Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Here we go, here we go, here we go?

As we were told last week, yesterday saw the launch of the TUC’s coordination of a campaign to break the Government’s 2% pay policy – full details of which are online here.

I am of course a bit of a cynic but it does worry me to read that the TUC has “called on ministers to accept in full the next round of recommendations from the various pay review bodies, if they wanted to avoid a repetition of the anger that provoked a wave of strike ballots across the public sector in 2007.”

Personally I object to pay being set by “review bodies” which pretend to neutrality rather than by the process of collective bargaining – but I recognise that there are divided views on this in the movement. However, given that the whole point of our pay campaign for the coming year is to break the 2% norm I doubt the wisdom of simply tying ourselves to whatever is recommended by the pay review bodies.

Furthermore, I don’t think we will get very far by threatening a repeat of 2007, which saw a comprehensive failure to build a united fight on pay across the public sector.

It is much more helpful to read that “the TUC campaign will also call for pay increases to reflect the true cost of living in the UK. The government insists on using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which currently stands at 2.1% as its target for pay awards. Yet working people are currently facing real inflation levels of 4.1% according to the Retail Price Index (RPI). This measure, which includes housing costs, is a more accurate and realistic reflection of the rising cost of living than the CPI.”

Whilst there is strategic political importance in breaking the 2% norm, our members will only experience any pay settlement as a victory if it at least begins to reverse the decline in living standards over recent years – this certainly means a settlement above the increase in the RPI. The TUC have also issued a report rebutting the suggestion that public sector pay increases are driving inflation.

UNISON local government branches need to remember to return the consultation pro formas to their Regional office so that the local government pay claim can be formulated. We also need to get back on track with work at local and Regional level to build direct links with rank and file members of other Unions.

For those who don’t wish to navigate the obstacle courses which can be set in the way of such sensible initiatives by over rigid interpretation of relevant UNISON guidelines, it would be a good idea to get the local Trades Council to organise a meeting early in the New Year – and to set up a Trades Council if one doesn’t exist so that it is available to enable local rank and file coordination in future.

Officially the Union is set to focus, very sensibly, upon building alliances with the key unions in each sector on a sector by sector basis – this is crucial since it would weaken us if unions with significant membership in health or local government were not part of a united fight. Locally and at a rank and file level it is important that we make links with brothers and sisters in all public sector unions – this is a political fight against a political enemy and we need to maximise our forces to secure the best outcome.

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