Monday, October 29, 2007

Local Government Pay - no fight this year...

Although my initial reaction to the news that we had a 51% “YES” vote on a 24% turnout in the national local government strike ballot was that we should press ahead with strike action because we had won the ballot, I can also, on reflection, understand why the National Joint Council (NJC) Committee voted by 24 votes to 3 not to proceed with strike action but instead to accept the employers’ offer.

Given the close result it might well have been difficult to sustain the strike action which would have been necessary to win and – although I suspect that had I been voting at the meeting this afternoon I would have been with the minority in believing that this could still have been done, the real problem is not with the vote at the NJC Committee but with the reasons underlying the close vote in the ballot.

There will be some who will see in the divided views of the membership some justification for their own initial pessimism – however, I think that what has been tested and found wanting in this year’s pay round thus far is an approach to leadership in the trade union movement which believes that the purpose of leadership is to hold a mirror to the members and reflect back their views and feelings, in this case indecision and a lack of confidence.

Leadership ought however to consist in developing, on the basis of the interests and opinions of the membership a strategy to advance those interests which the leadership should then take to the membership in order to campaign for their support. This proactive approach to raising public sector pay was implicit in the policies endorsed at UNISON Conference and at the Trades Union Congress.

This approach has not been put into practice this year. The alternative approach has been exemplified by the decisions of, for example, UNISON’s Health Service Group Executive and of the other local government unions – GMB and UNITE(TGWU) not to recommend rejection of below inflation pay increases, leading to acceptance of these offers by the members. These decisions in themselves can be – and have been – justified on the basis of a belief that the members are not up for the fight that would have been necessary to win.

If that is so, and the UNISON local government ballot result suggests that it may be at least partly true, then the roots of this problem can be traced to the collective failure of the trade union leadership to develop and campaign for an effective strategy to reverse the decline in the living standards of public service workers. I do not exclude myself from this criticism – and I do think we now face a serious challenge to try to construct in reality and from below the unity of purpose which was expressed rhetorically and from above at the TUC.

The alternative is a continuing squeeze on the living standards of public sector trade unionists – and a continuation of the flaccid failure to offer effective leadership. The 2008 pay campaign starts now, and it does not start from a very good place I am afraid.

Update on Monday evening – here is the official version; “Local government workers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland have slammed this year’s below-inflation annual pay award, but stopped short of outright industrial action at this stage, putting employers and the government in the ‘last chance saloon’ over pay.”

If they don’t come up with a better offer next year we will mobilise some really really scary clichés – never mind the “last chance saloon”!

Seriously I am pleased that we are committing ourselves in public to start a campaign for 2008 based on securing fair pay and conditions improvements and defeating plans to attack national conditions and negotiating machinery. The question is, what are we actually going to do though?

2 comments:

nick venedi said...

Its a shame we arenot going out most members I have spoken to wanted to take action!

Anonymous said...

The lack of strike action i have to say is a further condemnation on the leadership of UNISON. The debates & censorship that were levelled at branches & members leading up to & during the ballot period were an absolute disgrace.
The lack of campaigning for a Yes vote spoke volumes in terms of the personal politics that are being played out in some regions, some branches only sending out a paltry 4 line email advising members to use their vote, not even bothering to send out the FREE campaign material from national office.
I am ashamed to be part of this union at present but i am proud to be a trade unionist & believe members must fight for what is rightfully ours, our forefathers & sisters did not spill their own blood only to see parts of this union driven under ground by those posing as trade unionists.
We have to take back what is ours & get back to what we are here for, defending members rights & defending those that defend our members i.e Karen & Yunus, which i have to add would almost be forgotten if it were not for true trade unionists creating blogs such as this & getting the message out that this union is ours!