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

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Pay - doing nothing is not an option

On Thursday a national pay summit was held at UNISON head office with representatives in attendance from all regions and service groups. Co-chaired by President Wendy Nichols and NEC Policy Chair Jane Carolan, the seminar was opened by General Secretary Dave Prentis who set out a context of Government long term 1% pay restraint, relentless public services cuts, vicious attacks on tax credits and the huge threat posed by the Trade Union Bill. https://www.unison.org.uk/news/article/2015/09/special-unison-summit-plans-to-tackle-pay-freeze/

In a speech outlining the challenges facing UNISON branches and members in local government, SGE Chair Glen Williams posed the big question to delegates - 'Does anyone here think doing nothing is an option in terms of a pay campaign?' With national pay disputes progressing in further education and probation, the local government NJC claim recently submitted as well as an all member consultation on a 2.5% two year offer in Scotland, that question will be answered soon enough (full speech below).

'Thank you for the opportunity to present a Local Government view on lessons that might be learned from our Service Groups recent pay disputes covered by the NJC. SJC and FSA. These comments are based on Chairing the LGSGE throughout all those disputes, being on the SGLC and an active and vocal North West Rep on the NJC and working closely with Scottish colleagues. I welcome the chance to have this forum in which we can speak openly and honestly and constructively critically recognising strengths and weaknesses. I have only 4 points to outline – the Local Government context; needing to be taken seriously; leadership…. and the need for real action not more talk shops.

Point 1 – The context for Local Government has to be understood

We are the poor relations of all service groups, suffered the cuts and attacks more than rest but disproportionately within the different regions at different stages of attack and this was reflected in the varying levels of anger in the recent pay dispute as different Regional are at different points of feeling the pain of the cuts. The political context of the employers and the fragmented privatised nature of much of the services created real organisational challenges also reflected in schools and free schools academies and the whole frustration involved in balloting of various sections at a time when other sections of our union were considering or actively preparing to be balloted.

Local Government outside of Scotland have an uncompromising set of national employers who laugh and sneer at prospect of us in LG causing any major disruption by taking industrial action is a reality. The LGA see and treat us as impotent…… making pay negotiations extremely difficult if not impossible.

Point 2 – To be Taken Seriously - are we as a union actually serious about tackling low and poor pay within local government services, breaking the central government pay policy for the next 5 years – they have thrown down the gauntlet and we have to be seen to respond. We need to learn from Glasgow Homelessness workers – how was it successful and how was it sustained? We need to learn from Future Directions in my own region – how was it successful and how was it sustained? Why did they succeed and can that be extrapolated and applied to larger disputes. Does anyone here think doing nothing is an option in terms of a Pay Campaign? We need to address the different regional challenges without fear of being criticised, but we need to address them with a new mind-set of making our actions count and not looking to be defeated before we have even started.

Point 3 - Leadership - We need to stop blaming the members for not taking action and ask ourselves as the Leaders how to change the mind-set of the employers and the mind-set of our Membership. If any of us as the leaders believe this is impossible or in the too difficult to do box then this meeting is the chance to share those fears. I do not pretend it will be easy to change the mind-set of employers or Members but also believe doing nothing on Pay is not an option and we as the leaders have to lead.

We are the leaders, we are the leadership and we need to have and win the arguments with our members. We know the density issues, we know the daily challenges and the economic and political context and have to take them seriously but we must act differently and be seen to be act differently.

Point 4 – no more talk shops. Actions needed, financial commitment to supporting action, action around campaigns that raise pay and living standards – ethical care charter, unsocial hours working in Health or campaign around working tax credit attacks as well as Pay, income, remuneration, equal pay.

LG is committed to working jointly with other bargaining groups but we have to drop and change the mind-set of member apathy and job insecurity, false start strike dates, sister union domination and tail wagging the dog. No more one day gesture strikes but an unprecedented and united commitment to sustained pay campaigning over the next 5 years.

1. Pay anniversaries of the various sectors have to be united
2. Co-ordination of action and campaigns has to be managed differently and more effectively within our own union and with sister unions
3. Message from us as the Leaders has to be we are serious about Pay injustice, we will fight back and lead, we will put money where our mouths are we will build up treasure chest and develop branch levies, we will lead on campaigns that tackle pay injustice
4. Key lessons:
• End Pay Injustice
• Action will need to take place before TU Bill is enacted
• Action needs to be targeted, selected and funded – smarter action.

To conclude then - Key lessons from Local Government are:
1. The need for us to take the lead and to help change the mind-set of our members and the employers. If we are serious and act seriously about Pay we might be taken seriously as we all know it will take enormous action and different types of campaigns and pressure to change the pay policy of this government – but doing nothing is not an option

2. Unity between NJC and SGE, unity between elected and selected leadership and greater transparency of negotiations and related processes

3. Unity with other sister unions but also a greater preparedness to tackle the games played by the other unions rather than shoulder the responsibility as the biggest union.

4. We need a ballot section properly resourced and supported

5. Finally, on the anniversary of the day Britain and France declared war on the enemy we need to declare war on pay injustice. This is the start of a new approach to a key issue that is critical to our Members. My Region has already devised a different 4 pronged approach that I am sure they will share during the day but most important of all is for us to agree and enact a radical strategy and not be back here next year still talking about it.'