Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What went wrong on 14 October?


The second, of four, topics about which UNISON's local government branches are seeking to requisition a Special Conference on pay concerns the circumstances in which local government strike action scheduled for 14 October was called off.

I've included the link above because an otherwise thoughtful post on UNISON Active is impaired by it's gullibility in falling for the game of "pass the parcel of responsibility" played energetically by the national officials of the three unions.

The "received wisdom" within UNISON is that it had become clear, before the NJC Committee on 9 October called off our strike action, that the other unions were already pulling the plug.

From whomever this "received wisdom" was received, it is not wise. Whilst it is doubtless true that the national officials of GMB and UNITE were itching to call off the 14 October as soon as the (then) "pay proposals" were developed (perhaps largely by themselves) - the formal position of both the other unions was that they would go ahead with UNISON if we went ahead.

Indeed, representing the majority of all trade unionists in local government and - therefore - holding the majority of votes on the NJC trade union side - UNISON could have snookered all those seeking this sell-out had the NJC Committee stuck to its guns and refused to consult on capitulation.

The silly games played by our well-paid national negotiators are not irrelevant to our weakness and consequent defeat, nor was deliberate misinformation absent from the choreography of surrender (delegates at UNISON's regional briefing in Yorkshire were told things about the position of the other unions which were not true).

However, too much attention to inter-union shenanigans distracts from the more serious weaknesses of organisation and leadership within UNISON which led us to October's "strike that never was".
The strike on 10 July was not, generally, as well-supported or effective as the pensions strike in November 2011. Reasonably good media coverage masked this to some extent, but at no level of our trade union‎ did we seriously assess what this meant in terms of how to win support for further action.

The damp squib of the "locked out" action in August was a further straw in the wind but, rather than speak openly and transparently with ourselves and our members, our national negotiators either participated in or permitted the secret discussions which led to the negotiation of unconditional surrender.

Had we been having an honest conversation with ourselves over the summer we could have addressed and tried to deal with the increasingly obvious unevenness of our strength and motivation between branches and Regions. As it was, we left that divergence to derail us in the autumn.

Because - for all that the substantive reality is of misleadership at national level compounding the weakness of a poorly organised rank and file - the formal position is also the truth. The NJC Committee voted as it did on 9 October because delegates from a majority of Regions reflected the confusion, demoralisation and lack of confidence in the majority of branches in their Regions.

The series of events which defeated our pay dispute included all these factors - and we need to consider, and try to understand, their interplay if we are to find a way to ensure that this self-inflicted catastrophe is never repeated.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

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