Saturday, August 06, 2011

Leadership in the pensions dispute - and anonymous commentary

I don't know the identity of the anonymous contributor to the semi-official blog "UNISON Active" who took issue ( with commentary from Gregor Gall on the pensions dispute ( For ease of reference let's call our anonymous friend Joseph Vissarionovich, or "JV" for short.

Gregor, in a reasoned contribution to an important debate, observed that the Preliminary Agenda for this year's "slimline" Trades Union Congress reveals that the big unions haven't made submissions calling for co-ordinated industrial action over the Government's attacks on public sector pensions. This sounds a discordant note when heard alongside the harmonious calls for such action made at last year's Congress - and from our General Secretary at and before UNISON Conference.

Instead of engaging with this substantive point, "JV" instead picks up on an aside in Gregor's article about the desirability of General Secretaries touring workplaces in order to lampoon a serious commentary as no more than a manifestation of the "great leader" approach (a view of history comprehensively debunked by a generation of great Marxist historians including Christopher Hill, Edward Thompson and Eric Hobsbawm).

This enables "JV" in his or her role as publicity officer for our General Secretary's fan club to laud UNISON's "bottom up" approach to preparation for industrial action over pensions. But somehow, "JV", you seem to miss Gregor Gall's point.

We can do all the data-cleansing we want (and we do, and must) - and we can train up pensions champions by the thousand (as we are and should) - but a "bottom up" approach does have to go "up" and influence the conduct of our leadership.

Sometimes - when caught up in the excitement of a two hundred strong "pensions summit" with no constitutional basis or decisionmaking authority perhaps - being an (albeit anonymous) "insider" may not help "JV" to see what is going on.

Perhaps in order to avoid not being able to see the wood for the trees it sometimes helps to be on the outside, looking in.

Does the conduct of UNISON's leadership since Conference suggest a genuine wish for co-ordinated industrial action to defeat the Government, or a preference for cutting deals "scheme by scheme"?

It's a fair question for Gregor Gall to have addressed, and "JV" does UNISON members a disservice by misrepresenting the argument and turning debate about tactics into a loyalty test.

It's twenty years since the Berlin Wall came down, but the Berlin Walls of the mind which convince sufferers that all dissent is divisive continue to haunt our movement.

Gregor Gall deserves a proper and respectful response from those prepared to put their name to their views.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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