Sunday, January 08, 2012

Public Pensions dispute: do we talk or walk?

Next week I will be attending a national UNISON briefing on the pensions dispute which will be followed by a meeting of those Service Group Executives (SGE) who have members in the Local Government and NHS pensions schemes.

The SGE’s is made up solely of elected lay members. I sit on the Community & Voluntary SGE and we will be debating and making a decision on whether to support the framework agreement on resolving the pensions dispute. I posted here my initial views on the agreement. Whilst I look forward to the briefing and the debate, the more I think about it, the more convinced I am, that we have to see this through. We need to carry on talking and not walk out of negotiations at this point.

Calling for walkouts is one thing but actually getting people out on strike nowadays is very, very difficult. First and foremost you have to convince members that this strike action is an absolute last resort. When all other attempts and means to negotiate have been exhausted. We were able to demonstrate this was the case for the November 30 strike. Members know that there has been concessions made and will expect us to try our best to put together a deal before being called out again.

We also need to raise our game. The strike on November 30 was a great success but in many ways we punched above our weight. We now know where we were strong and were we were not. We need to build upon our strengths and organise in those areas where we simply don’t have the membership density or steward structure to deliver.

Some unions appear to have rejected talking further and want to plough on with further strike action. If that is their decision then fair enough that is their choice, I for one will not interfere with their internal democratic decision making process. I do wish that others would do the same with UNISON! While I accept that some may argue tactically that the talks will not result in an acceptable offer and instead we should organise more strikes. I do not accept for a moment that to keep “Unity” we must refuse to negotiate until we get an offer that all 27 different trade unions in all their different pension schemes find acceptable. This is just nonsense.

The real threat to “Unity” will come if the unions start arguing amongst themselves with the loud mouths braying their “betrayal politics” mantra. The gains and real improvements that have been already won through the decision to strike and the ballot will be forgotten. Such division would only benefit this Tory led coalition. Pensions is not the only dispute that we are going to have to fight in the next 3 long years.

In my previous post I pointed out that some commentators are in danger of cutting off their nose to spite their face. I also think there is a risk that some in TIGMOO would rather indulge in sectarian infighting and point scoring, rather than carry out the hard work of recruiting members and stewards. Now, I am of course, a well known wallflower, who would not dream of indulging in polemic arguments with anyone.. but I would honestly rather be fighting the Tories and not other trade unionists.

However, I can’t resist this story. I met someone recently who told me how he had been hounded out of one of the ultra left sects because of the “crime of pessimism”. He was formally denounced for raising concerns about its support for a particular industrial dispute. As an experienced trade union activist he was surprised that his concerns were ignored because it did not fit the Party line. He was ordered to either repent his “pessimism” or face expulsion. In this case he didn’t talk he walked and left the sect before he was expelled. Needless to say that dispute ended in yet another glorious defeat...
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