General Secretary

August 2013 | 18.08.2013

POA members deserve more respect

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At the time of writing this article, five prison officers at HMP Belmarsh have been suspended because a prisoner’s family member had made an allegation that he had been assaulted.

The sensationalist, media frenzy that dominated the headlines was incredible and at times totally unacceptable. It was disrespectful to the hard-working men and women who are true professionals and at times, put their lives at risk to keep the public safe. I accept that all allegations must be investigated and where an allegation of criminal activity is made then it should be investigated by the police, however, on the information that I have received, I firmly believe that those prison officers will be totally exonerated because they have done absolutely nothing wrong - apart from carry out approved techniques of control and restraint in a lawful manner. Hopefully, by the time this article is published, our members will be cleared and back at work being fully supported by their employer.

Professional prison officers

The media language needs to alter and reporters need to understand that there are no “warders” or “wardens” or indeed “guards”. In our prisons we have professional prison officers and that is how they should be referred in future.

The term “warder” was abolished in 1921 and replaced by “prison officers”. I also believe prison officers, whilst respected by the vast majority of the general public, are not protected nor indeed respected when they are subjected to horrendous assaults at work.

The media seem not at all interested in the fact that 3,000 prison officers are assaulted each year. The job that our members do in the public and private sector prisons, along with the members in immigration services and our special hospitals seems to be taken for granted and that needs to change. Our members are crying out to be treated fairly at work. When they are assaulted then the full weight of the law should come down on the perpetrators and the media should be highlighting the injustice. All violence is wrong within our establishments and there should be a zero tolerance attitude. It is time for the Crown Prosecution Service to waken up and treat POA members properly. The POA at national level will keep the pressure on every day until such times as all POA members gain respect in their respective workplaces from their employers, members of parliament, and the media.

DURHAM MINERS GALA

The weekend of the 13th July 2013 saw around 150,000 trade unionists and communities come together to celebrate the “big meeting”. (See the full report on page 14 of this issue). I was pleased to be invited by the Durham Miners Association to represent the POA. There were some fine speeches from Frances O’Grady, the TUC General Secretary, Owen Jones, author and journalist, Kevin Maguire of the Daily Mirror, Bob Crow, the RMT General Secretary and Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of Unite the Union. A special guest who spoke extremely well was Ricky Tomlinson who paid the ultimate price of sticking up for working class people by getting a jail sentence. He is still fighting to clear his name. I firmly believe that one day the Shrewsbury trade unionists will clear their names. The gala, of course, goes from strength-to-strength; it is so important and is firmly in the diary as one of the biggest events in the trade union calendar. Davie Hopper, the General Secretary of the Durham Miners Association has asked me to speak next year and it will be an absolute privilege to do so on behalf of the POA.

FRINGE MEETINGS AT PARTY POLITICAL CONFERENCES

The POA will be speaking at the Liberal Party Conference, Labour Party Conference and the Conservative Party Conference and the theme is: “What next for the Criminal Justice System”. At this early stage, Lord McNally has confirmed he will be speaking on the panel at the Liberal Party fringe, Sadiq Khan will be speaking at the Labour Party fringe and Crispin Blunt will be speaking at the Conservative Party fringe. This gives the POA a chance to air our views in a public forum once again.

Demonstration at Conservative Party conference

The TUC is organising which promises to be a massive demonstration of trade unions and community groups at the Tory Party conference. Further information about this event will be given out by circular and our website.

We are hoping that many POA members turn out to protest against the cuts to our emergency services and indeed, against the pay freeze and attempts to further privatise public services such as prisons, the Royal Mail and of course, our NHS.

I think politicians forget public services belong to the public not politicians and they have no right to sell off our services. The POA have always said and warned that if they can sell off a prison they will sell off anything. Turn out in numbers colleagues to this demonstration.

The POA have been calling for a full independent public inquiry into privatisation, perhaps we are nearing that point where the general public might just start to question whether there are benefits or not to this agenda, not just by this Coalition Government but successive governments dating back to the 1980s.

Perhaps public opinion is starting to sway and the pendulum is swinging back in favour of properly funded public services. I do not believe the public will stand by and watch the demise of great public institutions, or at least I hope not. As previously stated, further information will be available on the run up to this demonstration.

TUC CONGRESS

The POA will be taking its entitlement of seven delegates to the TUC in Bournemouth this year from Sunday 8 September until Wednesday 11 September 2013.

We have two motions to speak on which involve the criminal justice system and public services along with a motion regarding employment tribunals and health and safety. I am sure the debates at this year’s Congress will be as lively as they were last year when the POA called for consideration of a general strike. I still believe the only way that the trade union movement will stop the avalanche of cuts and detriment to our living standards is for the trade union movement to work together in a more co-ordinated manner and that a general strike should be held in our armoury and not ruled out.

I make no apology whatsoever in stating that because if we continue to idly stand by and watch everything that our fathers and grandfathers (and those before them) fought for and the sacrifices that they made then it will have been for nothing. Remember, everything that the trade union movement - including this union - had gained was not given to us. It was fought for and won. A full report will be given on the TUC and all the fringe meetings attended in Bournemouth in the December issue of Gatelodge.

TOLPUDDLE MARTYRS’ CELEBRATION

I attended the weekend of the Martyrs’ festival in July to remember how trade unionism evolved in this country. The agricultural workers sole crime was essentially setting up a trade union in simple language and being taken to Dorchester Prison and ultimately Australia in the 1800s. The outcry was heard loud and clear all the way to Parliament. Special thanks go to Mike Sear, branch official at HMP Dorchester, who arranges the “Hike for Rights” which is now an integral part of the weekend where a walk is held in reverse from the prison to Tolpuddle as a mark of respect for the Martyrs.

I am grateful to the POA membership who attended the festival. Once again, some excellent speeches were heard from leading trade unionists from this country and abroad. The turnout from communities and trade unions seems to me to be getting bigger each year at Tolpuddle and it is pleasing to see youngsters turn up – which makes me think there is a bright future for trade unions for generations to come. The clear message from all at Tolpuddle and the Gala was that austerity is not working and the only people that can ultimately lead the fight back is trade unions with the help of community groups.

POA SUPPORTS THE “BIG MEETING”

I was pleased to see POA members attend and join in the celebrations of the mining communities who have seen coal fields totally obliterated during industrial vandalism. The result is that we now import coal from countries where thousands of miners lose their lives in unsafe mines and, in some cases, where child labour is used.

Since the last gala, the Durham Miners Association lost the osteoarthritis of the knee case in the Court of Appeal. The judgement has prevented the case of miners, whose knees have been damaged by their work in the pits, being heard in the High Court. The case has cost at least £1.4 million in attempting to win justice for miners’ families. The POA know all about injustices from lost court cases regarding pension age and redundancy. It is for this reason that the “big meeting” must continue and we are pleased to support along with other trade unions “Friends of the Durham Miners Gala” to keep it going for future generations.

I would encourage local branches of the POA to affiliate to this worthy trade union cause. The Durham Miners Association is extremely supportive of the POA and our struggles and as part of the trade union movement we are pleased to stand with them in solidarity.

Steve Gillan
POA General Secretary