The civil service union PCS and Unison, which is strongest in local government and health, have announced an alliance. The union leaders declare:
Two of the UK’s biggest public sector unions, UNISON and PCS, representing 1.7 million workers, have pledged to forge a powerful alliance to fight back against the coalition government's cuts to jobs and services.
The unions are joining forces to campaign, co-ordinate and, where possible, take action in unity and support of each other.
The government’s assault on the public sector threatens the livelihoods of 750,000 public sector workers. Job losses are already leading to drastic cuts to services that people rely on especially the poor, the old and vulnerable.
The unions will campaign together to build support for a realistic alternative to the cuts agenda. One that would protect and create jobs to secure the economic recovery, tax the banks, big business and the super-rich. They will also campaign for the non-renewal of Trident, to put an end to wasteful spending on consultancy and agency staff, against expensive privatisation, and to build a fairer society.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: "This is no paper policy, this alliance has teeth. Working together we can build an effective fighting machine to combat the cuts and protect vital jobs and services. And, when the circumstances are right, we will take action together.
"Across the country UNISON will work with the PCS to promote an alternative economic vision to the Con Dems’ monosyllabic cuts agenda. We want to build a fairer future for all, not just a haven for the super-rich."
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "The millionaires in David Cameron's cabinet insist that we are 'all in this together'. But low-paid public sector workers and other vulnerable members of our society do not share this view when they can see the government's plans seek to punish them for the mistakes of bankers and financial speculators.
"Our alliance with UNISON is a crucial first step towards building the kind of united opposition that will be needed to oppose the government's spending cuts that will tear communities apart and destroy the public services we all rely on. PCS is committed to an alternative programme of economic growth, collecting the £120 billion in taxes avoided, uncollected and evaded each year, creating jobs, curbing the use of civil service consultants and reducing waste.”
The unions are setting up a national liaison group to promote joint activity and co-ordinate a national campaign together. The group will work with the TUC and co-ordinate public sector alliances across central and local government.
To forge the partnership further PCS and UNISON are organising a "There is an alternative" event with the aim of bringing together trade unionists, politicians, academics, voluntary and community groups.
Across regions the unions will twin officers and organisers, developing regional campaign teams, regional events and roadshows building on links with voluntary groups.
At local level the unions will develop support links between members and activists including joint workplace and public meetings and joint local activities.
So far, so good. But it remains to be seen what the two unions will do together other than issue joint press releases and the like - whether the alliance will include joint strikes and demonstrations. And a local government Unison member from the North-East reports:
"This alliance is already functioning and in place in my region. The TUC, led by PCS and Unison regional convenors and secretaries, have been key players in launching the Northern Public Service Alliance, an umbrella group which coordinates 10 local PSAs (Newcastle, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Gateshead, Durham, Northumberland, two in Cumbria, Teeeside and Darlington, etc.)
"Most of these groups have had two monthly meeting so far. Some are more open than others, but the leadership is from Unison and PCS officials and very top down. The regional group of 8 union full timers makes all the decisions on funding etc. Activists in Newcastle are arguing for the local group to open up a bit, and maybe we will succeed as more people mobilise in response to the cuts.
"For the present, however, the alliance means that where in other cities you have anti-cuts committees which are relatively open, democratic, and rank-and-file based, in our region you have groups controlled by the union full-timers".