Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fremantle and the TUC one year on

I was honoured to attend a meeting of the Barnet UNISON Fremantle stewards industrial action committee this evening, where I was impressed once more with the determination of our low paid women members to fight to win back the conditions which have been stolen from them by their employers.

Senior regional officials of UNISON were there to express support and I would expect to hear more shortly about our campaign to restore lost conditions in a dispute which epitomises everything about our Union’s policy of opposition to privatisation and the need for an effective response.

This reminded me that – at last year’s TUC Congress – the Fremantle dispute got considerable helpful publicity. Which in turn reminded me that I have yet to blog about the Preliminary Agenda for the TUC, which has been online since Monday.

The agenda is the normal mixed bag, ranging from a call for regular foot health screening in schools from the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists (SCP) to a call for a series of one day general strikes against the anti-union laws from the Prison Officers Association (POA). Since we clearly do need to organise more strikes (involving standing on picket lines) and marches, the movement will no doubt have cause to call upon the SCP if we are to sustain our campaigns – and should anyone be imprisoned for our campaigning then the support of the POA will be a great comfort also.

The point that jumped out at me from this year’s agenda was the number of submissions on the crucial question of public sector pay. As I have reported before, one of UNISON’s motions is on public sector pay and the economy and calls for the TUC to co-ordinate public sector unions on pay and support unions taking industrial action. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) make some fairly modest (though sound) demands of the General Council in terms of production of campaign materials and support for joint union activity. The National Union of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) make a fairly optimistic demand of the Government to engage in constructive dialogue with the General Council, which rather misses the point (a bit too much of the old “social partnership” approach there I fear!)

Some other unions go a fair bit further in trying to get to united action however. The National Union of Teachers (NUT) call for coordinated action and a major national demonstration in opposition to public sector pay limits. The University and College Union (UCU) call for a Conference for all public sector unions in October to agree a date for united strike action. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) call upon the General Council to coordinate action, including a national demonstration before the end of the year, and the organisation of days of action including one major national day of action.

What will emerge from the process of compositing (known at Congress as “grouping”) remains to be seen. UNISON will rightly wish to assert our authority in those discussions as the largest public service union – and no doubt colleagues in other unions will already be looking at the very useful UNISON Conferences database in order to be clear about the policies democratically agreed by lay UNISON Conference delegates which should guide the position of UNISON officials participating in such discussions.

It is UNISON Conference policy to “continue a united campaign across the union and other public service unions to oppose the government's unjust and unjustifiable policy on public sector pay”.

So it would be in breach of the policy agreed by UNISON Conference if anyone representing UNISON sought to argue against a national demonstration on public sector pay, or against coordinated national strike action. Whether we need another Conference to set a date for unified strike action I am not sure. What we need is for a date to be set – perhaps UNISON will accept the responsibility to provide this leadership by setting a date for action by all our members who are in dispute over pay and inviting other TUC affiliates to join in?

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