Monday, July 23, 2012

LGPS - it's still up to the members to decide (and I hope they reject!)

As the summer holiday dawns I'll get back to the blogging that I have been neglecting. I want to use this post to explain why it is both legitimate and appropriate for UNISON branches (and members) to continue to campaign for the rejection of the LGPS 2014 proposals in the forthcoming all member ballot.

First, however, I shall take the liberty of quoting verbatim from the excellent report of John McLoughlin of last week's UNISON Local Government Service Group Executive (SGE) meeting. UNISON activists in London local government branches will have seen this already.

This is John's message to branches; " 
The Local Government Service Group Executive met on Thursday 19 July to consider a recommendation on the proposals for the LGPS from April 2014.
 
Before the meeting SGE reps were provided with a report on the results of the consultation with branches.
 
The Regional Head of Local Government offered to meet with SGE members but in the event was not able to.
 
I suggested that the results of the consultation should have gone to a Regional Local Govt Exec or at least the Chair and Vice Chair so that SGE members could be fully informed of views expressed through our democratic lay structures.
 
I consulted with the Chair and Vice Chair of the RLG committee and agreed that a proper interpretation of the result of the consultation would be to vote for a recommendation to reject the proposals.
 
This was based on a number of factors:
 
1)     The consultation report revealed a majority of those members who took part in consultation to reject 1009 - 724, that is 56.9% of those who expressed a     preference.
2)     In terms of branches 12 were reported for rejection and 9 for acceptance - but this this does not give any weighting to the wide disparities in size of branches - the biggest branch replying for example has 4457 members and the smallest only 22. The number of members in branches voting for rejection is 21,655 compared to 17,090 in branches voting for rejection, again a clear majority.
3)     In order to avoid either small branches counting as more than their weight in membership, or a few people in big branches exercising disproportionate influence to the number of members actually participating through a block vote, the practise in consultations on pay has been to use the votes of those actually participating across branches as in 1) above.
 
Other factors:
 
At least two branch votes were excluded:
Southwark did a late return but it was known in time to be reported to SGE reps and I was aware of it.
Islington was not included for reasons not known as the branch reported that they did their return in time.
When included their return increases the majority for rejection to 1330 - 784 - so that 62.9% of those who expressed a preference were for rejection.
 
Regional Local Government Executive - I was unable to attend the meeting on 28 June 2012 - but the Chair made me aware that a vote there expressed a view in favour of rejection of the proposals.
Therefore it was clear that:
A majority of members in the Region expressing a view were for rejection
The membership of branches who voted for rejection represented a majority of those participating
The relevant lay bodies supported rejection and the lay officials shared the interpretation of the result.
On this basis I was one of the six delegates on the Local Government SGE who voted against recommending acceptance of the proposals.
 
One very big concern that should be shared by all is the very low level of engagement of members in the process (under 5% of participating branches and not much more than 3% overall). I believe that this is primarily a product of the long interlude since 30 November and that many members may believe that the pensions issue has already been settled.
 
We will have a very difficult task to try to get a decent turnout in the ballot which will now run from 31 July to 24 August, during the peak summer holiday period and in London of course during the Olympics.
 
I hope that whatever our views we can all work together to get as big a turnout as possible - which will only be assisted by a full and vigorous debate about the merits and demerits of the proposals."

In the event of course the Local Government SGE voted by a large majority to recommend acceptance, as did the other SGEs (with the welcome exception of Higher Education, whose recommendation to reject has provoked some misguided criticism effectively rebutted by my NEC comrade Max Watson - http://maxwatsonunison.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/unisons-higher-education-service-group.html?m=1).

As I said, I believe that it is both legitimate and appropriate for branches and members to campaign for rejection. UNISON's National Delegate Conference (the supreme decisionmaking body of the Union) recently considered this question and you can read the decision at the following link;

http://cms.unison.co.uk/MotionText.asp?DocumentID=998614
 
Point (c) affirms "the right of UNISON members, branches and other appropriate representative bodies to make and campaign within Rule for recommendations in member ballots". This is as agreed at UNISON National Delegate Conference 2008.

This authoritatively determines that the correct interpretation of Rule B.2.5 in this context is that, since the purpose of the national ballot is to determine UNISON policy then, going in to the ballot, there is no national policy and any appropriate representative body, including a branch, may communicate their own (democratically agreed) recommendation to the members they represent.

I know that sometimes over-zealous officials believe themselves entitled to advise branches and activists inappropriately on this question, so I hope that activists will ensure they pass this information around in order to be helpful as this explains why a branch may legitimately make and campaign for its own recommendation (within its own rules and procedures).

As to why this is appropriate, I think that there are two vital arguments. The first argument is that, conceived narrowly as the proposed settlement a free standing trade dispute about the LGPS, this is an unsatisfactory settlement which could be improved by further action. The second is that there are very bad wider industrial and political consequences of the way the dispute has been allowed to drift since December, and that these will be compounded by acceptance of the deal.

The case against the proposed settlement on its own terms is based upon the case against the "Principles of Agreement" upon which the deal is founded - which I set out on the Socialist Unity blog back in January (http://www.socialistunity.com/what-next-for-local-government-pension-scheme/). This is a settlement which concedes working longer and receiving a worse pension when we retire. If we took more than a single token day of strike action we would have a chance of a better deal.

The broader case against the settlement draws upon the arguments of the Communist Party's "Broadening the Battle Lines" pamphlet (which I reviewed here - http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/content/view/full/116240).

The Government's attack on our pensions is part of its all out assault upon the working class and the welfare state and, rather than snatching each shabby compromise as it is offered, the trade union movement should be mounting determined and unified resistance.

The disappointingly flat response, at UNISON's June Conference in Bournemouth, to our General Secretary's call for united action against the pay freeze is a direct consequence of the conduct of the custodians of the pensions dispute over the past seven months.

The mobilisation of a million members is not a task that can be achieved simply - it took a long build up, culminating in ten weeks of determined leadership from the top, encouraging our activists, to get to 30 November. Such an effort requires a great deal of unity, as well as decisive leadership.

Unfortunately, demobilising members is something that can be achieved with far less effort - and this is what we have achieved over the course of 2012. If we accept a cheapening of our pension scheme and a lengthening of our working lives (as the Local Government SGE ask us to) then we shall find it that much harder to mobilise our members over pay.

The best way (in the immediate term) to support the cause of united action over pay will be if we can secure rejection of the LGPS 2014 deal - and that is also the most important contribution local government workers could make this summer to worthwhile trade union unity.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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