Monday, July 21, 2008

Time to think

There are a number of questions which UNISON activists in local government need to be debating right at the moment, in the aftermath of last week’s strike action.

What was the effectiveness of our action and how is it to be measured?

What ought our objectives in this dispute now to be and how shall we attempt to achieve them?

What are the likely moves from the employers’ side and how should we prepare ourselves to respond to these?

Discussing these questions presupposes a willingness to discuss some deeper and more abstract underlying questions (such as; What is the current role of the trade unions in collective bargaining over pay? How do we build our trade union at the present time? What is the nature of our relationship with the local government employers (and behind them the Government) and how do we apply pressure to shift them?)

There are also more practical and concrete questions which lead forward from the questions set out above (such as; What action do we take next? What is the relative priority between urgency and unity with other unions? Should we debate the merits of selective as against all-out action? What political campaigning should be undertaken and how should this be integrated into the dispute?)

There is a hazard to having these debates in public, which is that the employers can see what we are talking about. Having just come back from the Tolpuddle Martyrs festival the fundamental conflict of interests between employers and employed in a capitalist society is very much on my mind, and I would rather that our discussions could take place purely between ourselves.

However “ourselves” means not just the dozens who serve on national or Regional Committees of our Union, nor the thousands who serve on Branch Committees and stood on picket lines, nor even the many many thousands who took strike action last week. All these groups are important (the active supporters of the strike most of all) but “we” in the context of this dispute are local government workers.

We have no option but to have our discussion in the open. I hope that branches will be timetabling meetings over the coming days and calling for Regional meetings in the very near future so that this discussion can take place through the official channels of the Union.

I also hope that discussion will take place through unofficial and informal channels, such as all the various UNISON activist and office-holder blogs, and the new unofficial local government worker email discussion group.

Last week was the time for action, this week is the time for discussion.

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