Unison members were shocked, or would have been shocked had they found the news buried on the Unison website (27 April), to find the Union has gone against the recommendation for strike action from the 2016/18 pay consultation and accepted the employers’ derisory offer.
Once again accepting a two-year pay deal, meaning a rise of just 1% on the majority of spinal points, shows a complete capitulation without a fight. Former General Secretary candidate and head of Unison′s local government section Heather Wakefield said: “Having talked to members in local government across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, we’ve decided that there are to be no further consultations and we have agreed to accept the employers’ pay offer for 2016/18.”
There is no further comment from Unison as to why an offer has been accepted when the result of the national consultative ballot was in favour of strike action and action short of strike. With low turnouts in many branches and a feeling of malaise around the campaign, with members being balloted ″cold″ with no real information or effort to win members over to reject the deal, the fact that a majority of those voting did reject is significant.
Due to the low turnout and the difference in regional votes, the Industrial Action Committee referred the choice for a ballot back to the NJC committee for further consultation with the regions. The National Joint Council (NJC) Committee′s decision to ignored this result is extremely worrying.
London and the North West, the regions instrumental in the rebellion that led to the special conference last year, apparently argued to move to a ballot for industrial action. But East Midlands region moved a proposal to accept the offer which was carried. The weakness of the will to fight is a problem, but in many places this weakness is nurtured by officialdom that is wary of action and seeks to snuff out confidence amongst the wider membership. The acceptance means once again the Union nationally has decided not to fight to improve the pay conditions of its members who have already suffered a real terms pay cut of 18% since 2010. GMB had already accepted, and Unite was only willing to take action if Unison did too, so Unison′s decision to accept means there will now be no fight over pay until 2018.
The pay rises offered are substantially higher for the lowest paid, and this is in part why the GMB accepted the deal. But those rises are to meet the current minimum wage. They are not successes in collective negotiation over pay with the employer. The situation for national pay bargaining in Local Government is now incredibly grim.
With the added threat of the Trade Union Bill’s implementation, it will become almost impossible with on the current level of activity of most branches, to secure a big enough majority and turn out for a legal national strike. Unison activists need to organise quickly to ensure that this is discussed at Local Government Conference in June. Emergency motions to re-open the discussion and for a national ballot with a proper campaign and serious proposals for sustained action should be circulated and supported, particularly by branches in the North West and London who took the lead on opposing the last pay deal. We must however avoid the situation of a special conference that is then ignored by the bureaucracy, as in the 2014 dispute. Unison activists have an uphill struggle in this regard, but we cannot afford to lose.