Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Time to stop retreating

I was interested to read some of the information chosen by the author to "contextualise" the employers' laughable 1% pay offer to local government workers (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) in UNISON's pay bulletin number 9 today.

There are two ways to interpret the inclusion of the following information in this particular bulletin at this particular time;

·                    "Half of councils have ended NJC mileage allowances and moved our members onto HMRC rates. For those who do significant mileage as part of their jobs, this means subsidising their employer on top of a three-year pay freeze and other cuts to conditions

·                    Around 30% of councils have cut unsocial hours payments and/or overtime pay – with a massive effect on low paid women workers in particular

·                    Over 25% of councils have cut pay at a local level and others have imposed unpaid annual leave."
I don't doubt these things are true, but many things are true - and not all truth could be squeezed into pay bulletin number 9.

One reading (which I prefer) of the motivation for including this particular information is that it reinforces the case for a decent pay rise (which 1% is not!) - this may encourage the reader to think in terms of rejecting 1% and fighting on for our claim for a substantial pay increase.

Another reading is that the selective presentation of this information, which tells a disappointing tale about our union organisation in these very many local authorities where we have failed to defend national conditions of service, could demoralise the reader and lead them towards accepting 1% (and therefore a 2% pay cut in real terms).

The conclusion which I draw is that, whatever the reason for this information having been presented to us in this way at this time, we need to face up to the fact that in many local authorities we have faced defeats and retreats on pay and conditions.

And we need also to conclude that now is a good time to stop this.

Every branch which loses (or fails to mount) a fight to defend conditions of service invites other employers to launch attacks on other branches. There is, of course, no shame in fighting and losing (though there is in failing to fight).

The greatest shame is that our national trade union has failed adequately to encourage and support the branches who have suffered the defeats now itemised in pay bulletin number 9.

Plainly we should reject 1% and try to build a national fight for decent pay (as our Scottish sisters and brothers have already resolved to do). Without a national fight for a decent national pay rise there is precious little point in having a national union.

However, we must also begin to fight nationally to enforce and improve national conditions. We should be fighting not just to hold on to the Green Book but to improve it.

Pay Bulletin number 9 also says that UNISON "will be issuing new bargaining advice shortly to branches and Regions on sick pay and car allowances as it seems clear that the employers will urge councils to cut them further at local level."

The Lambeth branch has successfully defended both sick pay and car allowances over the last year.

In the unlikely event that the national Union doesn't come to us to ask how we think we did this, I can always share information here.

It's not rocket science really though. We need to build rank and file organisation and to provide leadership which is unwilling to make concessions on conditions of service. We have to be prepared to threaten legal and industrial action at the drop of a hat, whilst also always being willing to find a pragmatic resolution if the employers are willing to talk rather than fight.

It's time to stop retreating.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

1 comment:

unionmade said...

Dear Jon,
As 'the author' of Pay Matters 9, I thought I should tell your readers why I included the stats which highlight the local attack on our members' Green Book conditions at local level. Not only do they demonstrate how badly local government workers have been hit by the cuts, they also undermine the employers' ludicrous assertion that unions are not prepared to negotiate. In some branches the cuts have been negotiated as part of a deal to keep jobs. You obviously decided not to go down this route in Lambeth as, on your own admission, you have had significant job losses. In other councils, the cuts have been 'imposed' through S188 notices - an iniquitous device which has severely damaged industrial relations. In other local authorities, we have been able to mitigate losses by carrying out equality impact assessments to remove discriminatory aspects of cuts proposals. Wherever cuts have been made, branches have fought hard and some have taken industrial action.

Whatever the outcome of this year's pay negotiations, it is clear that the employers will be urging councils to cut sick pay, car allowances and other conditions at local level. We need to be prepared to resist that and for that reason, we will be issuing bargaining guidance, which will not only seek to keep the conditions we have, but to improve on them.

Your readers should be clear that both UNISON's NJC Committee and the Joint Trade Union Side reaffirmed their view that we should not negotiate over Part 2 conditions at NJC level at the last meetings of both. Previous advice to branches has also meant that only a very small number of councils have cut sick pay and we need to make sure that number does not rise.

We are always looking to share success stories, so would love to hear about them from branches who have successfully managed to keep jobs and conditions.

Best wishes, Heather (Wakefield)