Friday, August 01, 2014

All out on 14 October! (rather than 30 September)

Better late than never?

It appears that we are now all out on Tuesday 14 October rather than Tuesday 30 September (as previously advertised...) in the fight for fair pay for local government workers.

UNISON activists need to turn all our efforts to building support for this action, but that doesn’t mean we have to be uncritical of tactical ineptitude. We should not, as local activists, have been put in the position in which our trade union announces strike action and then deletes that announcement without comment.

Most UNISON local government branches are used to being the largest union at a local level. As a rule, we would have a moral and political right to assert ourselves over other unions whose combined membership is considerably less than our own when determining tactics in an industrial dispute with our common employer.

However, those of us with some common sense, who know that divisions between trade unions benefit employers rather than workers, choose not to use that right in favour of building consensus (even in the face of irritated criticism from within our own organisation).

Obviously our senior officials (across trade unions) could and should have had a dialogue with a view to arriving at joint recommendations to the democratic decision-making bodies in each trade union. That runs a risk of undermining lay democracy (but that is what officials do anyway as a matter of routine!)

More importantly therefore, rank and file members of the various unions should have an unofficial forum in which we could have arrived at our own point of view. The disintegrating left which we are saddled with is not capable of generating such a forum.

The observation in the UNISON press release that “The strike will be just a few days before the TUC organised national demonstration on 18 October calling for decent pay” makes us vulnerable to the argument that we are asking our members to make the sacrifice of strike action as part of a stage army in the run up to the General Election.

However, given the refusal of the Labour Party (thanks to the approach of trade union delegates) to oppose austerity, the reality of our strike action (and of the TUC demonstration) is that we are as much putting down a marker to Eds Balls and Milliband as firing a shot at Cameron and Osborne.

The decision to defer the strike called for by UNISON’s National Joint Council Committee will be proven right if – and only if – October 14 sees unified action including health workers as well as local government workers. Such action would give the best hope of a better outcome for local government pay and the most effective political impact upon the Government (and Opposition).

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Unity is strength in the fight for fair pay

I blogged about the publicised decision of our National Joint Council to call for further strike action on 30 September. The news report on which I based that blog post is still online (thanks to Google) but is no longer available on the UNISON website.

The bulletin to local government branches of UNISON, dated Wednesday was unequivocal;
“The UNISON NJC Committee met yesterday to review the J10 strike and decide next steps in our campaign.  It has decided to hold a second day of strike action on Tuesday 30 September rather than the earlier dates suggested30th September is the last date local government pay is above the National Minimum Wage. On 1 October, SCP 5 will fall below the new NMW of £6.50 per hour.
This means that the ballot timetables for the 15 national MATs have now been revised to enable members to take action on 30 September. Education and Children’s Services will issue separate guidance about this and related matters shortly.
The NJC TU Side Executive is meeting on 29 July to discuss coordinating second wave action and further information will follow. The UNISON NJC Committee also agreed to set a date for industrial action in October should there be no movement by the Employers.”   

The news is out there. Branches have passed it on. It’s on our twitter feed.

The GMB Press Office on the other hand hasn’t tweeted about the dispute since announcing the success of action on 10 July. Informally I have been advised that “The GMB’s current position is further day of strike in the week commencing 13th October along with other public sector unions. But with a day of non-strike protest in August.”  

UNITE also lauded the success of the action but, the inconclusive outcome of the (National Joint Council ) NJC trade union side on 22 July hasn’ t  produced any subsequent reference to the local government pay dispute on twitter. It appears that the Executive of the NJC Trade Union Side, which will meet next Tuesday, may not produce a consensus in support of action on 30 September.

There are some interesting silences within UNISON over the past week also.

Our leaders – lay and full-time – across all three local government unions (and the other unions whose support we all need, as they need ours) need to be dunked repeatedly in cold water until an agreed strategy for action on public sector pay is arrived at.

I don’t have an easy or immediate answer. Certainly if we wanted effective unified  action across all unions we would not want to start from here – but that is the one thing about which we have no choice.

We should – but do not – have a unified rank and file movement across the major trade unions so that activists could try to hammer out a common position for which we could argue. We do not have such an effective body. All we have are risible front organisations, declining captives of sectarianism and obscure fossils (and worthy campaigns which are incapable of intervening in such matters).

In the absence of such a unifying force we probably need to start by finding some way to have an honest debate about our strengths, weaknesses and tactics. This has to be conducted in public, because otherwise it is hidden from our members, even though this means that it is also conducted in full view of the employers.
There are a few things we shouldn’t do.

We shouldn’t “talk up” the impact of and support for strike action to the extent that it bears no relation to the experience of our activists (ourselves) on our picket lines. We need to be honest about the room for improvement which always exists, and try to assess it accurately so that we can try to use it. To improve. This is difficult because such honesty will always be seized upon by the defeatists and careerists to call off action – but it is unavoidable if we are to make an informed assessment of what to do next.

We shouldn’t pull our punches when criticising the absurd timidity of our officials in the face of this year’s bugbear “legal jeopardy”. I confess to guilt on this point since I haven’t said before that it is both pathetic and absurd that UNISON has adopted such a restrictive approach to balloting members in Academies. (It is not acceptable that branches and Regions are told that the UNISON Centre may need them to chip in to run ballots as it lacks capacity. UNISON staff should be redeployed as necessary and immediately to ensure we ballot everyone we can.)

We shouldn’t fall in to the trap of “union chauvinism”. I don’t support UNISON for the sake of supporting my own union – indeed one of the most read posts on this blog dealt entirely with circumstances in which UNISON was falling short. In the same way, GMB members shouldn’t be precious about defending GMB, nor UNITE, nor NUT members – not even members of PCS. Socialist trade union activists are on the side of the workers (rather than this or that trade union) and, as a general rule, we want to see a meaningful unity of trade union leaderships, not to volunteer as cheerleaders even for the most leftwing.

We shouldn’t subordinate our fight for a decent pay rise to the cause of supporting a change of Government through support for the TUC demonstration in October. We should support that demonstration of course – and we should certainly be doing all we can to see that we have both a Labour Government and a movement capable of exerting meaningful pressure upon it. We are not, however, a stage army for Ed Miliband – and we’ll face a continuing fight under any Government a year from now.

Our members – across all the unions – expect us to deliver united action for fair pay in the autumn.

They know we didn’t get everyone out (and that we never will) but expect us to do our best to maximise the impact of their action (including the impact of favourable publicity).

They know the law is against us but don’t expect us to run away from it.

They know that the leaders of each union want to promote their own union – but can tolerate this if together our unions can show unity.

They know we would be less worse off under a Labour Government, but expect more than Labour will offer us.

Tuesday’s meeting of the Executive of the NJC Trade Union Side needs to start getting this right.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Holiday reading recommendation

As a service to regular readers of this blog, Sid and Doris Rule-Book-Anorak, (and since I am on leave) I draw attention to the availability of the ultimate beach-side holiday reading opportunity – the 2014 UNISON Rule Book.

This incorporates the amendments made at last month’s Conference.

Rule E.4 is still there.

Will it be complied with?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

All out on 30 September!

It's good that we have a date for further strike action in the fight for fair pay for local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - Tuesday 30 September (that's #S30 for those twittering about I imagine).

It won't be easy to persuade members to take further strike action. There is not a tidal wave of such anger that rank and file workers are only being held back by timidity or perfidy within our movement.  (That's almost never true).

It is, however, necessary that we persuade our members to take further action if we are to stand a chance of a decent settlement. ‎In order to win this (unavoidably) difficult argument, we need to make a convincing case that the sacrifices which we will ask our members to make will be worthwhile.

That means that we need to demonstrate that we have a coherent, thought out strategy to maximise political pressure on‎ the relevant decision makers to stand a realistic chance of securing a significantly improved pay offer.

I think that those who argued, at yesterday's meeting of the UNISON National Joint Council (NJC) Committee ‎for the previous decision that we should take two consecutive days of strike action can make a plausible claim to having advanced such a strategy. They were, however, in a minority and a decision has been taken for a strike on 30 September and the possibility of further action in October.

We never get to make history in circumstances of our own choosing - and these are certainly not those. What we do get to do, if we are UNISON activists, is follow our leadership when it shows us the sort of leadership the lack of which we so often criticise - even if we have tactical differences.

And for those who are not in UNISON, many of whom have spent some time in recent years criticising the unwillingness of UNISON's leadership to lead the fights that they would like to have seen, here is your test. Can you (in UNITE) set aside illusions in selective action to join us on 30 September and thereafter? Can you (in the NUT) call for the further (united) action on 30 September which will have the impact you have been looking for? Will you (in all unions, including the GMB) join us or will you stand aside?

And - perhaps most importantly of all - will members of UNISON's Health Group Executive accept that a strike ballot which closes on 18 September can support action on 30 September? And will you call for the united action between health and local government which shows what UNISON might be and might achieve?

‎Should answers to any of these questions begin to emerge I shall be sure to blog further!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Health and local government - strike together over pay!

In a development which will be welcomed by all those who want to see fair pay for all public service workers (and an increase in living standards for workers more generally), UNISON today announces a ballot for industrial action‎.

The strike ballot will run from 28 August to 18 September, meaning that the earliest date for strike action would be the last week in September. I hope that friends and comrades at today's meeting of UNISON's National Joint Council (NJC) Committee, considering the timing of further action over local government pay, will take note of this development.

We are strongest when we strike together!
Two minor supplementary points. Our members in Scotland are part of neither dispute, their pay negotiations already having been devolved (whatever the outcome of another vote coming up soon). Also, there is a contradiction between striking for higher pay and supporting Ed Balls' "austerity-lite" economic policy for an incoming Labour Government.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Unions back austerity?

A hat tip to Comrade Berry on Facebook for drawing to my attention the report above, from Jon Lansman of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (and from many other places, including, on this occasion, a van in the car park outside Labour's National Policy Forum).

‎Jon reports on the overwhelming support for the foolish decision to endorse Ed Ball's hare-brained scheme to continue Tory austerity policies in the first year of a Labour Government. This policy of "austerity-lite", intended to burnish Labour's reputation for economic competence subordinates fiscal policy to unreliable electoral calculation.

‎As a local government worker in a borough facing the loss of fully half it's central government funding between 2010 and 2017, this decision suggests no hope of respite even if Ed Miliband is in Number 10 a year from now with a solid majority in the Commons. As soon as we finish the TUC demonstration this October we had best start planning one for the autumn of 2015, since Chancellor Balls will be promising us more of the same.

All of this will be music to the ears of those involved in the various vanity publishing outfits with electoral ambitions, who will repeat their calls to the trade unions to break our links with Labour and back other candidates. However, these comrades will be missing the target quite spectacularly.

The problem is not that the trade unions will back Labour in spite of an economic policy which is contrary to the interests of our members (and to the health of the economy - but that's a different blog post for another time). That may be A problem - but it isn't THE problem.

The problem is that trade union delegates at the National Policy Forum voted to support Ed Balls and against the policies of their own unions and of the Trades Union Congress (TUC). The question we need to be asking is not "why do we support Labour?"

The question we need to be asking is "why do we fail to support our own policies when we are involved in Labour's policy-making machinery?"

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Taking the movement to the workers

I've helped set up at the first day of the Lambeth Country Show (#LCS40 for those of you twittering) and will be back tomorrow.

As one of the largest community events in London, the Country Show absolutely needs a trade union presence - and it is a tribute to the work of our Trades Council that we have a "Union Village" marquee which brings together local union branches and progressive campaigning organisations.

A generation ago - when half of all workers were in trade unions and the great majority worked in unionised sectors where their pay and conditions were set by collective bargaining - we could rely upon our workplace profile to know that workers knew where we were and what we were.

Now - although the retreat of trade union presence at the "point of production" may frequently be overstated - it is nevertheless the case that the fragmentation of the workforce and decline of collective bargaining together mean that we cannot rely upon workers coming to the movement.

We have to take the movement to the workers.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Labour NEC elections - vote for the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance

Like all other individual members of the Labour Party I have an opportunity to vote in elections for Labour’s National Executive – and will be following the recommendation of the Labour Representation Committee to vote for the candidates of the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance.

Alongside the pressure we need to put within our trade unions for our unions to stand up for our progressive policies, we need to find allies in the Constituency Labour Parties committed to a radical reforming Labour Government.

Vote for:
Ann Black
Ken Livingstone
Kate Osamor
Christine Shawcroft
Darren Williams
Pete Willsman

A flyer for distribution at Labour Party meetings, or to Labour Party members, is online here.

Members can vote online at - votes must be cast by 5pm on Monday 18th August.