Monday, February 06, 2012

Getting a Grip about Industrial Action

“Those who argue that unions wanting to negotiate – the majority – have ‘sold out’ and undermined trade union solidarity need to get to grips with the complexities of public sector pensions, serious areas of weakness in membership density and organisation, sectoral bargaining arrangements in the public sector. Only when they have done that should they decide whether there is a route to getting everything we want through industrial action".

UNISON Head of Local Government Heather Wakefield responds to an analysis of the November 30 Public Sector Strike over pensions by academic Gregor Gall in Red Pepper.

I must admit that I get just a little frustrated when outsiders, no matter how knowledgeable, think that they know who and what "grass roots activists" are and think. Also, what is their relationship with the "National leadership". The "National leadership" in UNISON are democratically elected lay representatives who are not only "grass roots activists" but activists with a mandate.

They are responsible to their members not the grand designs of tiny ultra left fringe groups. Let me be very clear. By an overwhelming majority, the elected lay leadership of UNISON voted to continue negotiations over pensions.

There are some who appear to believe that public sector workers will "rally to the cause" and strike regardless of membership densities, steward structures and bargaining position. This is simply untrue. We are not stupid. We are not cannon fodder. It shows a complete and fundamental misunderstanding of British trade unionism.

I also think that further strike action at this time when our members and the public know that there is an improved offer on the table would prove disastrous. If negotiations collapse due to government intransigence then that would be very different.

What is the answer? I think instead of chasing strikes it is the long hard slog of organising workers. Not only recruiting vastly more members and stewards but also training and supporting them. If we had the numbers of members that trade unions in Scandinavia countries had then we would be in a totally different bargaining position. Ironically the Coalition Government attacks on employment rights and safety has provided us with a (unwanted) Recruiting Sergeant. Workers will know what activists have always known, that the best defence at work is joining an union, not relying on the Courts to protect you.

I think that this picture above of Kingston hospital UNISON members is a far more powerful image in this day and age than that of angry men standing around burning braziers. We have another job of work to do with the Great British court of public opinion. Despite the open goal of the worst recession in 80 years brought about by clear failures in capitalism, the "left" in all forms have failed to have any impact. But this belongs to another post.
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