Tuesday, March 06, 2007

SGE win without inspiring Special Conference

I have blogged on the excellent Lambeth branch blog about the outcome of today’s Special Local Government Conference. This rejected calls for a strike ballot by a convincing margin and voted instead for continuing negotiations, to be followed by a consultative ballot in which members will be asked to choose either to accept the Government’s proposals, with any changes secured in those negotiations, or to back substantial and escalating industrial action.

Jean Geldart, Chair of the Service Group Executive(SGE), moved the successful composite, acknowledging that we had not achieved all our objectives but pointing out the significant improvements which she claimed had arisen from the negotiations to date. Her most powerful argument, borne out by the eventual vote, was that many branches lacked confidence in the willingness of members to take further strike action on this issue at this time.

I have blogged here incessantly about my criticisms of the tactics in this dispute which have played a major role in creating circumstances in which it is now clear that many members and activists have lost confidence in our ability to repeat the effective strike action taken on 28 March last year.

Paul Holmes, Secretary of the Kirklees local government branch – the branch which had led pressure for a Special Conference to be called – proposed the alternative point of view, that whilst members may have lost confidence and enthusiasm for the dispute because of the errors which had been made, nevertheless when presented with the arguments, members would be willing to back action.

I thought that Paul made amongst the very best contributions of the day and that his initial analysis that we would stand or fall by our ability to impart to those who are disappointed the confidence that we could do better proved to be spot on, albeit that we fell rather than stood as a result.

In my doubtless biased opinion the “left” (for want of a better word) had the best of the debate, with supporters of the platform rapidly descending to the sort of red-baiting that I thought they mostly preferred to do anonymously these days.

I am in no doubt that had we not blundered by calling off further strike action in the run up to last May’s elections we could have secured more substantial progress than we have done, particularly in relation to protecting existing scheme members, some of whom stand to lose many thousands of pounds as a result of this error by our leadership.

I suspect that many of those who supported the “top table” position today share that view – indeed more than one of those supporting Composite A against the pro-strike ballot Composite C said as much.

However, it was always going to be incredibly difficult to overcome the disillusion which set in through the loss of momentum as we were led through fruitless negotiations with the employer by way of a misguided legal challenge. Today an attempt was made to do this, but it failed.

It would be wrong to view this outcome as a crushing defeat, just as it would be wrong to view the current proposals on the new look LGPS as simply a bad deal. They fall short of our objectives (and it is dishonest to pretend otherwise) but there are positive aspects of the proposals.

Our strike action on 28 March last year put us in a better position to secure concessions than if we had not struck (just as further timely strike action would have put us in a better position still). There will be further challenges to our pensions, as there will be to our pay and conditions, our job security and our public services.

The outcome of the LGPS dispute to date shows what can be achieved with organisation and the willingness to take action, and how much more could be achieved with greater organisation and greater willingness to take action.

One final comment – there are those who are critical of the calling of a Special Conference. They should reflect upon the reasons why so many branches backed the call for a Conference, including many who clearly voted today for Composite A. In no sense can today be interpreted as a vote of confidence in the conduct of the dispute. I hope that lessons are learned.

Here is an update on Wednesday afternoon – the UNISON website now carries an official report of the Conference decision. Coincidentally the longest quotation from any individual speech is from an NEC colleague facing, as most do, a contested election.

A further update on Thursday evening. The sole right wing "rank and file" UNISON blogger has now chipped in on the discussion about the Special Conference as you will see in the comments below. I try not to be freaked out by his apparent obsession...

I won't post a link to nonsense - but if you want to know where it is you can email me at jonrogers1963@btinternet.com and I shall let you know. For my part I shall continue only and ever to blog openly - I have very limited respect for those who hide behind anonymity to attack others in our movement.

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