Thursday, April 17, 2014

UNISON must focus on the fight against the pay freeze

With consultation on the employers’ miserly pay offer to local government workers formally drawing to a close today in many branches it is clear that there will be a large majority to reject the offer and that we have no choice but to press ahead with a ballot for strike action. As I have argued in the past, it is only through national strike action that local government workers ever reverse the tendency for our earnings to fall behind the average increases across the economy.

The turnout in the consultative ballot will be lower than we would wish, and will highlight the enormous organising and campaigning challenge with which we will present ourselves by embarking upon the unavoidable strike ballot. It is to these challenges which activists must turn our attention, as we must consider how to use the elections taking place in many local authorities to our advantage.

It’s also vitally important that our Health Conference voted for an industrial action ballot. Health workers face a wholly unacceptable attack on living standards which compounds the impact upon their working lives of inadequate funding and impossible workloads. It’s good to hear that delegates at Health Conference were   united in their support for action – and we need to consider the possibility of coordinated action between our two largest sectors (in health and local government).

My dear friends and comrades at the UNISON Active blog give a fair report of the debate, marred only by knee-jerk hostility to those they describe as the “ultra-left” who “embroiled the Conference in a row with the Standing Orders Committee.” From what I saw from the gallery on Monday afternoon, it was the large majority of health delegates who disagreed with their Standing Orders Committee (SOC), and who then showed the wisdom not to pursue this disagreement. The role of our SOCs must be to facilitate our democracy and listen to our delegates.

We need a focus on the fight to defeat the Tory pay freeze rather than internal squabbling – but the choice about this is in the hands of those fair-weather friends of trade union democracy who like to demonise dissent and mistake critical thinking for disloyalty. Drop all this nonsense about biennial Conferences and branch elections comrades and focus our fire on the Tories and the fight against the pay freeze!

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