Sunday, August 24, 2014

Can we get a "warm autumn" in 2014?

We may not be getting much of an Indian summer at the moment, but as we return from the summer holidays, it almost feels as if we might be going to have a “hot autumn” of industrial action.

The local government pay dispute continues with strike action scheduled for 14 October (unless, which is unlikely, the further discussions between the joint secretaries of the National Joint Council produce an improved pay offer). In the health service the strike ballot in England begins next week. Meat inspectors employed by the Food Standards Agency will stage two four hour strikes on the mornings of Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 August, having been offered a miserly 0.75% increase. UNISON’s members in the police service are being recommended to reject a 1% pay offer and prepare for strike action.

Mobilising our members to take action is not a swift or simple matter however. Strike action is hardly now a routine in our movement and, in many cases, we are having to argue almost from first principles to persuade members to take action. We are absolutely right to do this – a trade union movement that did not fight in these circumstances would be on a fast track to irrelevance – but we’ll do ourselves no favours by pretending either that it is easy to get effective strike action, or by exaggerating our successes.

The fragmentation of the public service workforce also means that many doing jobs which would, a generation ago, have been covered by the national pay disputes are now outside national pay determination  – we therefore need (and generally have yet to find) ways to generalise the fight for fair pay to the fragmented workforce beyond some isolated examples - in Doncasterfor example the inspirational fight for the living wage for Care UK workers is continuing – and tomorrow will link up with the People’s March for the NHS as it passes through SouthYorkshire.

Local defensive struggles are also springing up wherever local trade union organisation is capable of articulating collective opposition to the more vicious assaults upon workers’ living standards. In Barnet, where the local Tories’ extreme voted to strike – and will be demonstrating at Hendon Town Hall at 6pm on Monday 1 September. Similarly, workers at Aberystwyth University are now balloting for action over plans to eliminate their pension scheme.

UNISON activists (and trade union activists generally) need to publicise, and show solidarity with, these local disputes at the same time as we try to mobilise members for national action. We may not thereby get a "hot autumn" but if we warm things up a bit we may be better placed to rebuild our movement and our living standards.

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