Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Pensions - how too few cooks could spoil the broth

I will report fully on today's UNISON NEC meeting shortly, but will mention a couple of things which need specific thought in advance.

The great bulk of today's vital discussion on the coming strike in defence of our pensions was positive and unifying.

Dave Prentis described the forthcoming action on 30 June as the "first wave", whilst resisting being drawn on a date by which we hope to move into action ourselves.

I was with the minority of NEC members who felt we should be setting ourselves a target date - but I accept that the majority are equally determined to see action. I welcome the positive encouragement to UNISON branches to attend, with our banners at demonstrations called by the striking unions on 30 June.

We must now intensify efforts to inform and enrage our members about the Tory Coalition Government's plans to force us to pay 50% more for pensions which will be worth 50% less (which is how our General Secretary summarised the plans).

However, regular readers of this blog, Sid and Doris Hoxha, do not come here to read unalloyed praise of the UNISON leadership (UNISON Active has cornered that market anyway). I shall therefore explain why I supported the (flawed) proposal of my friend and comrade, Roger Bannister that we needed a new "strike committee" to oversee the pensions dispute, against the spirited, yet even more flawed, defence of the status quo from the Chair of our Policy Committee.

Although Roger's proposal fell, I think that it would be a mistake to see that as a vote of confidence in our existing arrangements to co-ordinate disputes which cross the sacrosanct boundaries of our autonomous Service Groups.

After the LGPS dispute a few years ago, our largest Service Group, local government, at our Conference, expressed a "lack of confidence" in the Service Group Liaison Committee "as an effective forum to coordinate the defence of the interests of our members." (

A Panglossian defence of existing arrangements is unwise on the brink of the most important dispute for a generation. At a minimum, the "LGPS Campaign Group" which reports in to the Service Group Liaison Committee should be extended so that, as well as representatives of every Sector with members in the LGPS, it incorporates representation from each Regional Local Government Committee.

This would both draw in important voices from the length and breadth of the UK and also address the under representation of members in the NJC sector in local government, without removing the essential voice for members in the smaller sectors.

Those who remember our existing structures as having "worked well last time" are ignoring the dissatisfaction expressed not only by our Local Government Conference in 2007 - but also in the campaign which led to the calling of UNISON's only ever Special Local Government Conference.

If we wish to avoid fractious debates at our Conference this month we need not only to offer a clearer timetable for action but also a better, more representative and more transparent structure to co-ordinate lay leadership of the coming dispute.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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