Thursday, April 28, 2011

The human impact of the cuts - and what we need to do

This afternoon, as the nation prepares to spend a day celebrating the marriage of an upper class twit to a wanabee upper class twit, out here in reality the cuts are biting hard.
In spite of months of effort on the part of the trade union, I have today seen a good UNISON member made compulsorily redundant - even though UNISON had identified alternative employment opportunities which the employer had failed to explore.
Of course there may be a further legal remedy months down the road. But activists know both how hard it can be now to get a case before a tribunal with union backing, and how meagre the compensation for unfair dismissal can be. Essentially, a compulsory redundancy is a defeat for the trade union (without in any sense being a victory for the employer, since it is public service which will suffer in the end).
I am driven to great anger when I see a dedicated and effective public servant thrown out of work as I have today. Every Councillor who believes they took "hard decisions" when they voted to make cuts should realise that the truly "hard decisions" are those made by redundant workers having to work out how to make ends meet.
This isn't the first such instance - and certainly won't be the last. Whilst I wholeheartedly welcome and support UNISON's campaign against the candidates of the parties of the Coalition Government in next week's local elections (outside London) we need to remember that Labour Councils have bent the knee before George Osborne and are cutting back just as are Tories and Lib Dems.
UNISON needs to stand up against all the attacks our members face, and from whichever quarter they come. We need to do so locally and nationally.
We face a strategic choice. We could batten down the hatches and try to negotiate retreats and concessions dressed up in rhetorical opposition to cuts which we will in fact have accepted.
Or we can organise the maximum effective resistance achievable in order to mitigate the impact of the cuts through resistance rather than collaboration.
Regular readers (Sid and Doris Borderline-Trot) won't be suprised to learn that I favour the latter, which I think means we must do the following.
First, we must build union organisation at a local level - but not as an end in itself. Organisation is not an objective, but a tool to achieve our objective, which is to defend the interests of our members and of workers generally. Therefore, alongside building organisation we must try to build the confidence and combativity of our members.
Secondly, we must maximise effective solidarity with the forthcoming co-ordinated national strike action on 30 June, timetabling any official action we can to coincide and organising support for pickets and protests for those who are taking action.
Thirdly, we must take to UNISON Conference the demand that UNISON must lead the next nationally co-ordinated action, and must lead it as the next step in a sustained campaign of action with the objective of defeating the Government. Pensions may be the causas belli but the battle which will be joined is over the whole future of public services and the Welfare State.
Finally, since we want a leadership which builds union organisation because we want to fight to defend our interests (as opposed to a leadership which will talk a good fight in the hope of sustaining union organisation) it is all the more important that UNISON activists get the vote out in the current NEC elections - for the candidates of the left .
(I confidently predict that, with more than a million members yet to cast their votes, there is everything yet to play for.)
Anyone who has some spare time on their hands tomorrow should find plenty of union work waiting to be done...

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