Thursday, July 21, 2011

A tale of two sections

Today was another busy day for activists in my own branch, with the different experiences of two different sections of our workforce illustrating a clear lesson about the value of union organisation.

We called off strike action in our libraries - because we secured a deal which met our objective of averting compulsory redundancies, whilst protecting the service better than the previous proposals from management (http://www.yourlocalguardian.co.uk/news/local/streathamnews/9153624.Library_strike_called_off/).

Later that same day we lost a key vote at Lambeth's Finance Scrutiny Committee, although we had won the argument, with the result that the Council will press ahead with privatising its own caller centre - to Capita who intend to move the work to Southampton. We will continue to resist - and to do all we can to protect our members - but there is no disguising that this was a setback.

Why such different results in the same branch?

The crucial difference between the two sections is the density of union membership and the demonstrated willingness of those members to take action. In Libraries - where we saved every job - we have 90% density and had a 90% "YES" vote in an official ballot. In the Caller Centre we represent a minority of the workforce - and had not yet been able to get to the point of balloting.

The lesson of this contrast is twofold. First, recruitment matters to members and non-members alike, because "Kirklees" levels of membership give us the potential power to protect the workforce as a whole.

Secondly, to realise that potential, local leaders need to use the confidence which strong membership gives them to find the courage to organise industrial action.

On most working days for a year or more now I have been in at least one meeting to discuss redundancies. I have never seen the union contribution listened to as attentively as it is when backed up by a mandate for strike action.

There are those who believe that you ought not to ballot for action until you have "exhausted" all procedures, some even wrongly believe this to be a requirement of UNISON policy. This is, of course, a foolish view.

I am very pleased that the Greater London Region supported, and the NEC Industrial Action Committee sanctioned, a strike ballot - and a date for action - whilst we were deeply enmeshed in continuing discussions with management.

It is because we were supported to take this correct approach that we have been able to defeat compulsory redundancies in Lambeth Libraries.

We will seek to apply the key lessons of this episode to other local disputes - and I invite other UNISON members reading this post to do likewise.

We need an application form in one hand and a copy of the UNISON Industrial Action Handbook in the other!

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

were there more temps in the call centre

Anonymous said...

Most likely - and unions need to do far more to organise temps (not a criticism of Lambeth branch, but UNISON generally does very little in this area).

BTW, it is refreshing to read an NEC member who is able to report actual real grass roots organisation, unlike "comrade" John Gray who seemingly can only report back the bureaucratic machinations of the witch-hunters, or the latest pro-Labour propaganda he has been handing out to potential voters.