Monday, November 26, 2012

The fallacy of retreat and the perils of defeatism

Regular readers of the blog not discouraged by infrequent posting (Sid and Doris Diehard-Blogger) will know that I am a happy-go-lucky hedonist rarely driven to anger.

I am, however, a tad annoyed when I see union officials (whether lay or paid) recommending or agreeing reductions in pay and conditions of service in the folorn hope of protecting jobs (or preserving bargaining arrangements).

This is particularly futile in public services, and all the evidence is that all that such "concession bargaining" achieves in these circumstances is that it invites employers to make further attacks.

At the start of the current wave of devastation of services (in the immediate aftermath of the last General Election) some of the better paid, but less economically literate, of the workforce wondered about giving up a day's pay (and work) to balance the books.

Great.

And next year? And the year after?

We face, in our Government, the specific UK manifestation of a global attempt to eliminate the last vestiges of the "postwar settlement" and to replace this with what may be considered the "postColdWar settlement" (based upon the absence of any global alternative to capitalism).

There can be no "deals" with this agenda, though we may achieve temporary truces where we are strong enough to slow it, or canny enough to divert it. Ultimately we need to reverse this offensive upon us - and that requires us to create political possibilities beyond the scope of this blog post (or - I fear - of current reality)(which, of course, we also need to change).

A recent example of the totally wrongheaded approach has been set by our national negotiators in the health service, who are (quite clearly) promoting a dilution of "Agenda for Change" national conditions of service in the hope of preserving national bargaining and fending off its disintegration (http://www.unison.org.uk/healthcare/pages_view.asp?did=14979).

This will work no better than the recent approach of a large City (but not always United?) local government branch in the North West, whose reward for conceding conditions of service to avert redundancies was (guess what?) redundancies.

As trade unionists we are negotiators and pragmatists. Compromise is an integral part of what we do. However, no one ever got the best deal they could by signalling an over eagerness for compromise at the outset. Yet this seems to be the default setting for some of our negotiators.

This approach fails. It shows weakness, it invites attack and it demoralises members.

If the employers' side national negotiators have even the hint of a thought that our members in local government might be recommended to concede conditions of service in order to enable their constituent authorities to "afford" a miserly increase in pay they had best think again.

And if there are lay elected members of UNISON bodies who think we should recommend the worsening of conditions of service that were fought for by people who came before us?

They should resign.

And those who believe that trade unions should fight to improve (rather than worsen) the lives of their members and potential members need to get involved, get active and get nominated.

Now, more than ever, is a time for (real) trade unionism.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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