Sharon Shoesmith in the quarterly recognition agreement meeting is not a happy role. I've never done it. Who would want to talk to Sharon Shoesmith without being able to say "50% say overworked, 20% say systems could be improved, 3 people write-in with suggestions", which would be a more interesting job on both sides.
  • Exploitation of the proletariat is a necessary stage so efficiency cannot be on the agenda (some people really believe this).
    Decades ago I tried to discuss mismanagement in in some voluntary-sector place that was being over-run with machiavellis to the point where there were a load of nasty dismissals and silly expensive decisions being made while the people in the more powerful, high paid jobs tried to avoid the problems of the trenches. I think it had even got to the stage where the SMT (Senior Machavelli Team) met over wine in a Chateau well behind the trenches and discussed whether to court-marshall the sargeants who brought them bad news about their battle plans.

    You'd think that in such a situation, the union might be interested in things meing managed better but there is a long distinguished and silly tradition of them wanting things to get worse before they get better - often an opinion amongst some of those with union jobs - and it influences that things that are said day-to-day at a Wednesday afternoon union meeting held at such-and-such an office, by people who don't believe the above but want to get through the agenda before 4.30 so they have time to go shopping. The friendly chatty colleague who has been there years and somehow wants to stop a union talking about mangemant is on the same side as General Hague.
  • Scapegoating and herd instinct
    Herd instinct requires some solidarity and support for the lazy witch who is being sacked.
    A union missive at my last public funded employer suggested genuine concern about a new form of performance related pay called "supporting people" which made life difficult for employers of lazy colleagues who talk a lot at team meetings and do fuck all. I genuinely think it was genuine concern. How can this be?
    Part of the problem is that it is not polite or good for a career to go to a unoin meeting and say
    "my colleague a lazy witch or worlock and I have to do a lot more work than him, and as if that wasn't enough I have to listen to the person's opinions at compulsory team meetings"
    Better to suggest a more accountable way of splitting the work and working independently.
    Better to avoid hurd instinct.
    This is where the need for individual sides of A4 is far greater than the need to hear Gladys at a meeting.

To prevent workplace bullying and get good ideas

Anyone who takes maternity leave, has been ill, or for some reason doesn't fit-in with middle management needs to have two lines of communication to the top of a work hierarchy.

The management line will always say that problems are caused by the most junior person in the management line - even if this person is a consultant surgeon and the next rank up is someone prone to little fibs who can read and write but prefers not to, as in the Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS? programme. Likewise in Victoria Climbie enquiry people at the top of the organisation were allowed to pretend ignorance of what went on at the bottom because they could claim to be doing quite different work of a managerial kind, such as sacking all their colleagues and re-hiring in order to keep them quiet and have something on the CV while applying for another social services directorship at Hackney.

Some large organisations with staff handbooks have a "whistle blowing procedure" which is as ridiculous as it sounds, and that is why there are whistle blower discrimination cases in employment tribunals. It is not an alternative to directors walking the shop floor or some sensible system for consulting staff that can be irreverent and rebellious but can also be also democratic and efficient.

Some large organisations - specially in the public sector - have union recognition agreements and there is requirement to sign them in large firms if enough employees vote. The NHS trust in the programme probably would have had a recognition agreement with Unison. Would Unison pass a message up past the management line? My guess from watching the programme is that they had not done so for a long time.

If a firm is too large for anyone senior to go walkabout, then maybe it would be better managed as a staff partnership or at least have some sort of staff rep on the board or the trustees or the governors or whatever. Some system of communication should help directors avoid doing things that are expensive exhausting and illegal, even if they are the biggest bastards in an organisation and a system of communication helps them avoid these things.

Oddly enough, the same system of by-passing the management line for complaints about bullying could be a way of getting good ideas too. The same Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS? programme showed about a dozen ideas, some badly thought-through or ill-informed, held back from directors by middle management and bogged down in committees and tactical avoidances. By the end of the programme it was not clear whether a better way had been found of carting patients through operating theatres, but it was clear that the lid had been kept on ideas for a long time.

For PLCs to issue fewer new voting shares and issue free, non-transferable, voting shares for staff.

These is legal. PLC managers could chip-away at the voting rights of absentee investors until a problem crops-up, if it does. Quite apart from anything else, this helps PLC directors by reducing the chances of entry-ism by private equity financiers, which seems very similar to the technique used by Communist Party of Britain supporters to take over union branches and voluntary organisations. Ideally there ought to have been organisations trying to promote non-voting shares in staff-partnership companies as a chart-topping form of investment. There have been attempts to do this. Unfortunately the oldest one is taken over by something strange and bizarre but not an attempt to capture the savings market.

For employers to look for parts of their business that they could sell to the staff.

The Baxi Partnership can advise on what's worked in the past and, like Industrial Common Ownership Fund of Co-Operative Finance has money to lend.

Footnote 1 / back: Two MPs are trying. I got their names from They Work for You debates and their web pages. They have produced a Labour and the Trades Unions a free download published by the Centre for Policy Studies, reviewed here.

Software whistleblowers' agency

When staff are employed by a committee, the committee tend to want to avoid the staff and if the organisation is large enough for directors, they form a kind of courtier class between the committee and the staff, blaming the staff to the committee, blaming the comittee to the staff, hoping they will have changed jobs before anyone discovers. They avoid any useful action because it could be something they could get blamed for it if went wrong. Also, if you're feckless you need staff and there is often a mangement fee of between 10% and 20% built-in to government contracts, so there at least 10% cut to directors if they can hire an underling to take the blame. "we have to expand to survive", some of them tell each other and anyone else who cares to listen without punching them; "governance costs are rising", they say when they mean they cannot stay out of court any more than the drunk on the town hall steps.

One of the stupid things these folk do is talk to software consultants. We don't know how much they talk to their legal consultants (my ex-boss talked to the HR person for ages I saw out of the window and a contact tells me his director is always on the phone to a lawyer; they can do this because they don't have a specific job to do) but employees know that directors do it to stay out of our way, keep a distance, keep a lot of power, let it be known that whistleblowers will get unfair treatment. We also know that public sector bosses are spectacularly bad at getting the software done: they talk to the most expenive person about the subject they know least about and hey! There's an NHS management system.

So what should software engineers do when confronted with a snakepit of a mangement team?
I suggest they report to an agency that anonymises their reports and only makes them public if one other agency does too. So "ARP working with Sauce Design" could be reported by Sauce Design while another agency working with Fat Beehive could be reported by Fat Beehive and if the two merge or prove to have been the same that's a public bad reference. There's still a problem that most of what voluntary sector council and NHS trust web sites need to do could probably be done with a free address and the free site tools that go with it.

Why should web design agencies piss on their chips? To show they have subscribed to a whistleblowers' quality standard that public sector employer's can quote as an extra brownie point on their grant applications. And funders could insist that if a large design or web or software agency is used, that it subscribes to the piss-on-your-chips standard for reporting public-funded wasters.

If you are a public-funded director then you might just have had your kitchen done for £30,000 and not see what all the fuss is about a £5,000 or £10,000 or £20,000 deal for software engineers to talk to you outside your usual office block and pretend you are saying useful things while you avoid your colleagues. Such is life.

Trade Union Wish List

I hope the important thing is to expose the scandal of feckless unions so that members can fix them or ditch them for ones that

  • don't donate "on behalf" - not to the Communist Party's landlord, not the Labour Party central office, not to webs of campaigns and charities that don't publish accounts on their web sites and might be giving kickbacks, not by giving a contract for legal services to a chain of solicitors who offer to do loss-making cases for free: nothing. Niet. Non. Nein. No.
  • are transparent, with online accounts and wide elections using something like or similar cheap online services that have got themselves on government authorized lists like Electoral Reform Services. (more here)
  • pass whistle blowing complaints of bullying or good management suggestions up past the management line
  • lay down the law when the management line is beginning to do something illegal, rather than hope to settle later and watch it all happen again. Most complaints to the bullying advice line were about serial bullies.
  • represent properly in complicated tribunal cases where there's not much money to be made for a no-win no-fee lawyer but a lot of points of principal at stake. This is something that members pay for and don't get. There's a similar problem with personal injury claims under £1,000 which have to use the small claims procedure at a county court that doesn't allow claims for costs. The system was nearly extended to cover £5,000 claims, but for a TUC campaign: unions couldn't possibly back members, without no-win no-fee lawyers, the TUC argued; at the moment small claims costs were shared between unions and lawyer - in other words lawyers are asked to do them for free as a bribe to get the lucrative work.
    In contrast, when employers buy proper legal insurance, they may get lawyers and human resources workers that are a s' - on time, up to date with law, with enough paid hours to prepare a bundle and a budget to pay barristers solicitors and other officials if that's what it takes. Two of the people who either ordered my boss to bully or ordered whistle blower's discrimination are still employed at different employers in more senior jobs because of the feckless T&G legal system at my tribunal: a condition of a tribunal settlement could be that they wouldn't get a reference. They're not employable.
  • Walk-out once in a blue moon, protest, send a letter to the local paper, write to the chairman
  • Buy more and more shares, set-up rival employers, apply for the same grant that grant-funded employees are getting through their unwelcome managers: just generally represent employees in any logical way.

This page is among the least-read: my opinions attract no advertising revenue, but to offer answers is a good constructive thing in itself, a fun thing, and a transparent thing: those who do not offer the world their free opinions invite guesses as to where they are coming-from and what they are trying to do. Better to just to say where I am coming from and what I am trying to do.

The truth is that I don't know and it changes. As I try to work out where my money went all these years that it was not helping employees or paying for lawyers - who are charged commission to get the work at T&G - then sometimes the site is about the little parties and campaigns that get a cut, and too little it is about the toad of the Labour Party Central Office that presumably gets most of it, and presumably far more than any opt-out-able political contribution because the Labour Party is the best funded party and the T&G for example seems to provide almost nothing at all to members, so it's a fair bet that money has transferred from one to the other.

This site is written in short paragraphs dictated by bad concentration, and another older one takes off here...

I am not attacking the Socialist Workers' Party because I believe that New Labour should get all the money (which seems to be a reason for unfair dismissals of Amicus union officials at the moment). There are no opinions here about the Communist Party of Britain, The Labour Party, The Marx Memorial Library, Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy or any of the dozens of organisations for which my union raises money because it's the removal of money that makes the difference rather than where it moves. Like most people, I haven't read any of their political stuff. If a thief stole my video I wouldn't say "your honour: he used it for taping bad programmes and that is the reason I am here today". I wouldn't have to. My taxes would fund a police force to arrest him and a crown prosecution service to prosecute him. The idea would be the obvious one that it was my video (or my membership dues) that were being stolen that that this is obviously wrong.

Unfortunately in the world of employment and unions it's all very different and those who have suffered most from crime are those who have to try to take it to court and find the system stacked against them. And those who use public services. These are provided by directors and senior management teams who you would not buy a second hand car from or hire to do building work, and who do little in the way of management or direction, but specialise in a kind of machiavellian rat race that bogus unions condone.

Union Wish List: individual members

  • Buy legal insurance to back-up your union membership. I regret not doing this and want to advise others to do it. If this site is about anything, is is about saying that I wish I had had legal insurance. It isn't for sale on the web as far as I know but you could either contact the insurers and ask them to suggest a broker that sells their product, or go to an insurance broker and ask if they deal with any of the legal insurers. "Family Legal Cover" is often what it's called. Ideally, get insurance that covers professional negligence so you can sue your union if it lets you down.
  • Opt out of the political fund unless you agree with where the money goes. This could save more money than you have just spent on legal insurance which is why I mention it. Just email your union central office with the words from the act: "National Union of Teachers' POLITICAL FUND (EXEMPTION NOTICE). I give notice that I object to contributing to the Political Fund of the Union, and am in consequence exempt, in manner provided by Chapter V1 of Part 1 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, from contributing to that fund. Paid Cymru have set-up a special form: "a cheap publicity stunt" according to the T&G's press office, run by a communist who also runs one of the political organisations paid for by the fund.
  • If your union is like the T&G, with an unpaid self-election committee holding a branch budget, you could keep asking and embarrassing them to hold broad elections by post or online until they do it. If they don't have a way of contacting members to ask how to spend the branch budget or what to say to an employer at a recognition agreement meeting they are basically bogus shits.

    Or do what the Communist Party does: raise a possy of seven to outvote their five or six activists, and then do only what seems worth your time and patience, like emailing all members with proper voting arrangements and finding-our what the regional budgets are for officials' salaries and lawyers. One move might be to split the branch account per member and send a cheque to each (which is a way of checking their addresses and getting a response) and asking them each to give an email address to be able to vote on future spending.

Union Wish List - reps

  • As above, put the word around that you would rather support colleagues who have legal cover. That's common sense. Otherwise you are caught in the middle between a feckless union and an ex-colleague. Or study law in your spare time, become an unpaid solicitor and barrister while holding-down your day job and despite the risk of victimisation and getting on with your own life. That's what suits the union financially and they will push as hard as they can for you to do it. If there is difficulty in your union in exposing the lack of clear contract, do your bit. If your union is Unite T&G then put the current rule book on a web site or somewhere and ask anyone who will listen to collect their thoughts ready for any consultation on the next one.
  • Some reps try to insist on meetings with the paid officials (who in T&G tend not to reply to return calls to anyone but insiders) and to take the member along with them. That's another way to avoid getting stuck in the middle and a good one. Otherwise you'll end-up like Sandra Beeton at the Eric Shepherd Unit of Hertfordshire NHS Trust, quoted forever as doing the union's dirty work.

    Union officials may pretend, as mine did, that it's OK to talk about something entirely different and then close the meeting without offering to do anything. After the meeting my first rep said "I have to go to the lavatory" to avoid embarrassment and as far as I know she's still there. If you didn't become a union rep in order to hide in the lavatory, why not thump the table, or make a completely ridiculous threat that you can't believe you've just said? Why not draw attention to the problem rather than skirting around it? It's a lot easier than being rude to your boss.
  • Switch unions if anyone knows a good one

    Bunches of employees should find it far easier to switch unions than individuals because they can take the network of volunteer support with them.

    Unfortunately, members at a work may not know each other particularly, they're busy doing the real job and sometimes the getting-on-with-management job too, which can be quite unrelated and involve lots of initiatives and meetings. There isn't time for a third job thinking about a trades union.

After some kind of online voting system is set-up for a branch it might be possible to get a dozen people voting for or against a motion, rather than the usual activists. It might be possible for someone who isn't the branch secretary to send a message to all members. So if one or two people know that they want to switch, it might be possible for them to take a dozen with them.

The Cerfication office lists dozens of other unions to switch-to. My guess is that if two or three people in a drab meeting say "the reps recommend XYZ union", and can get the message to colleague members, then at least half the current membership will change. If the old union hears that you three union reps are willing to do this, they might offer a better service and say "yes we will sign a contract to say what we offer your shop", or "no: we will show your members what bastards we really are". Either way, you will discover next month and many employers will let you help members of any union or none - it's only the paid services that are denied non-members and those who stay with a bad union make their own decision.

If all the unions that anybody has ever heard of are worse than useless, or members of the union's cartel - whatever it's called - which tries to reduce competition between unions by carving-out turf between them, you can do worse than start your own union

Union Wish List: reps, activists, delegates, regional general secretaries and other officials

These first five points should be written-in to recognition agreements to make them stick. Either the employer or the union could suggest a change, and an individual member could suggest to either of them that they make a change.

1) For branch elections to be held by the broadest cheapest system - usually online.

This used to be expensive so the law only insists on postal ballots for senior jobs. The T&G rule book expects all members to turn-up like a football crowd once in two years and show hands. Our generation should work at least half as hard as they did to have proper ballots.

Now, Ballotbin or some of the all-in email group systems will invite each person on an email address list to vote once for free, avoid double-voting, display results and so-on. Surely anyone who used to stuff envelopes to get union stuff to members is now trying to get members' email addresses, so a machine that lets you invite the whole lists to vote and stops anyone voting twice is the obvious next step. It is easier to take a risk on a new system locally than for the national office to impose it on 750,000 members tomorrow. They have to look sensible and anticipate all problems. If a branch election goes wrong you can just shrug. They would probably claim a union modernisation grant for Electoral Reform Services to set-up a system. In a local branch you can just try Ballotbin and see if it works.

Local branch committees can be made up - as mine is - from among the 37 of members of the Communist Party of Britain who promote the worst possible voting system to ensure a less than 1% turnout and have a long tradition of making donations to favourite causes. It's ridiculous when they do it but the same logic applies when the Labour party pinches cash too, and more so because it fuels more demand from both big parties in exchange for neglecting fair union law.

My local branch is not connected to any one employer and not in touch with people informally, but they don't have a formal system either and the way the T&G union rule book is interpreted now allows a show of hands in a back room every two years as an election method if the committee want. Of course they do. Communists don't win elections any other way according to their report to the electoral commission. They are not frightening people to deal with, but depressingly anxious to please by giving other peoples' money away, writing one dimensional slogans to attract other interest groups, marching with banners and not complaining to the union's regional office about duff lawyers. Or not very loudly - not with any threat that they will cease to recruit new members or ask the same question next month or anything so drastic. T&G offices tend to ignore everyone but reps. My rep's complaints were fobbed off by someone who was "very senior".

2) For all union voters to acknowledge that they have seen the accounts

Shareholders do. Union members would do if their organisations were mutuals, but all the ones I've noticed are odd trusts running membership organisations, which is nifty but no excuse: those who vote at union elections should sign to say "I have read the accounts and vote for..." or not vote at all.

3) Direct elections to budget-holding volunteer committees allows everyone on an email list to be invited to vote once. is another free service.

If the same email that invited members to vote included last year's accounts, I think the daftest committees would get a good turnout for change. If the email vote were held after a face-to-face meeting and show of membership cards, with the outcome reported by the chair, I think the real result might overturn the face-to-face result and more people might want to go to face-to-face meetings. If not, the vote would surely not be reduced: anyone who has gone to a meeting would be likely to confirm the vote online when they get home.

If a large union set-up a system like Yahoo for free online email, I think a lot of activists would like to use it. Over time perhaps as ballot-rigging techniques are discovered, so better balloting techniques would be discovered and allowing each paid-up member one email account might be part of that automated system.

Here's the sort of thing that has to go: The Sector Bi-Annual Delegate Conference. If it has a budget from member's subscriptions, and it is run by elected volunteers, it should be directly elected and not elected by people delegated to elect from committees that say they are elected because in truth only six people want to turn-up to the South London Voluntary Sector Unite-T&G branch meeting every month and there are seven traditional volunteer posts so everyone just keeps a straight face and divides-up the £20,000 bank account.

The Sector Bi-Annual Delegate Conference seems to be a job interview for regional general secretaries in which they address the miniscule activist vote with foreign policy suggestions and gain or loose their jobs accordingly. Whether they have ever shown their face in an employment tribunal for Unite-Transport and General seems to be the last thing on the agenda but then, as a member who isn't an activist, I wouldn't know because I've never seen the agenda or what goes-on at the Sector Bi-Annual Delegate Conference or delegated anyone to go there. I just have a gut feeling it might be held in a decaying seaside town: watch this space for updates. 21/02: Yes it is - and what a strange way of appointing staff it is. It looks like Eurovision, but there isn't a way for daytime TV viewers to phone-in their votes for favourite slogans so I suppose it's even less democratic than Eurovision. Since I first wrote that it has emerged that some of the Eurovision phone-ins were rigged in favour of the Franco government entry, "la la la", but at least there is some attempt at polling. Anyway, the third picture to from the bottom, left-hand side shows someone who also crops-up on the Communist Party of Britain page. He is also a newspaper commentator and writes something which would be great if he could make it happen in his union:

For a start, socialism makes possible the re-establishment of democracy whether at national, multinational or global level. Capitalist globalisation has become synonymous with democratic powerlessness as all important decisions are taken further away from the people affected and concentrated in the hands of ever fewer corporate bosses, private equity and publicly traded alike, for whom the common weal cannot be their priority.

4) Union contracts ("rule books") to be displayed on the certification office web site, to show their paternal idealism, if it's the T&G

I asked. The certification office said they were considering it. The things are still not there two years later. Taxpayers have paid salaries to these people. Shits. The Belfast Certification Office complain too much of their office time is spent answering Freedom of Information Act requests, so it must surely be in the civil servants' interest to put as much information as possible online so that they don't have to answer enquiries about it.

The existing law says that the union must send its rule book to this office in Bermondsey High Street (or George Street Edinburgh, Gordon Street Belfast) but the internet is where more taxpayers look.

Meanwhile, unions could try adding their rule books to annual returns as an appendix, and hope that the certification office puts the scan online for free, which would be a good system.

5) For members to sign a contract when they join the union.

At the moment you get an A5 flyer in an envelope full of slogans, pictures of people smiling, and financial offers such as credit cards and pet insurance. These include key facts statements, major exclusions, and enforcably clear descriptions of when your pet will be insured. Your pet can read exactly when it can go to the vet, the maximum amount of cover, major exclusions and so-on so you might assume that it's owner gets the same rights and that a contract the matches the usual law of contracts has fallen out of the envelope. It hasn't. There isn't one. The flyer says "legal assistance and advice" but the paid official usually decides whether you can have a solicitor's assessment, when, and which solicitor you have to go to. This decision is controlled by his boss and the union budget, which in the T&G's cases is 66p per member per year for employment lawyers. If you want to use your legal right to change solicitors the union can change their mind about the strength of the case, as they did with mine. If you send-off for the rule book, it reads like a general statement of purpose and the courts have interpreted union rule books very loosely with a lot of consideration of custom and practice, so there is no detailed statement of rights at all - the "schedule II" mentioned in my union's rule book does not exist.

6) For unions to back members with a 50% chance of success in employment law.

I think this is implied to members when they join and unless stated otherwise should be easy to enforce in law. I don't know how, because it's difficult to see how a legal system that's meant to work for buying toasters and pet insurance seems to fall-down when buying union membership. Over the years judges have overcome this kind of muddle in employment law with "implied terms" in any employment contract and something similar - whether from judges or from an act passed in parliament - could help: a trades union implied terms bill. Majority labour MPs have argued very strongly for the status quo just recently forcing the legal services bill to go through parliament twice. Their argument if any was that there is a magic relationship between a grateful member and an avuncular union official which would be undermined if the official were forced to do anything. That's not about buying toasters, though: they are all in favour of consumer rights being spelt-out and easy to enforce except for the rights of union members.

7) Real votes:

Next time there is a change of party in government, someone is bound to sort out unions. Do it first. Run real votes of real members for more union offices and all budget-holding offices. This is not illegal and there may be unions doing it already. They should come out of the closet and boast about it. If you are an activist in a union branch, you shouldn't say "the region would probably not allow it" as my secretary said to me. You should set-up a free Yahoo group, use your existing list of members' email addresses and invite them to register so that they can vote with the free poll system that's included. Another option is services like Ballotbin which invite everyone on an existing email list to vote once.

The same service could publicise minutes and accounts. If you have time for some scanning you could even include some receipts, and if you know of any obscure rule books, policies and phone numbers which the union has forgotten to give to members, there is plenty of space for those. And if the region chucks you out, as ASLEF did to someone at Associated Train Drivers' Union, do what he did and set-up a better one.

8) Buy proper legal insurance

...of the sort that employers have. This is a quantifiable clear service that you can show you are offering members. If you are a branch activist, there might be money in the local budget to pay £5-15 a year per member. I tried to pass a motion for this but it was "put on one side", as "what you really need is a lawyer". We got to this stage because (like the branch chair and my colleague from the same firm) I had discovered how much worse than useless the branch's panel lawyers was, so I sacked him and asked for another. My branch secretary liaised with Ms Philp, a senior administrator among the paid regional staff. "John, Ms. Philp implied that an opinion from OH Parsons would be very soon - as Ms. Philp said ET things are always 11th hour - so in her view the two weeks was plenty of time. I assume as your file is with OH Parsons for the second opinion - if the decision is to support they will be the ones taking on your case. Ms. Philp explained that she is the person who deals with these matter for the Region - so has experience. [sic] She was also very clear that the procedures [sic] were going to be kept to. Cheers" This is a all wrong because OH Parsons could not have had the file; the first lawyer from Edwards Duthie had refused to take any written evidence from me and only had the sketchiest idea of the case as hand written notes of a conversation, which he had returned to me. Ms Philp doesn't sound much cop either. For example she was either assembling a bundle of documents for me by telepathy or she thought that union members don't deserve them, and there's no sign of a track record or a qualification. Maybe if your main function is to take money out of union budgets you are prepared to be awed by Ms Philp.

Until there is proper legal insurance, some stand-ins are cheap and could be offered. There is a standard draft letter for grievance and grievance appeal which can be filled-in with references to law and contract. It only costs a few pounds from Rapidocs, or a few tenners from who add a legal helpline to the same service. This service would help union reps as well, who are otherwise caught between angry members and paid staff who don't return calls. Union local budgets might also cover a subscription to Which Legal Service or DAS legal helpline to anyone who asks for either, or maybe keep a list of members who have a legal helpline anyway for some reason, and might ask the odd question for other members now and then.

9) Buy shares in PLCs where your members work and send questions by letter to the general meeting.

My union's central office holds millions of pounds in low-interest bank accounts, government bonds and unit trusts. The unit trusts are only £8 per member but add-up to £6m altogether, and could be converted to vote-holding shares in union-members' PLC employers immediately. (Individual employee shareholders can ask questions anonymously through too)

Brewin Dolphin's Stocktrade is one of the online stockbrokers. It's unusual in passing-on voting rights of shares - not that there would be many votes to start with anyway. But unions last a long time and a small investment every year for a hundred years adds-up to a lot of votes at shareholders' meetings, as well as a lot of dividends and increased value for the union.Union Ideas Network have published something on votes at work, signed by several politicians. And the BaxiPartnership (related to Baxi Boilers) has quietly been funding staff buyouts of other household-name firms. The Employee Ownership Association has a few pages of notes listing obscure tax breaks and schemes for employees to buy shares in their companies and in some cases they have borrowed money to buy companies that then pay-back the loan. The more employee ownership there is, the more easily this kind of thing can happen and there is a list of obscure schemes linked to tax breaks by which employee share holding could be encouraged.

10) Union rule books to be clear.

Clarity about the main services people say they want of a union - help at work and legal help - are vital.
Paternal, discretionary services are not just quaint; they are a deception. When an official passes on the message via a volunteer that "you do not understand...", it is too late. That is why people aim to have contracts in the rest of life. To avoid clarity is simply wrong.

Another way to look at the same problem is to avoid hassle for unions. If the usual standard of insurance contracts is set by the Financial Services Authority, and unions are exempt while a union-funded party is in government, it makes sense to show the world that there's no need to be regulated in future: unions can do just as good a job themselves and write contracts just as clear. Or at least be legal under current contract law. Current legal interpretation of rule books is that they are not contracts but the beginning of a tradition that can build-up over the years, as the King v TGWU case shows when compared to TGWU rule 10 about voting, so it is almost impossible for a non lawyer to know what if anything the rule book means.

11) Promote products of staff-owned companies.

This was a much-repeated objective in the quaint old T&G rule book.

12) Doodle draft rule books - (rules2.html is an example) ready for any consulation by others on changes

Or in Unite T&G, at least circulate and form opinions about the old one.
There is one in the wings. There is a secretive old one available for members who ask. Parts are really rather lovely, and appeal to a much broader range of people than usual sanitised stuff.
There is an attempt at a wiki community edited one at and maybe you can find a free wiki host to edit your own draft with anyone you know who is interested. I don't know how to propose a draft but presumably there will be a vote or a link on the Unite-T&G website or something quite soon which will say "everyone agrees with the new rule book (available on request) don't they? Please submit 51 page drafts by tomorrow at 9am" and silence will be assumed to be a yes unless there's a vote and a lot of people are interested enough to vote no.
If you are good with online software you may find far better ways of hosting a wiki rule book. This is a list of likely places

Politics Wish List

Party politics is part of this. I discovered when subscribing to and seeing that my pet issue had just been debated at Westminster without me realising, and debated in a party political way. But to mention party politics makes readers think that You Work For Them and stop reading. Please read-on. If party politics makes you sick, skip to Activist Wish List and Bank Wish List below, or back to the main index page.

1) MPs to criticise bad unions publicly - particularly MPs who don't call themselves right of centre.

At the moment, only the DUP and Conservatives voted for Financial Services Authority regulation of union legal services. The Liberal Party changed spokesman and changed position just before the vote, without reason. I had complained to my Liberal MP a month before on this very point, and she had promised to keep me informed if there were any committee meetings or regulations being passed in Westminster. She didn't tell me the Legal Services Bill itself was being passed or tell me why they voted with the Labour Party. The Liberal leader at the time was Vincent Cable. Nobody asked him on television why his party didn't seem interested in politics and why MPs like mine seemed to be pretending to be local counsellors in order to get in the local paper rather than doing work at Westminster. At the time this was going through parliament, she kept quiet about it which is a pity, because MPs get reported a lot more than badly-treated trades union members.

This is a pity because although less than half of union members are Labour voters, less than a quarter vote Conservative and it is tricky for MPs who call themselves centre-right, aren't union members and don't have a track record promoting employees rights to try and reform trades unions[ 1]. I found this out by googling the people who voted against this loophole and seeing what one or two of them had written. And I found out about the loophole by ringing trading standards and then the financial services authority to find out how my union could behave as it did.

2) For votes at work.

According to Union Ideas Network, nobody has found a single example in the world of a trades union taking over an employer for the staff, or promoting a staff co-op. There are too-few staff-owned companies; too many quangos and PLCs. It is these - particularly quangos and the public sector - which spawn the daily post of complaint forms to Employment Tribunals and makes managers worry that everything has to be done by rigid procedure to save being caught-out.

I guess that PLCs are just as bad to their staff but better at finding smooth ways around the law. What shocks me about public sector managers is what they think is normal in order to get rid of trouble-makers, from time-wasting to cruelty to dishonesty. It is a kind of game imposed on the other staff - just as mixed in ability and just as short of ideas - who are doing the real work. Staff are as likely to be eased-out of a job for being a rival to the boss or for knowing too much than for being bad at helping clients of public services.

I think that votes at work should go with votes online for the union branch. Union votes and work votes don't have to be enacted at the same time in the same law, but a politician who supported both might be popular.

3) For votes to back political ideas with support

I don't think that union members should always tell Labour MPs how to vote.
MPs have their own ideas and other constituents than trades unionists. There is too little independent voting and MPs probably need a union themselves.

But if union policies are a tradition of the party, I think the system should be made to work as well as it can even if - as one of the T&G political activists reported back to my branch of his meeting with the Prime Minister's advisors

"the most that can be said is that we were politely listened to".

I would like to know what union members think of this, that or the other policy in directly-held online elections, particularly about employment and company law where staff should have something distinct to say.

I find the Labour movement baffling and have never been much to do with it. I only started getting emails about labour politics when I hooked-up to T&G branch committee 1/1148 in order to complain to them and got Lambeth Labour Party politics back instead. I've never voted Labour and only worked in Lambeth, but it would have been interesting to read if it were not rather one-diamensional and designed to attract support in disguise rather than solve real problems.

As I understand it there is a whole hobbyist class of people who sit in trades union committees or join the party as individuals. They pass ideas up to a conference via a system in the party for

"watering down motions and making sure that only the most anodyne are passed, which ministers then ignore",

one of them said (my branch donates members' money to the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and Labour Representation Committee, listening to their speeches in their time at meetings, despite avoiding democracy at the branch itself. Unless you count being smug as democracy, but I think that smugness is only part of it; being voted-in with a workable system is the most important part).

At the same time, activists allow large amounts of money to be sucked-out of their unions into a political party central office, where presumably it is used to run a corporate alternative of private focus groups, opinion pollsters, and ad campaigns to find out what real people think and let them know that politicians are in touch. The party central office is an expensive parallel version of what traditional membership clubs first meant to do. It is the office that helps party whips with party PR and reduces the role of individual MPs. By subsidising a party, they decrease their influence over it my strengthening the centre.

If the traditional union voting system worked, and included marginal voters, the duplicate system could be cheaper; if non-labour members in trades unions were allowed to cast individual votes on the party's policies (rejected or not) then it would be a much more interesting and attractive party, much more true to its roots and much more photogenic. There is good television in discussing which way a million teachers vote individually, but not in showing the punch lines from a rousing speech at a teachers' union conference by someone who has a bloc vote of a million in his pocket.

4) The Representation of the People Act

This act sets strict limits on what a local candidate is allowed to spend on a campaign after the first mail-out.
It sets no limits on what the candidate's party central office spends in order to shut her up and spin us a consistent party line.
MPs tend to say - through gritted teeth - that central offices do important and useful work which the public do not understand, but which has to be funded one way or another. Until they say what this work is, I don't believe them, and I doubt that they do either

5) The Arms Race and Political Fund Opt-Outs

Politicians have described party funding as an "arms race". They know better than me but and it sounds a good description. As part of negotiations to end the arms race, I would like to see unions forced to provide an online service by which members could donate to political parties or charities tax-free, but only if they choose the charities and political parties individually. There should also be a duty for unions to publicise an opt-out that exists for political funds now. The party funding arms-race and the political-fund opt-out that doesn't work are two separate points, but while a union-funded party is in power I think they will only be dealt with together. And I've just seen that an attempt has failed.

6) Libel Law

Two of the recipients of union branch money were alternative newspapers - Cab Trade News and Morning Star.
While googling, I discovered that the libel laws had closed Scallywag magazine and persuaded a lot of the news trade not to touch political hobbyist magazines again. Caravan World yes; Scallywag no. This is a pity because one of the drains on union funds is from activists who want their messages spread one way or another. If they could sell more pamphlets and magazines commercially, less would try entry-ism to union branches. I don't understand how libel works but it needs sorting-out, on the internet as well as for print publications.

7) Registries of charities, unions & trade associations, limited companies, financial service providers, friendly societies etc

These registers are part of a Victorian tradition set to make organisations accountable, alongside the registers of births deaths and marriages, the electoral roll and the land registry. They made it easier for strangers to do business with each other outside of networks of family and personal trust.

The modern equivalent of these registries is online, and a policitician's first response to skullduggery in an organisation should not always be that heavier regulators are needed; often more transparency would do the same job for free. For example Northern Rock registered headings of accounts at Companies House as well as being regulated by the Financial Services Authority and the Bank of England, but the detail of whether they had sold-on tranches of mortgages or not is still opaque. It is hard for a financial journalist to find-out. Likewise Unite and Transport and General have free-to-download headline accounts at the Certification Office, but they're in TIFF format and give no detail for people like Ms King and King trying to find out about the cab trade branch.
Names are hard to find too. The name of Halpin has got in the news recently because of a story about inherited art treasures, but the names of branch activists and the coincidence that they are also activists for the Communist Party of Britain are not so easy to track down on Google.

I propose

    1. preference for searchable documents, sent-in in word-processor formats or as forms filled-in online
    2. Open Office spreadsheet templates available
    3. a transcription charge for firms that post or fax their account

The advantage of this would first be for financial researchers, politicians and their research staff, and journalists:

    • What is the average return on capital for a limited company?
    • How many Friendly Societies are there?
    • What sorts of firms call themselves Charities?
    • What do Trades Unions spend money on?

Curious Googlers would benefit next by discovering things earlier about where their pension fund is invested and names of those involved. Oddfellows, Charities, Unions, Political Parties and any other types of firm that account to registries would be picked-up a little later by journalists, and I suspect that the "Halpin" link would have been found for me long before I really needed to know if there were better government registries. Apparently this Halpin family was a big part of my life without me knowing it. It is only now and too late that I have discovered.

8) The Co-Operative Party and the Co-Operative movement (written about 2005)

This is a stooge movement, designed to raise money for Labour and divert attention from the cause of employees owning their firms. Job ownership was one of the main objects of my Transport and General Workers Union according to its rule book - potentially the most popular one - and it is such a low priority now that you'd think they were trying to strangle the idea at birth rather than foster it. In fact we know they strangled the idea at birth because an influential socialist in the 1930s, Beatrice Webb, wrote exactly what she thought in a series of books. She began her career bossing the poor about in the Salvation Army (I used to work in hostels so I can be rude about them) and ended it writing "The Truth About the Soviet Union" as though anyone was calling her a liar. She didn't end her career by writing the book. Her career ended because she got old and died. If she had carried-on she would have written: - no I won't say. It would cause offence. I've never read any of these books but know that in the middle she tried to write co-operatives of employees out of the entire labour co-operative thing, and her ghost still haunts the institutions she helped set-up.

Not even Co-Operative Party MPs publicise the fact that there is a Co-Operative Party. The party has no policies, except being vaguely against worker co-operatives and in favour of busy-bodies, smugness societies and steering committees like Hackney Community Transport. It's alternative idea to worker co-operatives is that consumers elect busybodies on an election turnout of [insert figure here] to tell supermarket staff how to price beans. These people's track record seems to be vaguely in favour of mergers and of giving money to their "sister party", in which they have been in coalition since formation in 1918. It's a big sister, not a little sister, obviously.

The name Co-Operative and Co-Operative finance is used for raising money for staff partnerships, but on such a small scale that it nobody could decide to put their own savings into the shares, and I'd want to question any trustee-investor about possible kickbacks, after sacking them.

The origin of the fund is and attempt by Scott Bader, a chemical company that works as a real co-operative, to work with the Co-Operative movement in setting up an industrial common ownership finance company in the 70s. At one point the fund got a little taxpayer subsidy and at another point it was such a little-known organisation that it was used as cover for providing jobs to soviet spies - who turned out not to be good investment managers.

Since that embarrassment you'd expect it to close or get back to basics and specialise in investors and borrowers in the field job ownership, just as early trades unionists were also interested in setting-up building societies that lent real money to build houses, or co-operative employers that really did things and made things.


The organisation muddles staff partnerships with "community projects" - of which a few samples are quoted on the prospectus instead of detail. The more voluntary-sector projects know that there should be pictures of people smiling. Hackney Community Transport provide a picture of a double-decker bus, but it isn't owned by the drivers and staff but a "board of trustees made up of co-opted industry experts and elected representatives of our service users.". Like the joke of the Stagecoach T&G branch they have a steering committee, but to them it is a boast, not a joke: they will do anything to prevent industrial common ownership ownership of the industrious, however many busybodies grant artists and ill-attended evening meetings chaired by press officers it takes. On a scale of one to ten where one is on the left and all about people controlling their own jobs, and ten is on the right and slush-fund busybodies controlling your job, Hackney Community Transport is ten out of ten. It is to the right of Stagecoach.

Hackney Community Transport have got the same press officer that Unite-T&G branch 1/1148 had, Fiyad Velmi. I didn't even know I had a branch when she was press officer, but maybe the world knew what she thought I thought. It's odd that a union branch should have a press officer - unpaid I suppose although some T&G branches employ staff - and it's even more odd that a bus should have one. It's a fashionable job and often a disguise for unpleasant work like telesales or chairing evening meetings, but there must be some press office work if the job is called press officer.

I'm quite middle class and prefer the tube but I think usually bus companies display fanciful information on a notice board attached to a post near where the bus sometimes stops and it is called a "timetable". HCT is a big firm for "mainstream bus routes, education transport for children with disabilities, social services transport for older and disabled people, yellow school bus services..." and then it trails off. So they do buses and minicabs for the council, including work done by volunteers maybe.

If you have time to run a bus company, get a grant from Hackney Council, and organise cabs (maybe volunteer-driven) sto schools and hospitals you don't have time for "a board of trustees made up of co-opted industry experts and elected representatives of service users" but the people involved probably try their best at making it work before blaming passenger appathy for low attendence at evening meetings and stitching things up in some way: "is that you Mary? We're wondering of we need a meeting this month or if we can all just agree. Yes I thought so too. I'll put your point about cat poo in the minutes. How is your cat? What was that about the million pounds? Don't worry Mary it's all sorted. I'll speak to you next month".

Maybe Fyad Velmi the press officer has got more patience and talant than I've mentioned. I paid her branch slush fund without knowing it for years so she's not daft and she even had a job for South East Regional TUC which got paid by my branch so she must be good at slush-fund committees, if not at appropriate sized buses and timetables. Oh I've lost the thread, which was about a pitch to savers.

The pitch to savers looks like something to justify money laundering:

"your honour: I invested the trust at zero interest for reasons of conscience, not [accusation here]". "I had no idea that as trustee I was invested in [insert slush fund here]. The prospectus was vague"

Since that was written, another ICO investment, Ethnic Mutual has been closed by the financial Services Authority and a theme in reports of missing money is that the accomplices know each other and know the world of grants and donations in London politics.

Anyone who hoped that ICO Fund PLC would do what its name suggests, and maximise a fund for industrial common ownership would find their pitch sarcastic. If it ever got reported in the financial pages it wouldn't be in the best-buy tables. The investments of the fund are in a couple of dozen co-operatives or not. Some are other organisations with a C in them like Community. It might be one dozen organisations or two dozen; numbers are being decided. Meanwhile the prospectus concentrates on feel-good examples of hippy co-ops, but runs out after three (Radical Routes tends to lend to them anyway) and then finds an advertising agency made-up of professionals working as a partnership, as though the idea had never been tried before. They lend cheap money to an advertising agency. It's not unusual for add agents to work as partners, but this ad agency, which is called Alpha (good name innit) gives a discount to their sort of people. Maybe they designed the dummy cheque made out to "friends of Tony Woodly" for his election campaign or the cheesy graphics for HCT

"The sickle shape suggests an open road, the C of Community, and the U-turn of a lost bus".

If they were interested in productivity and thrift like early labour activism they'd know that you can get free computers off and free open source software, but this bunch of lenders have never heard of anything practical, as you'll read in the last quoted paragraph.

Unlike normal shares, ICO fund PLC's Co-Operative Shares are not

  • designed to achieve capital growth or
  • maximise returns.

This is simply not possible when lending at a fair rate & seeking to create opportunity. [and give money to the Labour Party] However, we have a target to pay annual dividends in line with inflation a

  • maximum of 6% a year... and repay the shares in full after 10 years ...ICO fund PLC will
  • not guarantee to find a new person to purchase the shares ... but will maintain a register of persons interested in purchasing....ICO Fund plc has
  • not sought and is not seeking permission for its shares to be listed on the Stock Exchange ... the trustees do
  • not consider that the share value will appreciate ....Please consider carefully the
  • option to waive any dividend payment on your Co-operative Shares.

Waived dividends will be held in a Guarantee Fund which, at the discretion of the Trustees, will be used to provide guarantees on particular advances. By this device we will be able to make

  • a limited number of higher-risk investments in worthwhile investments ...

Alpha Communication is a design and editorial co-operative based in Durham that delivers a range of marketing services to co-ops, social enterprises and third-sector organisations. ICO Fund plc has recently helped the co-op to purchase new IT hardware and software to enable it to continue to deliver competitive services while trading for social purpose... clients include .. co-operative and community finance.

...and I haven't looked but the same councils that hired Pollson as an architect seem to be hiring alpha for their slush funds/ put a different point of view by arguing that firms with high employee ownership outperform the market. Their own Employee Ownership index claims to show that the value of employee owned businesses has grown faster than the FTSE index over long periods. Government-backed researchers conclude that an overlap of employee ownership and payment by results makes money.
Their press release has a link to the long PDF download:

Fair share capitalism is positively associated with labour productivity.
Although FSC effects varied with the measure of labour productivity used, results were fairly consistent across the three productivity measures.

FSC effects differed by type of FSC scheme. Share ownership schemes had the clearest positive association with productivity. However, interactions between FSC schemes revealed that this positive association was confined to instances in which share ownership schemes were combined with profit-related pay or group payments-by-results schemes.

In isolation, share ownership was associated with lower productivity, as were PRP and group PBR in isolation.

No wonder another proper co-op, Baxi Boilers, has started a separate trust fund unconnected with Co-Operative finance to do the same job of investing in staff buyouts and other real co-ops including Scott Bader have their own pressure group for job ownership: "The Employee Ownership Association is the voice of co-owned business in the UK", it says on the web site. The last word on this from a Management Today artical about how little the business world uses this model and how government can change the culture with Capital Gains Tax:

"If there were a nil-rate band for businesses transferred into a co-owned structure, it would be brought to the attention of every single accountant and lawyer in the country."

9) The Money Laundering Regulations (Northern Ireland):

These don't exist but they could, and they could say that society bank accounts must be public. Her Majesties Revenue and Customs issues a 73 page notice telling businesses and societies what to do, which I haven't read. A tweak in the system to make Northern Ireland banks and building societies reveal what they do with their money would be easier than one in Scotland or England and Wales, and a deadline could be set for as soon as bank software can be changed - say a deadline of two years for the larger banks.

10) ACAS's arbitration service for people who have sent forms to employment tribunals could work better.

At the moment most litigants talk to each other or via ACAS about money for compensation. I don't have statistics to show this - just an an anecdote from an employer who was told by insurer's lawyers "settle for £8,000" and then "if we'd known she wasn't represented we wouldn't have advised settling at all". This makes sense, so I suppose it is typical. But if Union and No-Win-No-Fee lawyers are paid by winnings on a tight budget, they are not going to say "and my client is prepared to drop everything and help you, just so long as you sack Mr Ramsey as manager of the kitchen". This would not make sense to the lawyers but fits the motives of complainants described in the Hammersley research. I think that ACAS should have a legal duty to phone the client and the lawyer, in case the client wants to settle for something other than money.

11) The Trades Union and Labour Relations Act (or Possibly the Employment Act now being discussed)

...should insist on proper votes as a condition of a union being certified as independent, a condition which is symbolic but important. Proper votes are members votes, not delegates votes. Members are interested in efficiency and help at work, rather than foreign policy and making donations. This is the same as Union Wish List number eleven. Improper votes are votes by a committee of five who say they represent the membership because they got five votes for themselves in a dingy room one night and act stridently at the biennial sector delegate conference to ask for more money for whoever sent them - usually the Morning Star newspaper. They also ask for senior union officials to have opinions about foreign policy, rather than a good track record in employment tribunals or a qualification.

There is also a bit of case law that needs over-turning: Foster v The Musician's Union made case law that a member should not be able to "conduct an audit of the union's affairs" such as finding-out how much had been paid the the previous general secretary to persuade him to resign. A line of law would put this right.

12) The un-taxed iterest schme for bank accounts should be made easy to use.

I don't know the detail, but an account that pays interest like TSB can pay it tax-free to people who fill-in a form to say that they're not taxpayers. The trouble is that if your form says "I only use this account as treasurer", then they could close it. I don't know the solution.


Account This covers societies, voluntary branch organisations, and large organisations

    • Not much is written about how the smallest organisations, like a union branch or a sports club, should do this so they're a good example to quote.
    • Online. If all respectable charities and political parties put their accounts online it would be easier to spot the others, but they don't, so it isn't, and then they wonder why people don't trust small organisations more
      • There are different laws at the moment for different types of organisations; some have account headings and totals online already, and could tell members this.
        Political party example political party example
        Trades union example
        Company example

        Donations inwards and outwards are an important point for political parties and union branches. They can't be seen in detail; there is no scan of the cheque or the receipt or the bank statement.
    • Ask organisations recieving the money to acknowledge it online as well. A rule not to give to organisations that don't would be a good rule for a union or a political party to have. Some organisations do this already but I don't know of example that help restore trust among the cynical; that save the need for an audit.
    • Technically, all a small organisation's treasurer needs to do is put the pdf-formatted bank statements online in some way, such as on dropbox or a free web server. Quite likely, not a single person would read them unless forced to say they'd read the things before voting, which is a good thing. Anyway, the fact that the statements are there - the transparency - makes trust greater.
    • Technically, there's an increasing number of virtual accounting systems capable of producing accounts for someone like a book-keeper or an accountant who is not allowed to know how to log-in to the bank, nor allowed to spend the money. I haven't done the work of finding out which one suits, but there are lists here:
    • Free Online Bookkeeping Software for Simple Accounts - likely to offer a guest login
    • Simple Bookkeeping and Account Agregators - less likely to have some kind of guest login
    • An example of what to do and what not to doL
      The advertising company Ecosia is also a fundraising company to plant trees. (Digression on planting trees)
      They put copies of receipts for donations in a drop-box account, linked
      Donation receipts for planting trees-
      Expenses -
      Their system is for the credulous: links point to one page graphics which have clearly been put together for this purpose, and so are less plausible than if the hard raw data of bank statements was shown alongside. Donation receips just show a formatted graphic from another organisation, which is less plausible than a simple number because the attempt to dress-up the data in a graphic begs the question: why?

Bank Wish List

1) Offer club accounts where members can log-on to see the statement

Most banks recognise clubs and societies as a small market, in which the Co-Op probably has a large share. Unity Trust bank exists specifically for unions, but is known for resignations of specialised staff after financial disgareements. The only distinctive thing about these accounts is lower interest than these, even if you don't claim tax back on a personal account. Society treasurers have a quaint habit of opening accounts in the society name, to make it look as though it's safer there, which it isn't.

If you work for a bank that would like to get more of this market, you should set-up an account where anyone can see the statement without having to log-on. Elaborations could include free accounting software, or free labelling of transactions by category.

2) Offer slow archive download of account information more than a few months old,

so that treasurers who loose their statements can retrieve the information at the end of the year and investigators who find a fraud can trace it back for longer.

Notes to self

- check quantcast code

- facebook links

- check analytics

- check aardvaark mailing list

- google Bamify ads reduce visitors

I will get back to you if enough people are interested in proper legal insurance for employees. For now, the email handling is handled by Aardvark Mailing List. Like Pledgebank, this list is for people who would like there to be cheap legal insurance but don't set it up because not enough people want it at once to make it viable. If you check out Aardvark, you will see that they remain free bacause they don't give email addresses to list owners; if anyone hijacks your email address it will be them, not, and they look honest. You can add your name to the list to be told when there are a lot of people on it and cheap legal insurance is possible.