Monday, November 17, 2014

What do we need from a Special Local Government Conference?

After the fiasco of the pay capitulation by the local government trade unions, UNISON activists need to work out how to make best use of the Special Conference which we are (I hope) about to requisition thanks to the Manchester Branch.

Last time local government activists succeeded in requisitioning a Special Conference, the national union responded by getting an agreement between the Service Group Executive and the relevant NEC Committee Chairs to call a different Special Conference so as to have more leeway to control the agenda.

Such sharp practice would be unwise on this occasion (although wisdom is in short supply at the UNISON Centre just now so it cannot be ruled out). All the best speakers on both sides at that previous Special Conference are united in criticism of the conduct of this year’s NJC pay “dispute”.

It is necessary to be clear. We have squandered the action on 10 July by settling for proposals which are in several ways worse than the one year 1% offer against which we took that action. No amount of obfuscation (or what plain speaking folk might call “lies”) can conceal this alarming truth.

Local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would be materially better off now had we not had a dispute over pay in 2014 and simply accepted the 1%. None of those who gain a pittance in 2014/15 (comparing the previous to the revised offer) have gained more than they lost by striking for a day – and everyone will suffer for our inability to fight for better pay in the year in which a General Election will be fought on the issue of living standards.

Even when we have gained very little from disputes (as in 2008 when post-strike arbitration delivered an additional 0.3%) we have at least been able to say that the sacrifice of strike action has delivered some benefit which (even if only in the long term) will be seen to have been worth having. In 2014 the truth is that we have asked members to make the sacrifice of taking strike action and have achieved worse than nothing as a result.

The misleadership of this “dispute” goes beyond letting down the members immediately involved to bringing not just our own trade union but the entire movement into disrepute. That is why it is appropriate for us to convene a Special Service Group Conference.

The branches seeking a Special Conference want it to discuss;
  • The 2014-2016 NJC Pay Proposals.
  • The decision to cancel strike action on 14th October.
  • The future Pay Consultation protocols in respect of Local Government pay claims.
  • The best means to secure a decent pay increase for Local Government members.
This won’t be an academic exercise in debate for its own sake. The whole future of national trade unionism is at stake here, if the three largest trade unions in the country cannot manage to secure anything for workers in the largest organised bargaining group in the economy then local government trade unionists will want to know what is the purpose of our national structures (in their impressive erection on the Euston Road).

(Incidentally, any critic of the “expense” of a Special Conference would do well to attend to the loss of income from all the empty space at the UNISON Centre before opening their ill-informed mouth to make any such criticism.)

The flaccid complacency of our hypertrophied official structures absolutely requires to be shaken awake – and activists now need to coordinate in the run up to the Conference when it is called.

Of which.



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