Thursday, July 10, 2014
After #J10 - What next?
It's a little early to try to make a thorough assessment of the support for, and impact of, today's mass public sector strike. However, activists need to move fast.
Based on qualitative research (my talking to people from several branches across London at and after today's sizeable London demonstration and rally) my findings are that activists felt generally encouraged and that, whilst there were areas of weakness, there were also other areas in which support for action seemed, if anything, stronger than for the pensions strike on 30 November 2011.
From the point of view of this sample of (admittedly more active) London local government branches of UNISON it appears that we are well placed to spend the summer preparing ourselves to take more effective action for two days in September (whether that is on the dates originally proposed or - as common sense would suggest - later dates coordinated with the NUT)(and - who knows? - perhaps by then health workers may be in a position to show what they think about their treatment over pay?)
There are many lessons we can learn from today's action to apply to increasing the impact of further action. At national level - we need to ballot UNISON members in Academies. At regional level - we need to mobilise our full strength (each branch should aspire to the level of representation shown today by Barnet on the London demonstration - and if that means a later time for the demonstration then so be it). At branch level - we can see our weaknesses and strive to address them.
At the same time, we must apply ourselves to our dispute itself. As inspiring - and important - as it is to act in unity with workers in other sectors, a "general strike" (or "public sector general strike"), whether of 24 hour or other duration will not arise out of exhortation or enthusiasm. (I wish it would, I want to see it, but I won't plan on the basis of aspiration alone).
What can be done is to seek to coordinate the real concrete disputes which workers actually have with their employers (recognising that in the public sector all such disputes, directly or indirectly, are disputes with the Government of the day).
Local Government workers must therefore apply ourselves to our dispute and must seek the views of our members on the guidance which we should give to our negotiators. Most critically - since the act of consulting our members on any further offer would certainly delay and, quite probably, derail any further action in the early autumn, we must be sure NOT to undertake such consultation unless such further offer represents a substantial and significant improvement.
A substantial and significant improvement would mean, first an offer which was either flat-rate or very substantially bottom-loaded. Secondly, the overall cost to the pay bill should significantly exceed the increase in the Retail Price Index. Without both of these conditions having been met the "improvement" in any "improved" offer would not be significant and would not be worth consulting our members on.
That (of course) is just the opinion of your author - UNISON branches in local government need urgently to engage with our members to empower the workers who struck today to control the direction of our dispute.
Of which, more later. Though probably not by bulk email at 3 in the morning...
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.