Saturday, July 26, 2014

Unity is strength in the fight for fair pay

I blogged about the publicised decision of our National Joint Council to call for further strike action on 30 September. The news report on which I based that blog post is still online (thanks to Google) but is no longer available on the UNISON website.

The bulletin to local government branches of UNISON, dated Wednesday was unequivocal;
“The UNISON NJC Committee met yesterday to review the J10 strike and decide next steps in our campaign.  It has decided to hold a second day of strike action on Tuesday 30 September rather than the earlier dates suggested30th September is the last date local government pay is above the National Minimum Wage. On 1 October, SCP 5 will fall below the new NMW of £6.50 per hour.
This means that the ballot timetables for the 15 national MATs have now been revised to enable members to take action on 30 September. Education and Children’s Services will issue separate guidance about this and related matters shortly.
The NJC TU Side Executive is meeting on 29 July to discuss coordinating second wave action and further information will follow. The UNISON NJC Committee also agreed to set a date for industrial action in October should there be no movement by the Employers.”   

The news is out there. Branches have passed it on. It’s on our twitter feed.

The GMB Press Office on the other hand hasn’t tweeted about the dispute since announcing the success of action on 10 July. Informally I have been advised that “The GMB’s current position is further day of strike in the week commencing 13th October along with other public sector unions. But with a day of non-strike protest in August.”  

UNITE also lauded the success of the action but, the inconclusive outcome of the (National Joint Council ) NJC trade union side on 22 July hasn’ t  produced any subsequent reference to the local government pay dispute on twitter. It appears that the Executive of the NJC Trade Union Side, which will meet next Tuesday, may not produce a consensus in support of action on 30 September.

There are some interesting silenceswithin UNISON over the past week also.

Our leaders – lay and full-time – across all three local government unions (and the other unions whose support we all need, as they need ours) need to be dunked repeatedly in cold water until an agreed strategy for action on public sector pay is arrived at.

I don’t have an easy or immediate answer. Certainly if we wanted effective unified  action across all unions we would not want to start from here – but that is the one thing about which we have no choice.

We should – but do not – have a unified rank and file movement across the major trade unions so that activists could try to hammer out a common position for which we could argue. We do not have such an effective body. All we have are risible front organisations, declining captives of sectarianism and obscure fossils(and worthy campaigns which are incapable of intervening in such matters).

In the absence of such a unifying force we probably need to start by finding some way to have an honest debate about our strengths, weaknesses and tactics. This has to be conducted in public, because otherwise it is hidden from our members, even though this means that it is also conducted in full view of the employers.
There are a few things we shouldn’t do.

We shouldn’t “talk up” the impact of and support for strike action to the extent that it bears no relation to the experience of our activists (ourselves) on our picket lines. We need to be honest about the room for improvement which always exists, and try to assess it accurately so that we can try to use it. To improve. This is difficult because such honesty will always be seized upon by the defeatistsand careerists to call off action – but it is unavoidable if we are to make an informed assessment of what to do next.

We shouldn’t pull our punches when criticising the absurd timidity of our officials in the face of this year’s bugbear “legal jeopardy”. I confess to guilt on this point since I haven’t said before that it is both pathetic and absurd that UNISON has adopted such a restrictive approach to balloting members in Academies. (It is not acceptable that branches and Regions are told that the UNISON Centre may need them to chip in to run ballots as it lacks capacity. UNISON staff should be redeployed as necessary and immediately to ensure we ballot everyone we can.)

We shouldn’t fall in to the trap of “union chauvinism”. I don’t support UNISON for the sake of supporting my own union – indeed one of the most read posts on this blog dealt entirely with circumstances in which UNISON was falling short. In the same way, GMB members shouldn’t be precious about defending GMB, nor UNITE, nor NUT members – not even members of PCS. Socialist trade union activists are on the side of the workers (rather than this or that trade union) and, as a general rule, we want to see a meaningful unity of trade union leaderships, not to volunteer as cheerleaders even for the most leftwing.

We shouldn’t subordinate our fight for a decent pay rise to the cause of supporting a change of Government through support for the TUC demonstration in October. We should support that demonstrationof course – and we should certainly be doing all we can to see that we have both a Labour Government and a movement capable of exerting meaningful pressure upon it. We are not, however, a stage army for Ed Miliband – and we’ll face a continuing fight under any Government a year from now.

Our members – across all the unions – expect us to deliver united action for fair pay in the autumn.

They know we didn’t get everyone out (and that we never will) but expect us to do our best to maximise the impact of their action (including the impact of favourable publicity).

They know the law is against us but don’t expect us to run away from it.

They know that the leaders of each union want to promote their own union – but can tolerate this if together our unions can show unity.

They know we would be less worse off under a Labour Government, but expect more than Labour will offer us.

Tuesday’s meeting of the Executive of the NJC Trade Union Side needs to start getting this right.

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