Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The challenge to UNISON on 10th May

Yesterday's decision by the National Executive of our sister union, PCS, to take national strike action on Thursday 10 May as part of the continuing fight to defend public service pensions ( is most welcome.

This follows the decision of UNITE's National Sector Committee for Health also to call national action on that date ( and is likely to lead to similar decisions from other unions.

Both PCS members and UNITE members (in health) have returned 90% votes to reject the Government's "final offer" on pensions which, in all the unfunded schemes, simply amounted to a repackaging of the proposals made and rejected on 2 November. Key to the position of both unions has been the confidence of the lay leadership, supported by their officials, to offer members an honest assessment and a clear recommendation.

Where lay activists call the shots, union organisation is, as it should be, a means to the end of protecting and promoting workers' interests. The interests of the organisation are subordinate to those of its members.

I'm not looking at either PCS or UNITE through rose-tinted spectacles, nor would I want to be a cheerleader for either union (in particular, I think that the current apparent trajectory towards a merger which would have very little industrial logic is mistaken). However, the correct decision to call the 10 May action is clearly, at least in part, a product of lay democracy at work.

Left Unity, and the wider Democracy Alliance, in PCS and the United Left in UNITE have both been able, by bringing activists together, to ensure that their unions offer positive leadership to members and put the interests of ordinary workers first. There is a lesson in this for UNISON activists both within and beyond the ranks of the United Left.

It is clear that, in our Union, lay democracy is failing when it comes to the conduct of industrial disputes - and that it is doing so because too many of those elected to be accountable to our members are content to be mere spectators as the "world class negotiators" do their thing.

The consequences of this failure could be that, in future, public servants wanting a pension have to put up with working longer, paying more and receiving less than they would have had to had UNISON's lay leadership asserted the primacy of their interests.

This question is not, however, settled. UNISON Health workers in England and Wales still have the opportunity to reject the devastation of their pension scheme in order to rejoin the fight for pensions justice - as recommended to their members by our Oxfordshire Health Branch ( This would bring them back into the fight which our Scottish Health members have not abandoned (

Crucially, all UNISON members can also begin to repair lay democracy in our trade union by voting for candidates of the left in the current elections to the Service Group Executives (SGEs) (

For a few weeks before, and just after, the 30th November strike day on which UNISON came of age we caught a glimpse of the potential of our trade union. The 10th May strike offers a challenge to UNISON activists to try to find a way to realise that potential.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Unite's local government mebership are not involved in any planned action on 10 May because there is no basis for action over the LGPS given the status quo on contributions and benefits. If such a situation obtained in any other of the public sector schemes there would be no action either.