On Friday 21st August, UNISON’s National Joint Council Committee confirmed that the national Local Government pay offer of 2.75% would be accepted by the union. This offer applies from April 1st 2020 to March 31st 2021 and effectively ends any prospect of a struggle over pay in the coming months for the vast majority of council workers, school support staff and associated workers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Turnout across the union was higher than in previous consultations, however it still fell short of the 50% threshold for lawful industrial action imposed by the Tories’ Trade Union Act.
There can be no doubt that this is a disappointing outcome, but rather than demonstrate a lack of willingness to fight over pay, this result demonstrates a number of failures in the leadership of the UK’s largest trade union.
All but one region accepted the offer, but it was rejected by the largest region – the North West.
Following a sell out on pay by the national leadership in 2014, branches in the North West region, who had delivered well-supported strike action earlier in that dispute, led the call for a Special Conference to try and ensure that the wishes of the national union could never again ride roughshod over the views of members on the ground. One outcome of this conference, was the passage of a motion that allowed regions and branches to put forward their own recommendations in ballots and consultations, as long as they also stated the national position.
In this recent consultation, the North West utilised this right to recommend a rejection and to produce material (and even hold an online rally) arguing for that position. Rather than exhibiting such leadership, the national union declined to make any recommendation to members. All regions, with the exception of the North West, followed this approach.
Those branches which supplemented the regional position, with the adoption of a branch recommendation to reject and which worked hard to engage members, not only secured strong rejections, but also had much higher turnouts than branches which failed to do so. In fact, there were a number of branches in the North West which were able to defeat the Tories’ 50% threshold and deliver a rejection, including my own in Salford.
Leaders are not there to make decisions for members, but they are there to inspire confidence and to work hard to engage members in disputes. The responses of those branches which offered such leadership, shows that where it is offered, members will respond with a willingness to fight.
In the next 12 months, UNISON will hold elections for its Service Group Executives, its NEC and its General Secretary. Socialist Alternative supporters are determined to work with other genuine lefts to harness the anger of members and to raise aspirations that we can secure pay awards that workers deserve, while protecting our members from any attempt make them pay for the Government’s failures.
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