Saturday, July 18, 2009

Local Government Pay: What is to be Done?

I quite clearly blame the local government employers for their failure to make a sensible pay offer to local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the current year.

Indeed I agree with fellow blogger Heather Wakefield that public sector workers are entitled to decent pay increases. The question which now confronts trade unionists however is, what is to be done?

Perhaps we should start with the latest decision of our Local Government Conference?

Composite F concluded that "Members want to see a strategy which acknowledges and responds to their concerns in a co-ordinated manner" but unfortunately didn't set out much of the detail of that strategy which, Conference agreed "should represent a new social settlement incorporating:-

i) pay;

ii) funding for local government which minimises job loss, increases apprenticeship and training places and maintains services;

iii) review of procurement and commissioning to minimise the threat of privatisation;

iv) recognition of the positive contribution trade unions and our members have to play in service improvement and eliminating waste."

I hope that delegates from the Regions which promoted Composite F will make it their business to help all of us in UNISON understand clearly with whom we are seeking this social settlement (is it with the Leader of the largest political group on the employers' side - really?)

In the mean time we need to prepare to consult our members on whatever the employers' offer eventually is and, as we do so, we have to be clear that - in national pay negotiations (and in the absence of any "new social settlement") the only route to an offer better than "the best that can be achieved by negotiation" is national industrial action.

If we draw what is good out of Composite F and use the exercise of consulting members on pay offers as an organising tool then we can point ourselves in the right direction towards the destination at which, when we arrive, we can take effective action when it is required.

(As an aside, some of the least persuasive arguments against national industrial action have been put by a minority in the Greater London Region who seem to have fallen under the sway of a political group who have never favoured national action.)

There is nothing novel about hostility to national strike action (whether that hostility is informed by simple bureaucratic timidity or by an anachronistic brand of Maoism filtered through the experience of manufacturing trade unionism in the 60s and 70s).

Nevertheless, in the face of challenges to our pay, pensions and job security our first priority must be to build our organisational strength - and this must inform the way in which we now use the necessary process of consulting our members on what will obviously be an unsatisfactory and inadequate pay offer.

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