Monday, April 30, 2012

A first hand report from the Health SGE (and some second hand comments from a third party)

First, I shall take the liberty of sharing extracts from the prompt and thorough report of today's Health Service Group Executive (SGE) report from excellent London SGE member, Janet Maiden and then, secondly, I'll subject you to some further comment from myself.

So, first, here is a slightly edited version of Janet's report;

"14 Members of Health SGE met in Euston today with 4 others joining via video link.

The ballot result which many of you will have heard was a 14.8% turnout

Number of papers sent 337,422

Total valid votes 49,956

Votes by ballot 7,448

Votes by post 42,600

Votes to accept 24,745 49.53%

Votes to reject 25,211 50.4%.

The initial sentiments expressed by Christina McAnea were what a disappointingly low turn out and " obvious that there was no clear mandate for action "

I argued that whether its clear or not it is precisely a mandate for action ( technically ) as 25, 211 people had to sit alone with their letters which don't inspire you to take action and a pretty wordy ballot form where you clearly vote to take sustained industrial action. I also argued that prior to 30 November we had a 3 month vote Yes campaign with resources especially staff from UNISON going round and building a Yes vote and we took action with a 25% turnout. So to have a rejection when members have effectively been " put on pause " for 4 months shows that the anger is still l there as is the will to resist.

Most members joined in the discussion saying that they had personally voted to reject as how can a trade unionist back a hike in pensions whilst facing austerity measures BUT would members come out again Another member felt that members must not be blamed for a low turnout and indeed should be congratulated in what they have done so far. People have felt that as the increases in our pensions have already happened this year that It was a done deal.

Both Steve Bell and Roger Davey highlighted what a difference campaigning for a no vote would have made and in spite of no campaigning this vote shows people are still willing to fight.

Only a couple of people from Greater London felt that this vote signalled the end of the pensions campaign . Some felt it may be a sign that pensions is not the priority for some members but thought their members would fight over terms , conditions job losses and pay.

I argued that we will have a much harder time fighting over these issues if we are no longer in the fight over pensions which has united so much of the public sector.

I raised the possibility of taking a leaf out of our Scottish comrades book and taking selective action .

I also pointed out that at health conference ( 23-25 April ) every time anyone raised support for Unite or any other union taking action on 10th May it raised a cheer.

Finally it was agreed that UNISON's HSGE offers support and solidarity to all our colleagues taking action on 10 May.

A vote was taken agreeing to take the results back to the staff council to discuss the next steps. 14 people voted for this position, 4 voted against.

Unison members can join with their colleagues from Unite on 10 May stand on picket lines before work and at lunch time. We can attend rallies and do work place collections.

I plan to join Health workers marching over Westminster bridge from St Thomas' Hospital @1200.

Hope London Health Workers will join me.

Janet Maiden

Greater London member HSGE"

The comments I would add are, most importantly, to congratulate Janet and other comrades in health who campaigned for rejection. Their refusal to abdicate their leadership responsibilities (whether at branch, Regional or national level) have been massively important.

Imagine if there had been 500 fewer votes to reject. The narrow majority to accept on a low turnout would have been greeted with the same muted disappointment - but the acceptance of the Government's pensions "offer" in health by the largest and most important trade union would have been a foregone conclusion. That acceptance would have dealt a hammer blow to such confidence as there is, elsewhere in our movement, to continue the pensions fight. The consequent further weakening of labour movement resistance to the attack on pensions would have set back any hope of action against the pay freeze, and further drained hope from what there is in the way of opposition to cuts in jobs, services and conditions - and from the vital and politically essential opposition to privatisation, which is at the heart of the Government's many attacks upon us.

As it is, we know something we already knew. Absent a serious, enthusiastic and convincing campaign for action from trade union leaders, it is very hard to mobilise trade union members to take such action. (Yet, as Janet rightly points out in her report, more than 25,000 of our members did back sustained strike action - in the face of a campaign of effective discouragement backed in some Regions at least by improper letters seeking to inhibit entirely legitimate campaigning by branches).

The pensions dispute is not in rude health, neither in the health service nor elsewhere. Those in our ranks who believe that we lack the power effectively to resist the Government have, all too easily, done much to turn their defeatism into a self-fulfilling prophecy and the dispute, whilst not dead, is certainly unwell. It is, however, appropriate, that it is rank and file UNISON health workers who have today resuscitated the fight to save our pensions - and are keeping it alive.

In so doing, the activists who delivered the votes by UNISON health workers to reject the Government's attack on NHS pensions have offered our movement an opportunity. We know that the Government's attacks upon public service pensions were never a series of discrete industrial disputes to be dealt with by building unity "sector by sector". We know that these attacks have been and are part and parcel of wider assaults upon our members, our communities and our class. We also know that the Government intend their attacks on public service pensions, just like all the wider assaults, to continue for the lifetime of this Parliament (and - they hope - beyond).

The opportunity offered today to the trade union movement by 25,211 UNISON members in the health service in England and Wales (thanks to the campaigning efforts of leftwing activists) is the opportunity to continue to fight back against this Government, for as long as it takes.

Clearly immediate all-out national action on a sustained basis is not an option in the short term (though those who issue press releases saying we have "no mandate" for action for which we plainly do have a lawful mandate should consider their position).

However, the fact that UNISON will not now accept the health service pension capitulation, against which some of our activists were wrongly told by officials they ought not to campaign, means that we can continue, and rebuild, our opposition in the rest of the UK much as we have in Scotland.

Janet was quite right to argue at the SGE that selective action was an option (and how tragically short-sighted it now seems that we squandered the mandate given to us for action short of strike by ambulance sector members).

It is shocking that officers had nothing to offer to today's SGE in the way of an immediate response to a decision which (whilst they may have thought it as unlikely as I confess I did) was always a possibility. This dereliction of duty at the UNISON Centre must be remedied forthwith (and it needs to be about more than building the essential autumn TUC demonstration). If we don't have, tomorrow, our own e-petition, Early Day Motion or date for a lobby of Parliament (or even if we do), then it is obvious that we must throw ourselves into the 10 May Day of Action.

If there are strong sections who can be called on to strike at short notice so much the better, but with or without that cutting edge, we can be at the early morning protests and the lunchtime rallies with our purple flags. We can at least try to mobilise our health service members (not all of whom will be on the rota to work in any case).

Indeed, we could even ask our members in local government and elsewhere to mount protests over attacks on pensions on 10 May.

Far from having given the Union "no mandate" our members in health, thanks to the work of activists on the ground, have given our leaders the clearest possible mandate to continue showing the leadership that was shown in the three months following the speech by our General Secretary to the 2011 TUC.

This must mean that, within the next 48 hours, UNISON members and activists are being offered concrete recommendations for campaigning activity, on 10 May and beyond.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange


Anonymous said...

Are you having a laugh, Jon?

"Technically" it's a rejection, but "technically" ain't going to motivate our members.

7% of members voting to reject - that isn't enough wool to pull over the eyes of a flea, let alone more than 312,000 - 93% FFS! - of our members.

Come off it, son. Yes it's a bloody disappointment and a clearer vote either way on a bigger turnout would have been preferable to this.

But even you know you're taking the piss on this one.

Anonymous said...

Jon I would urge you to examine support for Unite strike in the NHS gets on 10th May - It's going to be very very poor, I can assure you (why not visit your local hospitl and find out ?)

Anonymous said...

will anyone notice Unites strike in May? most unite reps[in health] i meet are managers with two hats, that took time off on the 30th Nov to make it look like they were on strike, its Queer how many managers or high band staff are reps/staff side nowdays paying the price for sitting on our backsides while our rank and file were all TUPED but thats another story!

Anonymous said...

"The difference is that in UNITE lay members have the capacity to direct paid officials (as we do not in UNISON) and are prepared to take a risk."

You don't half talk some rubbish Jon. And this is very disrespectful to your lay colleagues on the SGE.

The Health SGE had the power to call for strike action after the recent ballot and this would have been lay members directing paid officials.

The fact the SGE chose not to exercise this option was an example of a lay member lead union choosing the course of action in a dispute.

The fact that you (as a local govt member) do not agree is no reason for you to show such disrespect to your lay colleagues on the SGE.

Anonymous said...

According to most reports between 0-10 unite members at each London hospital on strike

That should scare the Tories

Makes the trade union movement look like a joke

If you cannot deliver you dont call a strike !

Rule 1