Now -read the book!

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Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Shackled and timid and tame?

I don't always see eye to eye with the (mostly) anonymous comrades over at UNISON Active - and I'm sure that's mutual.

However their timely posting of Attila the Stockbroker's "Never Forget" in which he explains and justifies the reactions of so many of us to the death of former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, is most welcome - and I commend it to readers.

Attila bemoans that our once mighty labour movement is now "shackled and timid and tame." After Thursday's decision of UNISON's National Joint Council (NJC) Committee, that is a view which will have great currency, particularly in the city centre offices of so many UNISON local government branches whose members and activists have spent weeks preparing to achieve the best and most effective strike we could next Tuesday.

Each one of those three adjectives is relevant to the predicament in which we find ourselves, as we embark on a campaign to persuade members to reject the most appalling (non) "offer" ever to emerge from the National Joint Council for Local Government Services or any of its predecessors. 

To see how we are shackled, one only has to listen to those of us, local government workers "of a certain age" who would dine out on our tales of the NALGO 1989 pay dispute if only the five year pay freeze hadn't put a stop to much dining out.

The legendary six days of strike action in that long ago summer took place before the full extent of the legal restrictions which UK trade unions now face were in place - though it is worth remembering that we already then faced previously unprecedented legal restraints (and they didn't stop us taking action). Indeed, it was case law following attempts to discipline strikebreakers in 1989 that drove home to local government workers the limits to what we can now lawfully do to express disapproval of those who (disgracefully) cross the picket lines of their own trade union.

Now, though we face heavier and more obstructive legal shackles than we did then (in spite of thirteen years of Labour Government in the period since they were imposed). Indeed, case law tightened the screws on us in the run up to this year's dispute as the Alemo-Herron decision excluded thousands from future decisions of the National Joint Council. 

The consequences of Thursday's tragic decision for workers in Academies and ALMOs who were part of "second wave" ballots is a further manifestation of the "shackles" upon our movement denounced by Attila the Stockbroker. 

But the shackles aren't the whole‎ story. They didn't prevent the strikes on 30 November 2011 or 10 July 2014. Our movement is also both timid and tame. The activists look at the leadership and see timidity. The leadership (or much of it) looks at the membership (or large parts of it) and sees the same thing. And the membership look at the leadership (including the activists) and sees (in many cases) much the same.

The end result of the timid speaking timidity unto the timid is that the Government and employers confront a labour movement which they certainly experience as "tame." Scroll down this blog to a post about a GMB circular and ask yourself if the employers' negotiators didn't pat themselves on the back when they read that circular. (And I'm not singling out the GMB here, all our unions have, by a majority, shown the same "tame" leadership).

We do not have to be tame, however. Nor do we have to be timid. And if we can cease to be timid, and become less tame, we may find that we can test the shackles which seem to restrain us.

Within UNISON there are Regions and branches where activists (and some officials) believe that the task of leadership is to confront timidity (not lazily to reflect it). In these Regions and branches we catch a glimpse of what a leadership less tame might look like.

Long ago, in far worse circumstances than we face, workers with far less than we have built a movement which gave us so much (not all of which we have yet lost).‎ Our campaign - as local government workers - to reject a disgraceful attempt at capitulation is the next step in a long march to emulate those who came before us and bequeath something better to our future.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

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