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Political Fund Up For Debate
The big debates this year will be at the local government conference which meets before the main conference of the union.
Socialist Party members are calling for the rejection of the local government pay offer and for the union to go straight to a strike ballot of its 800,000 members in local government (see below).
The other big issue for the local government conference is the workload agreement in schools. As the Socialist Party and others said when it was introduced, the government is trying to get teaching on the cheap.
Dave Prentis, UNISON's general secretary, gave a commitment last year that if the government does not properly fund this agreement, he would organise industrial action with a view to withdrawing. The government clearly isn't giving any extra funding, so we will be calling for Prentis to live up to his words.
In the main conference the issue of the political fund ballot early next year will be up for debate.
Socialist Party members continue to call for the union to break with Labour. But the unrepresentative group who run UNISON's "Labour-Link" fund have successfully blocked all attempts to change the union rules to allow the fund to be used to support anybody else but the Labour Party. You have to be a member of the Labour Party to be on the fund committee, so this excludes the vast majority of members who pay into it.
Socialist Party members are discussing our attitude to next year's political fund ballot, when the union leadership will be no doubt calling on its members to vote 'yes'.
Council Bosses Offer Feeble Pay Deal
UNISON'S NATIONAL conference meets next week, from 22 June. The conference is preceded by the local government and other service group meetings.
One of the most burning issues for the local government meeting is pay. Council bosses have made a feeble three-year pay offer, with strings attached. The offer is for 2.75% in 2004/5, 2.95% in 2005/6 and 2.95% or the Retail Price Index in 2006/7. (The second year is not 'inflation-proofed').
Vicky Ingram, a member of UNISON's National Local Government committee, speaking in a personal capacity, said: "The pay offer must be rejected! 2.75% is not enough for this year nor is 2.95% enough for the next two. There is no guarantee that the British economy will 'remain' stable for the next two years and year two's offer is not inflation-proofed. Three-year deals may be good for the employers but they are no good for members."
The offer is being put out to ballot and is described by the unions as "the best achievable by negotiations." If members reject the offer, a further industrial action ballot would have to take place before any strike.
The offer includes a serious threat to payments and allowances which the employers want to remove as protected national conditions. The proposed deal allows for local negotiations over 'premium payments' such as overtime, weekend and bank holiday rates and shift and sleep-in allowances.
There is a fallback position keeping national rates in place should local agreement not be reached, but there is little doubt local authorities will see the deal as the go-ahead for a major three-year attack as they try to break the spirit and unity of council workers.
UNISON's national leaders were worried the local elections would see the employers' side 'change hands' from Labour to Tory. Whilst many members may find it hard to spot the difference, they won't miss the fact that the national negotiators may have feared the Tories at national level but they are quite prepared to let branches tackle incoming Tory councils on their own!
Anyone wanting to find out more about the negotiations on the UNISON website has to search very carefully. This has reinforced the feeling amongst some members that the whole dispute is being soft-pedaled by the union leaders, fearful of a major battle with the government prior to a general election.
Socialist Party members in UNISON are already campaigning for the deal to be rejected and a strike ballot called with immediate effect.
Unison Tries To Gag Anti-Witch Hunt NEC Members
THE WITCH-HUNT against left activists in UNISON rumbles on, as activists are subjected to Kafkaesque disciplinary proceedings. Whilst most of the ruling National Executive Council (NEC) apparently have little concern for members' rights and natural justice, a minority of left NEC members have persisted with complaining about breaches of procedure and of natural justice on behalf of affected members.
This process has clearly embarrassed UNISON's national bureaucracy and their right-wing backers on the NEC, to the extent that on 10 June they voted to ban verbal questions at NEC meetings on disciplinary cases!
NEC members now have to submit any questions on these cases in writing, so that the bureaucracy can vet them and decide whether to respond to them or not. The NEC as a whole will have no idea what another NEC member has asked, and will therefore not know what is going on!
The pretext for this decision was that questions may prejudice an on-going case, (despite the fact that when challenged the bureaucracy was unable to provide details of any case which had collapsed or been withdrawn as a result of such a question). Suggestions that members of disciplinary panels could leave the meeting if a question was raised about an on-going case in which they were involved were ignored.
But even after this decision had been taken the bureaucracy had a sharp lesson in how difficult it will be to gag NEC members in this way. North West NEC member Roger Bannister threw them into a quandary by asking why a member in his Region who had been banned from holding office had been refused permission to attend the Annual Conference as a visitor, despite the fact that she had done this twice before. (As this case had been through all stages of the disciplinary process, it was not covered by the gagging order!)
In The Socialist 19 June 2004:
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