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Scotland: Unison local government: Close vote on pay
In a turnout of nearly 50%, Unison members in Scotland have voted by 51% to 49% to accept the latest offer from the local government employers, despite the recommendation to reject from the negotiators.
Ronnie Stevenson, Unison convenor, Social Work Services, Glasgow, personal capacity
Unite, with a far smaller membership, have decided to reject the offer, which was 3% for 2008/9 and 2.5% for 2009/10, and take action.
Members of GMB, who have a larger number than Unite but less than Unison have voted by over 63% to reject. GMB senior stewards are meeting on 24 November to consider what to do. Unison has an overall majority of union members within local government in Scotland.
Unison members throughout Scotland have expressed their anger at the way in which the leaders of Unison conducted the 2008 pay campaign. In a high turnout for postal ballots, the 49% of the members who voted to reject the latest pay cut offer shows the potential which was there. The Unison leaders of the dispute should have been bold in their approach to escalating the action from the word go.
They told us for months that there was no appetite to escalate and yet when they consulted the members by ballot to ascertain their willingness to escalate the action, half of them agreed to take part in action, in an effort to obtain a better pay deal.
The lead full-time negotiator stated that the offer was not good and that it was the perilous state of local government finance, the unsettled wider economy and the fact that Christmas is almost upon us, which had forced our members to vote for the offer.
All the more reason why the material put out calling for a vote to reject should have made the arguments forcibly. The real story should have been told about local government finance and the wider economy and the billions of pounds just given to the bankers and the billions of pounds spent on useless wars.
It was the prevarication of the negotiators which led to them consulting members nearly eight months after the settlement date and just before Christmas. Their lack of an explanation of the real facts and their procrastination led to a certain demoralisation of the membership and yet 49% voted for decisive action.
Unison must learn the lessons of this dispute for the 2010 pay negotiations. There is a need for an early agreement with the other unions on the pay claim and its early presentation to the employers. At the first sign of the employers not meeting the offer, then a joint programme of escalating mass strike action should be instituted.
There should be early planning of the action and 'life and limb' cover under trade union control. Where it is possible there should be joint action with all other unions affected by public-sector pay policy. Members' resolve to fight for decent pay should be strengthened by production of regular hard-hitting written material.
Local government spending in Scotland is under threat. Acceptance of this pay offer, a cut in real terms, will not remove that threat. The employers may feel emboldened by the result and try to introduce swingeing cuts in services. If they do, the potential for a fight is shown in the result of this ballot. The trade union leaders should now start the campaign to realise that potential.
In The Socialist 19 November 2008:
No Job Cuts
Post office closures
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis