Tuesday, November 18, 2014
After the pay defeat - what is to be done?
There being no rest for the wicked, I have ended a day which began with a Regional Local Government Committee by attending a meeting of the left caucus of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC).
We met to discuss the implications of the disastrous defeat of the local government pay campaign for the Union generally - and for forthcoming union elections in particular.
The dull compulsion to support a lethargic leadership which has haunted our trade union for so long is - at the very least - now in doubt. The ossified bureaucracy which stares out at the world from the top of the Great White Elephant of the Euston Road has no credible leadership candidate nor even the vestige of a programme for leadership.
No serious succession planning having taken place over the past decade, the collapsing coalition which has delivered the last two victories in elections for General Secretary vanishes before our eyes.
What that may mean for the General Secretary election which is unavoidable in the next year is impossible to see. The "left" is, in our way, as ossified as anything we may confront at the ballot box.
This is a very dangerous time, as the cynicism and anger bred by the disastrous misleadership of the largest bargaining group in the economy can turn to an anti-union mood as swiftly as it can turn to support for an alternative.
Comrades on the left who see the present conjuncture only as a time of great opportunity have, I think, failed to consider how the experience of shattering defeat may work itself out.
That said, it is - without doubt - the case that critics of the present "leadership" of our trade union are under a particularly heavy obligation to ensure both that we stand sufficient candidates in the forthcoming elections to the National Executive Council (NEC) and to avoid socialist candidates standing against each other.
Indeed, the unity which we seek should be the unity of all those who will raise their voices in reasoned and constructive criticism of the catastrophic handling of the local government pay dispute. For this reason, the response of all the incumbent members of our NEC in our largest Region to the suggestion that they might all support each other's re-election is a litmus test.
All of these questions are now set to be discussed in Manchester on Saturday 17 January. The NEC left caucus has agreed to convene an open meeting with a view to building unity though we have no more authority than that which always attracts itself to those willing to act.
There is much more to trade unionism than periodic elections - and the presence or absence of unity in any particular election cannot be the only, or even the most important consideration.
However, every one of us who is angry and dismayed at the outcome of the local government pay "dispute" must stand ready to abandon all past preconceptions if we are to retrieve trade unionism for local government workers - and all public servants.
For those of us who have chosen to devote our lives to a movement in which we place the hope of a better world now is a moment for significant choice.
No one knows what will happen next.
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.