Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The long and winding road

I'll blog my full report of today's UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) meeting after I have circulated it to London branches. For now I'll deal with some highlights.

Dave Prentis was clear with the NEC that "we are on the road to industrial action" in relation to the various attacks upon our pensions which have their origins in the deliberate policies of the Coalition Government.

He emphasised the importance of the widest unity, of the need for sustained action (beyond a single "day of action") and of the need to prepare our members to give resounding support for such action - and to prepare our membership records to give us the greatest possible confidence in the face of likely legal challenges to our ballot(s).

In this context, he was clear that UNISON would not be in a position to call strike action on 30 June, the date being mooted for action by the NUT and PCS. As I said at the meeting, I wish we were in a position now to ballot for national action on that date, but accept, regretfully, that we are not.

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Trotwatcher) will know that I have not been uncritical of the tardiness of our response - particularly to the decision, taken in June of last year, to reduce the value of all our pensions by changing the basis on which they are uprated. I wish we were further ahead on our trip down the "road to industrial action."

However, now that the Union leadership is moving in a positive direction on this issue it is most important that we encourage this and focus our fire - and our ire - on the Government. In this regard it was positive that Dave made clear that UNISON would express support for the cause of those taking action on 30 June, even if we were not in a position to join them on that date.

Dave seemed to have expected some opposition on this point, and subsequent contributions to debate from some of his supporters expressed suprise at the absence of a "polarised debate" (even as one or two did their best to polarise by taking issue with things that hadn't been said).

From a wide range of views, NEC members expressed support for sustained industrial action and a recognition of what is at stake in this dispute. Defeat in this battle could spell an early end for Cameron and Clegg, which means that they will throw everything at us.

If we are to move forward in unity, the General Secretary and the whole NEC need to give confidence about our seriousness about taking action at an early and appropriate time - and must involve activists in a wide-ranging debate about our strategy and tactics.

We must also build and sustain unity across the movement, including organisations (such as the RCN) with little history of struggle, as well as those (like PCS and the NUT) who are, admirably, in a position to move ahead of our timetable.

Our first steps must be to educate our members about this attack and make the administrative preparations for a ballot. We also need to think in practical ways about how UNISON can show support to action on 30 June if we cannot be a full part of that action.

This is the biggest issue facing us as a national trade union.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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