Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Local Government Pay - Now is the Time for Action

‎In the past few weeks, three disputes have led to either national or multi-regional strike action in workplaces where UNISON members are present.

Right now (until noon tomorrow) NAPO are taking action against the attacks on the Probation service. Last month NUT and NAS/UWT members in schools in many regions struck over pay, pensions and workloads. Last week saw the successful joint union Higher Education strike.

That it was only in the last of these three cases that UNISON members were taking action is a product, in part, of objective factors such as bargaining structures, and, in part, of subjective factors (such as the extent to which persistent rank and file organisation can break the spell of the world weary cynicism which appears to be the default setting of many officials in more unions than UNISON alone).

If the trade union movement is to play a role in reversing the longest sustained fall in the real earnings of working people in this country in living memory then - in UNISON - it is to the example of Higher Education which we need to look. And it is from Local Government that we should be looking.

The local government workforce in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, whose pay and conditions are negotiated by the National Joint Council for Local Government Services remains the largest bargaining group in the economy.

UNISON is the majority union in this crucial bargaining group, our membership exceeding by more than 100% the combined membership of the other unions (GMB and UNITE). I don't make this remark out of some sort of "UNISON chauvinism" but to point out the responsibility which falls upon UNISON to provide clear leadership, with the other unions, in a fight which will have implications for all trade unionists - and all workers.

As an aside I should point out that one part of that responsibility is the responsibility of UNISON members of the NJC trade union side to turn up at meetings or send substitutes - and that the same responsibility falls equally on our Union's official structures to ensure that we are adequately and appropriately represented. We can revisit this question when we have won a decent pay rise.

We now have a pay claim, for a flat rate rise of at least a pound an hour to bring the bottom of the national pay spine up to the level of the (national) Living Wage. A special meeting of the UNISON NJC Committee on 13 November will now discuss how we build the campaign ‎around this claim.

Strike action will be required.

National strike action will be required.

All-out national strike action of more than one day will be required.

We also need a campaign strategy which builds towards that necessary action and which wins the support of our members for that action.

We need an e-petition and an Early Day Motion (signed by every member of the Trade Union Group of MPs). 

We need deputations from every local government branch to meetings of every local authority in support of our claim (coordinated by our Regions, with Regional staff organising the deputations wherever branches may be unable to do so). 

We need targeted recruitment material for local government workers who have yet to join us, based upon our claim. 

We need regular bulletins to all our members, nationally as well as from branches, each of which asks members to do something - to act - in support of our claim. 

When our e-petition forces a Parliamentary debate we need a lobby of Parliament, around which we should focus a media offensive in which we publicise the case for fair pay for a predominantly female and low paid workforce delivering vital services.

We need model letters to Councillors and MPs for all our members, our friends and families.

We need leaflets which our branches can customise and order free of charge (on the model of the recent recruitment campaign).

We need guidance to branches (immediately) on how to organise publicity stunts and media events to promote a coherent message which has to be defined within 48 hours of the 13 November meeting.

And we need to sideline and ignore anyone whose world weary cynicism has overwhelmed their optimism of the will.

Now is the time for action.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

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