Monday, December 19, 2011

Breaking news - there will be no deal on pensions today

In this time of 24 hour “news” everything is reported at breakneck speed, in simplified soundbites that continually convey a sense of dramatic motion. This is certainly the case as we wait to hear from the Public Service Liaison Group meeting at the TUC this afternoon. It can cause a loss of perspective.

The BBC tell us negotiations are “on a knife edge”. There are hints of optimism from the teachers and, again, according to the BBC “there has been some agreement on the scheme affecting local government employees.”

Such reporting encourages some over hasty responses in various quarters. Some of the cries of “sell-out” are, at the very least, premature. (Remember that some comrades predicted that local government would be broken away from the unity of the public sector back in the summer…)

Mind you, the vitriolic response of the anonymous blogger at UNISONActive is at least as sterile as any of the denunciations s/he derides. Even allowing for how upset some of those at the other end of the icepick (as it were) may be at the passing of the “Dear Leader” I worry for the blood pressure of those in our movement who believe the “ultra-left” (as they put it) to be the main problem.

Were I able, I might well be at the lobby this afternoon, in the rain outside Congress House – not to attack or criticise our leaders but to give them the confidence they ought to have that our members are willing and able to fight on if that is what we need for a fair settlement.

It falls to the General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers to make the obvious, calming point that; “It is important to remember that unions are democratic organisations - no deal of this magnitude can be completed behind closed doors. Any outcomes - and there is no proposal on the table yet - will have to go to members and union executives."

As I was saying, in UNISON, this means that the crucial decisionmaking forums will be the Service Group Executives (SGEs), meeting on 10 January. Each SGE member should be making arrangements to take soundings from their constituency, so that when they exercise their responsibility to take a decision on our behalf they know the views of those they represent.

Branches need to engage members in this dialogue, and for this to be both possible and meaningful, the Union needs (even over Xmas) to revise and update our pensions calculators to take account of any revisions in the Government’s position. Any such revision should enable members to compare what is now “on offer” to what was on offer before the 30 November strike, and also to the status quo ante (what we have at the moment).

Whatever we may hear from the purveyors of instant news later today, no deal can have been done, for no UNISON negotiator has a mandate to do any such deal. Our trade union is, in accordance with Rule B.2.2, lay member led, and it is for elected lay members, for good or ill, to make decisions.

Activists in branches need urgently to communicate to members, not so much an opinion about what we are told this afternoon, as encouragement to engage with the process of democratic decision-making over the next three weeks. That said, branches have an absolute right to make recommendations to members both at this point and in the event of any subsequent consultative ballot of members, providing that this is done in accordance with our Union's lay democracy

Update at twenty five past three – read closely what the news report about Health Service Pensions actually said. The headline
said “Public sector pensions: 'Deal' on health scheme” – but the detail said “Unison is poised to put an agreement to members of its executive in the new year”. It is up to the Health SGE to take a view – and it is up to every healthworker in UNISON to share their views with their SGE members. Let's look at the detail and make our own minds up!
The elected members of each SGE are listed (subject to subsequent changes) in the report of the outcomes of the last elections.

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