Monday, September 29, 2014

Taking the P/20/14

It appears that some mischievous soul with an adolescent sense of humour has produced a spoof local government bulletin apparently aimed at members of our sister union, the GMB. It’s dated 26 September and has the number P/20/14.

It’s quite a convincing spoof, particularly because the first page reports (factually) on the “proposals” given to the local government trade unions by the employers on 25 September (about which I have blogged before more than once).

However, the second page soon gives the game away!

“Some might see this as an attractive proposal,” it suggests, whilst conceding that “others might not.”

Apart from those who simply want to avoid further industrial action at all costs, there really isn’t anyone for whom these proposals could be described as “attractive” and there is no way that a respected and experienced union official would suggest any such thing.

The slapstick humour continues with the observation that there are “good points” as well as “bad points”. The “good points” may be visible from the point of view of the employers but it’s hard to see them from the point of view of the workers, bearing in mind that the proposals achieve;
  • Less money in 2014/15 than if we had accepted the employers’ first offer for everyone who earns more than £1,870.25 gross (i.e. before deductions) per month (£430.41 gross a week);
  • A pittance extra in 2014/15 for those earning less – barely enough to buy a round of drinks and much less than has been lost by those who took strike action on 10 July;
  • Coming nowhere near our objective of a flat rate increase of at least one pound an hour;
  • Failing to achieve the living wage for workers up to spine point 10.
The first punchline is the real killer though, having concluded that “our members should be able to decide whether these new proposals would be acceptable or not” the author (posing, unconvincingly as a senior GMB official) goes on to say, of strike action on 14 October, “we would obviously want to suspend that strike while our members have the opportunity to vote by secret postal ballot to decide to accept or reject.”

What makes the humour almost elegant here is that this would be precisely what a decent negotiator would say if they had done a decent job and negotiated a new offer worthy of consideration – but of course, the employers’ “proposals” (which aren’t even yet a formal offer) fail in every way (and are arguably much worse than the bottom-loaded 1% one year deal we took strike action against – because it ties us in for eighteen months). In these circumstances, any experienced trade unionist would know only too well that suspending strike action to “consult” amounts to ending the dispute. No skilled negotiator would contemplate suggesting such a course of action knowing that what they had to offer was so far from what would be in the best interests of their members.

Although the comedian who posed as a trade union official to write this spoof says that the employers’ proposals are “completely new” that is only in the sense that someone who previously threatened to poke you in your right eye and now changes their mind and threatens to poke you in your left eye is making a “completely new” threat. GMB members didn’t strike for different reasons from the reasons that motivated members of UNISON (or UNITE) – all local government workers wanted a better deal, not a worse deal, which offers an insignificant increment to the lowest paid (taken not from the employers but from the rest of the membership) whilst tying us into a below inflation settlement for the next eighteen months.

Although much of the spoof bulletin is over the top and therefore unconvincing, there is a delicate irony to the way in which the author bemoans that the employers have withdrawn from the proposal because “one of the unions” wouldn’t call off the strike action in return for a such an appalling (non)”offer”. The author says he is “strongly supportive of trade union solidarity”. (That did make me laugh!)

I hope that colleagues in the GMB will get to the bottom of who wrote the spoof circular – and will make sure that comprehensive information is available before GMB stewards gather to consider the dispute on Thursday.

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