Monday, June 24, 2013

The pay "debate" at UNISON Conference - leadership, "platform-bashing" and the future of national bargaining

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will know that sometimes in the past I have blogged throughout Conference week.

It may be my advancing years but this year I decided to focus on various goings-on at Conference rather than blogging away, to some of these goings-on I shall now turn and the first of these, chronologically and in terms of its importance to our members, is pay.

Last Sunday's "debate" on pay at Local Government Conference attracted the ire of the grumpy post-Marxist-Leninists of the (occasionally) self-proclaimed "sensible left" (http://unisonactive.blogspot.com/2013/06/platform-bashing-over-pay-papers-over.html?) for "platform-bashing."

Now it may be true that, if "platform-bashing" were an Olympic sport, your not-very-humble blogger would aspire to be a medal hopeful, but sometimes a platform deserves to be bashed, and in relation to this year's lamentable 1% pay rise the Local Government Service Group Executive (SGE) deserved the bashing they got (with numerous sound contributions, notably from a delegate from Bristol).

Incidentally, as seasoned Conference watchers will recall, although the relevant pay negotiations are handled by the sector Committee, accountability is still vested in the SGE as a result of the defeat of amendments proposed by the NEC in 2009 (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/rules-for-unison-delegates.html?m=1).

The Local Government Conference discussion on pay took the form of a post mortem, since local government members had already decided, by a margin of three to two across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, to accept 1%. Because this event was so recent, no Conference decision addressed it (indeed the pay "debate" was conducted largely by a series of speeches "for" a motion moved from the platform (on behalf of the NJC Committee) by a leftwinger (although one despicable individual "jumped the queue" by the device of speaking, but not voting against).

The clear mood of Conference was hostile to the pusillanimous position of putting an offer to members as "the best that can be achieved by negotiation" without a clear recommendation either way. Somehow in future years we must try to turn that mood into policy which will bind the SGE and its sector Committees (either that or elect more people prepared to show leadership).

Those who think the "platform-bashing" a futile diversion from building our strength for the fight next time ignore the evidence from Scottish Local Government, or Higher Education, where clear leadership offers members the real opportunity to reject real-terms pay cuts. Whilst the weakness of our leadership may well reflect their perception of our weakness on the ground, which may not be ill-informed, until the leadership start at least trying to turn this round we are stuck in a spiral of decline.

The different results of the consultation exercise in London and, even more, the North West Region, demonstrate that a different outcome to the 2013 pay round for local government workers south of the border was possible.

It no longer is.

However, if the anger expressed at the SGE on pay is to have been anything more than cathartic we need to start a campaign now, with leaflets and petitions to our members, lobbies of local authorities, and model motions to Regional Local Government Committees in support of a vigorous campaign for an identified flat-rate pay rise across the board in 2014. The resources of the UNISON Centre need to be devoted to researching the positive economic impact of a boost to the earnings of local government workers so that we can demonstrate that pay justice for us will bring wider social and economic benefits.

We also need to make this a joint union campaign at a local level, so that we can fight alongside low paid GMB members in particular to ensure that our sister union takes the sort of firm line nationally on pay which they have shown locally in the dispute in Brighton.

Whatever was said from the top table last week about building a fight on pay in 2014, in the year before a General Election there will inevitably be pressure applied against industrial action from those in the bureaucracy of our movement who think it might inhibit Labour's electoral prospects.

We therefore need to start building momentum now for the fight over pay which is not just our only chance to restore our living standards - but also our best chance of saving national bargaining.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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