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

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Attack on national bargaining – unfinished business from Thatcher era

The fact that national pay bargaining survived 18 years of Tory rule between 1979 and 1997 can be attributed to the strength of public sector unions at that time rather than any lack of ideological commitment on the part of the Tories to break up pay bargaining in general let alone national pay machinery in the public sector.

On 12 February 1987 the Financial Times reported on a speech by the Conservative Employment Minister Kenneth Clarke MP calling for ‘not only an end to national negotiations but to the annual pay round, the concept of a going rate, wage and salary comparability and job evaluation.’

The previous evening Clarke had delivered the Peat Marwick McLintock (now known as KPMG) lecture at the City University Business School and said: “if we can move to a system where pay increases are based primarily on performance, merit, company profitability and demand and supply in the local labour market, we will dethrone once and for all the annual pay round and the belief that pay increases do not need to be earned”

The intervening years have seen a marked decline in the private sector of sectoral pay bargaining and the odd, isolated experiment with public sector regional pay - for example in the Courts Service (introduced by Labour) – but elsewhere in the public sector national bargaining has stayed intact.

The current Con Dem offensive against national pay bargaining represents a new departure of historic proportions. It seeks to end once and for all the 'Whitley Council’ tradition and presents an existential threat to public sector trade unions. A failure to mount any meaningful challenge to both Government pay freezes in recent years and the degeneration of Pay Review Bodies into a cynically used tool to impose pay restraint, has left the Con Dem’s smelling blood.

Over the past 24 hours the economic and social case against regional pay has been well made but the big unanswered question is what - in industrial and organising terms - are we going to do about it?