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Local government workers react to leaders' strike retreat
A Unison local government member
When I got the news that the local government (LG) and school support workers' action had been suspended, I was on my way to a planned meeting of support assistants in a special school.
This school was due to close on Tuesday due to the support among workers there for the strike. It would be hard to find a group of LG workers upon which there is more pressure not to go on strike. But they had been solid in July alongside their teacher colleagues and were again now, wishing the teachers were still with them but with added confidence that academy school staff were now joining the fight.
Yesterday I had to inform them that the action had been suspended and that there wasn't even a firm offer on the table. Never mind the pay rise that they quite rightly assumed they had won. Our unelected negotiators don't have to do that bit.
When they should have been building to make 14 October a massive strike day, it seems Unison, Unite and GMB tops have instead spent the last two weeks looking to call action off without wanting to take the blame.
Some leading Unison officials have excelled themselves in their abdication of responsibility to deliver, as the largest public sector union, the most basic of demands for its members: To allow them to continue to fight their way out of the pay freeze.
The strike next Tuesday - in a week of coordinated public sector union action including Unison's own members in Health the previous day - has been suspended not even for an offer but for a 'proposal' - i.e. the hope of an offer!
This actually leaves us worse off this pay year (2014-15) than the "derisory" 1% offer from the employer we took action over in July and costs the employer less.
In January 2015, 2.2% will be added to all pay spines to last until 31 March 2016. It's a cunningly presented two year response to a one year pay claim attempt to buy off and shut up low paid LG workers in the run up to a general election.
It would allow a Labour government - if one were returned in May 2015- to spend its first year free of an unsavoury LG pay dispute. It cannot be consulted on as a proposal rather than an offer under Unison's own pay consultation procedures!
This two year 'proposal' appeared on the scene just as the doors to the Labour Party conference had barely closed in September. It was rejected by Unison's National Joint Council (NJC), the body of elected regional reps that deals with LG pay. It hasn't yet been agreed as a formal offer by the now Labour controlled Local Government Association (LGA) employers.
What followed from the NJC's rejection on 25 September was, it's now clear, a determined two week campaign by the bureaucracy to extinguish a fighting mood over pay that activists on the ground had been putting all their energies into fuelling in the long interval since July.
The unions appeared to vacillate continuously around the 14 October action, doing their utmost to try to blame each other. Unison even deliberately circulated misinformation about other unions bailing out and generally destabilising the mood among the activist layer.
This included calling regional meetings at which delegates had a motion to suspend the action sprung on them without any opportunity to take it to their branches in a blatant effort to override the NJC rejection and mandate its reps for the meeting called yesterday to suspend.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis reportedly attended the NJC meeting yesterday with two of his assistant general secretaries to ask the committee to trust him that the proposal would stay on the table and there would be an improvement offered if action were called off.
The 'improvement' now reportedly appears to be a further unconsolidated (taxable) lump sum of 0.45% paid on 31 March 2015, which is just enough to make sure no one is getting less for 2014-15 than the 1% we went on strike against.
The campaign to reject this excuse for an offer, with its measly and insulting pre-Christmas bribe, and to get the determined coordinated action that Unison members want and need for decent pay back on the road, begins here.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 10 October 2014 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.