Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Is now the time for action?

As in comedy so in industrial struggle, timing can be everything. At a branch level you know when it is too early to argue for strike action over impending job losses (when everything is too vague and uncertain for people to be sufficiently worked up about it) and you know when it is too late (when the majority know that they are safe and only a few people face possible redundancy). Getting that moment in the middle isn’t easy.

So I do have some sympathy with those at the top of the movement who can’t quite decide whether this really is the year to stop the public sector pay freeze. Last year UNISON members in health were balloted without a recommendation on pay (and woe betide any who tried to issue recommendations!) In local government we were recommended to reject but in the face of equivocal views from sections of the lay as well as the full-time leadership, our strike ballot delivered a result which did not lead to action. So 2007 wasn’t the year.

I think it should be 2008. I don’t believe anyone who says they think that 2009 looks a better bet. With a General Election likely I fear that there will be a battening down of political hatches. If we don’t fight back against below inflation pay rises this year then we are likely to walk into multi-year pay deals (whether they start this year or next) which will cut the living standards of our members year on year for the foreseeable future.

I have heard a fair bit now about how complex it is to coordinate action on pay between different Unions – indeed between different bits of the same Union! I am sure it is complex, but I think that we have a national leadership precisely in order to do complex and difficult things so I am not persuaded by that argument to the conclusion that we cannot achieve coordination.

I have also heard it said that national strike action is somehow out of date, but this unoriginal argument (which I am sure I first heard parroted by “Eurocommunists” more than twenty years ago) belongs in the undergraduate politics seminar where it was first thought of (particularly since its adherents haven’t the first idea what we can put in place of strike action).

I’ll let you know what is said on Wednesday at the UNISON NEC on this topic. I have heard it said that UNISON has been hostile to calls for action at the TUC, but I’m sure that can’t be right, because such calls are in line with our agreed policy. I expect it was a joke. But then in comedy, as in industrial action, timing can be very important to the humour…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What we're facing in the public sector this year (and possibly the next two years) is a disgrace. We have to act now, and act as a union in solidarity across our service groups - and in solidarity with other unions operating in the public sector.
Yes, timing is everything - you are so right, John.
And the time has come to seek fair play and fair pay - 2% of an elected MPs pay is a damn sight more than 2% of my pay. And the pay of the vast and overwhelming majority of our members...... We have to make our voices heard this year.