Saturday, August 25, 2007

Where now on local government pay?

I find I agree with my comrade and fellow NEC member, Emma Goodall, who thinks that the best response to a pay offer to local government workers which flies in the face of UNISON Local Government Conference policy is a strike ballot.

However there will be those – at the National Joint Council Committee and at the Service Group Executive – who will want to duck a fight because they don’t believe that our members will strike against the new offer. If that is their view then those colleagues should have had the courage to express their opinions at Conference. It is a shame that they did not.

I don’t believe for one moment that our members want to go on strike. No one takes strike action lightly and the sacrifice in terms of lost pay is often greater in the short term than the gains of an improved pay offer. The duty of trade union leadership is to develop strategies to advance our members interests and then to campaign to win the confidence and support of our members to implement those strategies. It is not the role of trade union leadership simply to reflect back to our members their own feelings at any point in time - nor to accept what the employers offer and then come back and sell it to the members.

What will happen if we approach our members now, having twice consulted over the employers’ prevarication, and now consult them on an offer in line with the employers original position (which was to tip local authorities the wink that they should budget for 2.5% on the pay bill, which most duly did)?

If we do so on the basis that “this is the best that can be achieved by negotiation and it will take sustained strike action to get any more” without making a recommendation in line with the agreed policy of the Local Government Service Group Conference then the message that that will give is that the leadership lack confidence in our ability to win a decent pay rise. This is precisely the outcome which would be sought by someone who wanted to undermine the policy agreed at Conference.

Now I agree that this offer is “the best that can be achieved by negotiation” and that “it will take sustained strike action to get any more” – therefore, in the light of the clear policy of the Service Group agreed at Conference, we should ballot for that sustained strike action – if our members don’t want to take that action they can vote “no” and accept the employers’ offer.

If we have a strike ballot the Union will be in a position to campaign in line with Conference policy for a “yes” vote in the ballot, whereas if we run yet another consultation there may be no clear lead – and members will (rightly) read such an abdication of responsibility as a tacit message to accept the offer.

One thing is very clear. Neither the NJC Committee, nor the SGE can change the policy of the Service Group, which is that “we believe that a settlement based on a 2.5% total "envelope" would not be acceptable to our members, however it was packaged. With inflation at an eight year high of 4.8% and further rises in interest rates predicted this would amount to a real and substantial further cut in living standards for Local Government Workers.We further believe that only a substantial campaign of industrial action, wherever possible coordinated with other unions, its likely to produce a successful outcome to this pay campaign.”

Therefore, whether we move, as we should, to a strike ballot or, as I believe we should not, to yet another consultation on this unacceptable offer, branches and individuals must be free to campaign, in either ballot, to persuade members to vote in line with the policy of the Service Group Conference. Which was to issue a clear recommendation for rejection of any offer based on an overall envelope of 2.5% or less.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good points Ian.

Is there any way that ordinary members can be informed of which way individual members of the SGE vote on key decisions?

After all, the electorate can readily find out the voting record of their MPs...

UNISON member