UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Pensions & Strike Action - Beware Bedsit Generals

The emerging consensus of British public service unions is that industrial action will be an essential part of the response to the Con Dem attack on public sector pensions.

At the UNISON NEC meeting on 13 April, there was no challenge to the General Secretary's report that the optimum time for action would be in the autumn following negotiations with the government on its proposed (detrimental) changes to the various public sector pension schemes.

A minority of unions, including the NUT and the PCS regard early strike action as a strategic imperative. They have flagged up 30 June as a target strike day, subject to membership ballots, and their position should be respected. But not necessarily followed.

If we are to generate collective action in support of the collective interests of all public service workers then the isolated action proposed by some public service unions is a questionable approach at the current time. Detailed negotiations will take place over the next few months on a sector by sector basis reflecting the different structures of pension schemes across the public sector.

First priority is to ensure a unity of bargaining approach and industrial strategy as well as membership support for action within each sector (health, local government etc). This has not yet been achieved and is an obvious pre-requisite before wider action can be taken across the public sector. This position is supported by all UNISON Service Group Executive's and was endorsed at the recent health conference. Without an informed campaign the result of any ballot cannot be guaranteed and there is a particular need to engage with young members.

A key lesson of the magnificent 26 March demonstration was that the union movement is at our best when we act as one. The potential benefits of strike action by a minority of unions pale into insignificance when compared to the potential impact of action taken by all.

Certainly we should beware those Bedsit Generals ever ready to attack UNISON from a position of juvenile ignorance: http://libcom.org/blog/unison-fighting-cuts-dr-it-21042011

Contrary to the phoney view that that the union is reticent to take action, UNISON's NEC was informed on 13 April that the union is averaging 20 strike ballots per week.

The simple fact is that any national strike action must be designed to be effective and to succeed. It will require careful timing alongside other public service unions jointly committed to a long haul struggle. It must also recognised that we need to relate the fight on pensions to the broader cuts campaign and this should be a focus for the local coalitions/public service alliances over the next period. We should ensure that we fight under a broad demand for dignity and not poverty in old age.

Uninformed criticism should not distract us.