Thursday, May 22, 2014

What sort of unity do we need?

Having spoken with PCS comrades at the lively and interesting Labour Representation Committee fringe meeting on Tuesday evening, I was interested in yesterday’s outcome of the debate – at PCS Conference – on the possible “transfer of engagements” to UNITE.

PCS delegates set certain “red lines” for any further discussion between that union and UNITE (including a political fund independent of the Labour Party). It remains to be seen how that will sit with the reported decisions of the UNITE Executive on the subject. (Incidentally, Ian Allinson, the UNITE EC member to whose blog that is a link demonstrates in that post the occasional value of such blogs!)

Twenty two years ago I was an enthusiast for the creation of UNISON – and I still think, as a local government worker, that our attempt to move towards an industrial union for our sector, and to overcome the historic divide between “white-collar” and manual workers was the right thing to do.

However, the increasing domination of our movement by a tiny number of enormous general unions, generally competing with each other for members across numerous sectors and industries, has not bequeathed us a structure which would have strengthened our unions, even had we not lost half our membership in a generation.

Large general unions are more readily controlled from their centre by the relatively sizeable official structures which they are able to afford. No single occupational group within such a union is large enough, relative to the union, for even an existential threat to that group to threaten the union itself in such a way as to prompt the militancy and determination for which such threats call (the dockers created what became the TGWU in the late nineteenth century, but by the late twentieth century the union could – and did – do without them).

The sort of unity which we need to focus our attention on is the sort of unity which PCS Conference agreed on Tuesday – unity in action. We don’t need merger discussions between any of our unions for local government workers, teachers and civil servants to strike together on Thursday 10 July.

What we do need is for local government workers to vote YES for strike action over pay!

Of which, more later...

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