Union round up

Submitted by AWL on 6 June, 2008 - 12:04 Author: Patrick Murphy, Mike Fenwick

• TEACHERS: The Executive of the National Union of Teachers on 29 May considered alternative timetables for a ballot for discontinuous strike action to continue the pay campaign. The recommendation discussed was a ballot for the Autumn. The earliest date based on that timetable would be 12 November.

An amendment (objection) to that recommendation deleted autumn and replaced it with summer. A paper prepared for the Executive included a possible summer timetable which would allow action to start at the same time as a possible Unison local government strike on the same issue which would involve thousands of school support staff. The amendment was moved by Nick Grant of the SWP and I seconded it. It was defeated by 28 votes to nine with four abstentions.

The recommendations passed included a lobby of Parliament on 9 June, lobbying of MPS surgeries, advice to support Unison members in school if they do strike and a branch secretaries meeting on 17 June to consult on the next steps, including the action timetable.

But an opportunity to take action in a co-ordinated way with other public sector unions and build quickly on 24 April has been missed. However, that the game is not up. The Socialist Party are talking about naming those on the left who voted against in the name of holding them to account etc. My view is that is a bit of a sideshow — part of the SP’s attempt to promote their own factional initiative and prepare for a likely GS election candidature.

In the Executive debate quite a lot of left-wingers had fairly serious arguments for their position. Members who attended branch meetings (i.e. the more active) had in some cases more or less mandated their reps not to call further action this term. In other cases it wasn’t as clear as that but there wasn’t clear support for action either. If I am honest I am not sure I could claim to be representing the views of the union branches I represent on the Executive in the way I argued and voted. And that is based on having been to discussions with them since 24 April.

There was a disbelief that Unison were serious about striking in July. That was based on assessments made by left-wingers in Unison and the fact that Christine Blower was unsucessful in arranging a discussion/meeting with Prentis to find out how serious he was. Unison have also, apparently, changed the planned date of the strike to 15 July. This is either after schools close or in the last week of term. These were the arguments against striking.

These arguments are wrong for a number of reasons. They also lack a sense of one union changing the conditions overall by its actions. We moved our objection after a protracted but fairly comradely debate within the left caucus where all these arguments were put. They are not, however, self-evidently and obviously wrong. These people need to be convinced — not only by argument but by the mobilisation of membership opinion. They won’t be persuaded by exposure politics of the SP-type.

Patrick Murphy, NUT Executive (p.c.)

• Health Pay Ballots: NHS workers in the GMB and Royal College of Midwives (RCM) have rejected a three year pay deal with a near unanimous vote. 96% of the GMB members responded and 99.7% for the RCM said no. Both unions gave a clear lead to members, arguing for rejection, and consequently got high turnouts in their ballots.

UNISON’s ballot of its health members is due to close on 6 June. There is no recommendation either way from the leadership so campaigning seems to be limited to individual branches who have decided to reject the deal. In other areas the only campaign materials will be prepared by the full time officers which come close to calling for acceptance as the “best deal possible”.

The RCN is totally out of step in recommending acceptance of the deal because it contains particular benefits to their members. Given that the RCN have never taken industrial action their acceptance would not be fatal to a broader campaign of action. But if UNISON also agree to accept it’s likely the smaller unions may not feel confident enough to act on their mandates for action.

The task for UNISON members will be to take a vote to reject and turn it into a positive national campaign for action on the industrial ballot that will follow. That will mean organising with local branches of the other unions to get the best strategy to deliver effective industrial action that hits the bosses not the patients.

Mike Fenwick

Local Government: 850,000 Unison members in local government are now balloting on action over pay. There was a clear call to reject the 2.45% offer in a previous consultative ballot and the leadership are now asking for two days of strike action in pursuit of a deal above inflation.

A positive vote and a large turnout is needed to guarantee successful action. Local branches will have to take the lead on this and on building workplace stike committees that can deliver. Other local government unions and civil servants taking coordinated action means that a bigger strike day than 24 March is still possible.

WL supporters in UNISON have produced a bulletin on Local Government pay issues: councilworker solidarity now available at www.workersliberty.org

• Probation: Probation workers have voted overwhelmingly against an attack on their pay structure — Unison members voted 93% against and Napo membrs 96% against.

Pay scales were negotiated in 2005 as part of a three year deal. In the 2008 pay negotiations the employers refused to honour the pay scales, stating that any increments would form part of this year’s pay agreement. This amounts to a pay cut for some workers and a serious attack on the national pay structure and the trade unions. This “yes” vote will be used by the negotiators to strengthen their hand. A formal strike ballot must be the next step. A vigorous joint campaign by Napo and Unison could return a strong vote for action on a good turnout.

The employers have rejected the unions’ 5% pay claim but not yet made any offer! A serious pay campaign is urgently needed to resist the attack on increments and to reject what is likely to be a below inflation pay offer.

A probation service worker

•Bolton teachers: In the first strike of its kind NUT members at Withins School in Bolton took action in opposition to plans to turn the school into an academy. Previous attempts to take action over academies have been thwarted because no legal provision exists to strike specifically against academies — such actions are regarded as “political” rather than “industrial” disputes. The successful ballot and subsequent actions at Withins are in opposition to a “change of employer”.

This action is significant across the entire public sector. So far, many anti-privatisation campaigns have lacked a strategy to employ union muscle, concentrating on lobbying, leafleting and protest meetings. Whilst these are important elements to any campaign, they have only been effective in stopping one or two academies.

NUT Divisions and Associations should take up this example and put the unions full weight into stopping the privatisation drive.

More: savewithins.exofire.net.

• Fremantle: care workers in Barnet have voted by 95.9% to three days strike action, resuming their dispute over pay and conditions. This reflects the anger of workers having to take on up to 60 hours a week or second and third jobs to make ends meet — with some facing the bailiffs — as a result of the pay cut imposed in April 2007.

The union branch has had to deal with management bullying and victimisation of key activists and other attempts to undermine the union, such as management attempting to conduct their own ballot of workers! The London Region of Unison has also acted to undermine the impressive work of the branch.

The solidarity shown last year must be renewed. The newly re-formed Barnet Trades Council will play hopefully play an important role in this. For more see http://barnetunison.blogspot.com/

• Civil Service: PCS conference (held last month) can be summed up by saying that a decision was made on national/public sector pay. An attempt to rule out selective action — almost as a point of principle — was defeated but the union leadership has signalled a major retreat on fighting job losses.

Conference voted heavily in favour of an emergency motion from the National Executive which now mandates the union to ask the Treasury for sufficient funds to ensure all members in the civil service and associated public bodies get a rise worth at least the rate of inflation as measured by RPI; that all civil service bargaining units must reject sub inflation offers this year; that the union will ballot its civil service and associated public bodies members on industrial action if the Treasury fail to provide the money.

The motion mandates PCS to work with other public sector unions in fighting against the public sector pay squeeze.

Asking the Treasury for more money is called a remit demand (remit being the name the civil service gives to pay budget increases or changes). In 2004, Socialist Caucus supporters (now in the Independent Left, IL) put a motion to conference calling for a remit demand to the Treasury and then industrial action if this demand was refused. Although overwhelmingly passed at conference it was never actioned. In 2006 the NEC asked the conference to reject (which they did) a remit demand and strike; now in 2008 we are going for a remit demand and strike. The world of PCS keeps going round in circles.

The Socialist Party put up an emergency motion; one term of which would be to ban PCS from using selective action. The reason for this strange move is that the use of selective action, as just one tactic amongst many, is viewed as an IL idea; an idea that is gaining in popularity. In the fevered small world of the union that makes it a bad idea that had to be stopped. Delegates by a large majority rejected this move.

The union signalled its retreat on jobs by the hyper spin and importance it is placing on a new agreement called the Job Protocol. This agreement negotiated with the Cabinet Office sets out procedures for handling surplus staff. It is not legally binding and it does not guarantee that there will be no compulsory redundancies (which has been PCS's demand). Members are to balloted on it, even though it has been in operation since the 1 April.

Although the union leadership is saying that the jobs campaign will continue there are no plans for such a campaign; no material for such a campaign is being produced and members are not being balloted on jobs alongside the remit demand. The latter is a clear signal to the Government that the job fight is over. Indeed some of the simpler but more honest souls in Left Unity (the ruling group on the National Executive) say pensions sorted, jobs sorted and now to get pay sorted. Of course the Government haven’t finished with the jobs fight; neither should we. A PCS member

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