Saturday, September 20, 2014

Building strike action over pay

Following the 68% vote for strike action by UNISON members in the English National Health Service (albeit on a very low turnout) the decision of yesterday’s meeting of the UNISON Health Service Group Executive is not yet on the relevant page of our website. An unofficial report plausibly indicates that four hours of strike action will take place on Monday 13 October. Given that other health unions are involved, an official announcement may await consultation between the unions (following the little local difficulty with the local government dispute earlier in the summer.)

If action does go ahead on 13 October, this will be the day before twenty four hour strike action is planned by UNISON in local government on Tuesday 14 October with the support of UNITE, the GMBand NIPSAin Northern Ireland. Members of lecturers’ union, UCU, in English Further Education will also be striking on that date (although UNISON members in the sector accepted a 1% offer with limited bottom loading, similar to the one rejected in local government). Teachers though will notstrike on 14 October.

The Trades Union Congress last week agreed Composite 7 (which you can read here online) and agreed, in particular agreed to call upon the General Council to; “coordinate joint campaigning over pay and pensions across unions representing public sector workers draw up a joint industrial action strategy amongst affiliates, coordinating strike action amongst affiliates who are in dispute with their employers over the course of the next year.”

This would seem to be a tall order given the difficulties of coordinating disputes within one union. It is not just that different sectors are planning action of different kinds on different dates, but that the way we have framed our pay disputes also differ. In the National Health Service we are fighting for “immediate payment of the PRB-recommended 1% on all hourly rates (and the Living Wage of £7.65 per hour minimum)” whereas in local government we are rejecting a 1% offer.

We do not have the level of engagement from our members, enthusiasm for our objectives or unity of purpose and in action which we had in the 2011 pensions dispute (nor are we seeing the same boost to recruitment). The way in which that dispute ended continues to cast its shadow. The timetable for action, leading up to the TUC demonstration on 18 October, is clearly founded on hope for the outcome of the General Election rather more than confidence in our own collective action.

Nevertheless, trade union members need a pay rise – and activists know that we must mobilise members as best we can. Whatever the date chosen for action in health we must do all we can to get members out in both sectors, and across all the unions taking action.

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