Local government pay: unions cave in

Local government pay: unions cave in

Following a sham "consultation" exercise UNISON negotiators, backed by Unite and the GMB, have called in government arbitrators ACAS to make a binding agreement which members will be unable to vote on.

Following one of the UK's biggest strikes in years, when half a million council workers walked out for two days against a sub inflationary 2.45% pay offer, unions have blocked further action.

Blaming a poor vote for further action in a recent consultation exercise, which UNISON halfheartedly undertook while many workers were on summer holidays, officials decided there would be no further strikes, but instead to call in ACAS and hope for the best.

Any decision made by ACAS is binding on both parties - unions and employer - regardless of the wishes of the unions' members.

One local government worker and UNISON member told us:
"This latest blow to workers follows a series of attempts to sabotage the dispute by union officials. UNISON's leadership, while talking militant in public, sent out initial consultation documents on the pay offer giving the employers arguments.

"When surprised by a significant vote in favour of strike action, they responded with almost no preparation for the national strike, very few and very poor publicity materials, and no future dates for strike action for workers to prepare for or to be used as leverage against the employers.

"Instead, following the first strike workers were told to go back to work and wait for the professional negotiators, while their morale ebbed."

The demobilisation of local government workers could hardly come at a worse time for other public sector workers opposing their pay cuts.

Despite UNISON claiming to be leading the fight for co-ordinated action across the sector, it has now called off further action before a proposed national cross-union demonstration, and before teachers and civil servants are due to begin new waves of strikes.

Comments

compete
Oct 12 2008 22:39

So its nothing to do with low-paid part-time women (who comprise two-thirds of the workforce) seeing that in reality they were unlikely to get more than a fraction of a percent increase, even if they went out on strike again and lose further days pay? Perhaps the working class aren't of a revolutionary temper just at the moment - is it easier to blame union officials than face up to this unpaletable possibility?

Steven.
Oct 15 2008 23:33

Well that is part of it. But it is not the whole picture. For example the "consultation" was carried out while schools were mostly closed, and it is in schools where most of the low paid and part-time women work.

The original strikes were better observed than many people thought they would be. If the union leadership wanted to actually win, they could have used the mobilisation for the first strike and kept up momentum by setting dates of further strike action.

By not setting further dates, they went to the employers to negotiate with no actual power over the employers, because no further strikes were planned. So the employers had no incentive to offer anything more.

In fact, I and many other people think that they made the original strike be two days in order to scare people off from voting in favour of it. A more effective strategy would have been an initial one-day strike (in which people would have lost less money) followed by further scheduled strikes. Possibly either all-out strikes of two days then three days, or rolling regional strikes across every region.

The unions that have actually wanted to build on strike action, like the NUT or PCS, you can see a massive difference in all their publicity materials. They have both had a constant stream of publicity aimed at members trying to get them to take industrial action, from leaflets to posters to stickers, two booklets, to newspapers, to regular news sheets.

UNISON did hardly anything at all, and much of that but it did do was to put people off striking - giving the employers arguments on "pro-strike" materials, stating that a pay rise couldn't be afforded, etc.

There are of course bigger problems, that many people felt that they can win, due to general poor workers organisation, low union density, high proportions of agency workers, lack of industrial power... but the union is not without its share of blame here.

Actually the problems with the union outlined here are pretty much irrelevant compared to the much bigger issue, which is that UNISON has sabotaged any possibility of collective action between different groups of workers.

It pushed health workers to accept three years of cuts, separating them from local government workers about to end the dispute. And unisons leadership refused to even take the phone calls from the NUT who wanted to organise coordinated strike action. A joint strike by the NUT and UNISON would shut thousands of schools, and by extension take tens or hundreds of thousands of parents away from work, costing the economy tens of millions of pounds. This is industrial power, which could have helped win a better pay offer.

Instead UNISON members end up subject to the whims of the arbitrators, and the teachers are left to fight alone. Again.

To make matters worse, UNISON intends to split schools workers from the rest of local government workers, which will deprive local government workers of one of their biggest sources of industrial strength, and split the more poorly organised school workers from the better organised Council workers.