Thursday, November 14, 2013

Climbing the mountain to fight for fair pay in local government

There wasn't a quorum of delegates at today's meeting of the UNISON Greater London Regional Local Government Committee. This is in large part due to the fact that the Regional Office makes no effort to encourage participation in the Local Government Service Group (just as they do nothing much to encourage local government branches to attend the Regional Council AGM).

However, the bizarre and dysfunctional politics which haunt the first floor of Congress House are a sideshow when it comes to the real grown up trade unionism of the local government pay dispute (as they are generally I suppose). Local government pay is a national issue across England, Wales and Northern Ireland and activists need to think about what needs to be done at a national level (turning to how we remove or work around right-wing obstacles at Regional level very much as a secondary matter).

The delegates who were present this morning made some constructive suggestions as to the steps we need to take to develop a pay campaign for local government workers, starting from a clear-headed understanding of the enormous difficulty of persuading hundreds of thousands of local government workers to take strike action in 2014, twenty five years on from the last really significant victory in national action over local government pay.

We have a mountain to climb.

But that means we need to strike camp, get our boots on and head on up.

We need a major rally/meeting/training session for stewards in every Region (or every major city) to draw together as many shop stewards as possible. The size of such gatherings should give confidence to participants - but we are not so naive as to want to build the shallow confidence of a "ra ra" rally. We need "mythbuster" leaflets which take on the foolish argument that miserly pay restraint saves local government jobs. We need to equip every activist with arguments for the pay claim - and then with arguments for industrial action. We need each shop steward to leave that rally/meeting/training session equipped to make and win the argument for strike action.

In tandem with a campaign to win our members first to support the claim, and then to support strike action, we need a campaign for public support and to apply political pressure upon our employers. Every single local authority should receive a deputation in support of our claim in January, while dozens (or hundreds) of our members and supporters demonstrate outside. This should be preceded by a model letter for ALL UNISON members (and friends and family) to send to their local Councillor(s) and followed by the publication of a statement in support of our claim open to the signatures of all Councillors and Council candidates (other than those from the far right) - so that voters in May's local elections know who was with us and who was against us. We also need an Early Day Motion, and an e-petition on the Government website, with a co-ordinated joint union campaign to lobby MPs to support the EDM (and with a view to a mass lobby of Parliament if we can force a debate).

These are just the first steps we need to take. But if we are going to climb this mountain we need to take those first steps.

In the spirit of the Clyde Workers Committee we need to give the official structures of the Union a chance to get moving.

If they don't we'll press on unofficially.

A fortnight should be long enough to assess whether we should continue to wait before acting ourselves. We can't reasonably expect our own employees to work through all their weekends or until midnight - but we also can't reasonably expect our most committed activists to do anything else.

This national local government pay dispute (because a dispute is inevitable) will involve the largest bargaining group in the economy and will represent a turning point for our movement.

Either this is the beginning of the end for austerity politics (and therefore for both the Coalition Government and their "Progress" co-thinkers within the Labour Party) or it is the beginning of the end for national pay bargaining (and therefore perhaps ultimately for the national offices of our trade unions. )

It's not unimportant.

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