Monday, June 20, 2016
Why we censured the NJC Committee and what we should do next
UNISON\'s Local Government Conference has voted to censure the National Joint Council Committee for having accepted a pay offer which had been rejected in consultation by our members.
Some of those who argued (unsuccessfully) against this motion of censure argued that this was scapegoating and that we should not wash our dirty linen in public.
They were wrong.
Trade unions, if they are to realise their potential to represent the interests of workers, must be democratic bodies in which workers ourselves can determine our collective self-activity.
Democracy requires accountability - and that accountability cannot effectively be delivered simply by the right of any one constituent part of a collective body to elect a new representative (or representatives).
The accountability of a body such as our National Joint Council Committee must be a collective accountability to the membership as a whole, through their elected Conference delegates.
It was precisely because of the need for such accountability that National Delegate Conference in 2010 rejected NEC proposals to devolve, from Service Groups to Sectors, the responsibility for collective bargaining over our terms and conditions of employment.
To hold leaders to account is not scapegoating - it is an exercise in accountability which is vital to the effectiveness of democracy.
To tell our members that we have held leaders to account is not washing our dirty linen in public - it is an exercise in transparency which is equally important in a democratic trade union.
What the (elected and full-time) leadership of UNISON in local government need to do now is what they should have done after the 2015 Special Conference.
If we are to reverse the long term decline in the living standards of local government workers we must reverse the long term decline in activism and militancy in our trade union.
We cannot do this by offering the miserable fascimile of leadership which believes our role to be to reflect our members views - holding a mirror to demoralisation and despair as an excuse for our own inaction.
Leaders should not simply reflect the views of those they seek to lead. We should try to shape those views on the basis of a reasoned and informed assessment of our members\' interests.
And we have to tell members the truth.
The truth is that no one much cares for most local government workers - and that if we do not stand up for ourselves then no one else will.
The truth is that the other local government trade unions cannot be relied upon to lead a national fight for fair pay - and if we wait for them to do so we shall wait forever,
The truth is that if local government workers will not fight for fair pay, local government workers will not get fair pay. Of course we can - and must - always find new and imaginative campaign tactics.
The truth is that (at least in my working life) it is only when local government workers have taken national strike action that the relative decline in local government earnings has even been arrested.
Although exemplary lobbying by UNISON against the Trade Union Bill has meant that the (now) Trade Union Act has bankrupted neither UNISON nor the Labour Party, we did not avert the new threshold for turnout in strike ballots.
We now therefore face unprecedented challenges if we are to secure higher pay. It is absurd to suppose that this can be achieved by some clever rearrangement of the pay spine to maintain differentials in response to the increasing minimum wage.
Higher pay for local government workers means a larger pay bill for local government. Certainly we must lobby for greater funding for local government, but our members cannot afford to wait for the possibility of a change of political direction before we fight to raise our living standards.
Conference has told the Service Group Executive to ensure that a pay claim is submitted for 1 April 2017. This must not be similar to the half-hearted (not to say risible) claim submitted for 2015 after the Special Conference.
Detailed research must be done to support a pay claim which emerges from a consultation process with which our branches and Regions must engage.
We must start now - in every Region and every branch - to have, and try to win with our members the argument that members must be willing to take strike action if we are to reverse the decline in our standard of living.
That is the challenge which our Local Government Conference has set to our Service Group Executive and our National Joint Council Committee.
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.