Sunday, July 06, 2014

Labour Councillors on 10 July - our fight is your fight (if you understand politics)

As a local trade union activist I deal with a number of reasonable and experienced managers who understand employee relations. Sometimes I also deal with others. Last week I was irritated to read a message from a manager who was clearly trying to limit the impact of the coming pay strike.

Sensible managers in local government understand that it is in their professional interest that our strike action on Thursday should be as effective and successful as possible.

Unfortunately, local government not always being a brains trust, there are too many of the other sort of managers who take the views expressed in a disappointingly reactionary post on the website of the Local Government Association.

Some managers seem to view strike action (in a national dispute) as some sort of football match in which they are on the other team from the trade unions. This leads them to do all they can to encourage the thoroughly discreditable action of crossing a picket line.

Those of our managers who are truly “Thatcher’s children” can expect the support of the hard-right fringe of the Tory party for such managerial machismo – but Councillors and senior managers who aren’t rabid right-wingers need to (and, in my experience, do) take a much more measured approach.

Local government services have borne the brunt of public spending cuts since 2010 as the Government of Bullingdon boys and millionaires has sought to resolve the crisis caused by the bankers at the expense of the living standards of working people.

A short-term, short-sighted view of the pay claim from the NJC trade unions is that, if it brings us a better pay rise, it will only worsen the consequent budget crisis. A more intelligent view is that, if we can defeat the pay freeze we can begin to hope that we may reverse the tidal wave of austerity engulfing our local services.

Local government isn’t a private sector manufacturing plant, and approaches to employee relations drawn from that past are as inappropriate when applied by managers as when they are applied by trade unionists.

The delivery of local government services is not, generally, “Fordist” process production, and the impact of our industrial action is not primarily about how much we disrupt everyday life (although that matters) but about the political impact we can have upon those with power.

The coming strike on Thursday, and the further strikes we will need to take if we are to secure a worthwhile outcome, are not – essentially – a local industrial fight between “bosses” and “workers”. They are part of a national campaign which is as much about fair funding for local government as it is about fair pay for local government workers.

It is in the interests of all those who care about local government that Thursday’s strike should be as solid as possible.

Labour Councillors have a particular opportunity to ensure that they use their influence to seek an intelligent approach from managers in local government, including a reasonable approach to deductions in pay and assurances to all employees (regardless of union membership) and to agency staff that there will be no adverse consequences from taking strike action (other than loss of pay).

I know many Labour Councillors (including people in leading positions who wouldn't agree with much of what they might read here) understand the politics of this position - although I'm sure we all have experience of less astute and informed Labour Councillors who haven't immediately "got" that.

And, of course, Labour Councillors should be supporting our picket lines on Thursday!

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