Unison members who work in local government have voted by 70% in a consultative ballot to reject the employers’ meagre 1% pay offer. As reported in previous issues of Solidarity, workers have faced a real-terms pay cut of 20% in the last four years.
A formal strike ballot will take place from 23 May to 23 June. Strikes could begin on 10 July.
The union leadership’s plan appears to be for a one-day strike in July, potentially followed by a further two days of strikes in September, where it could be possible to link up with our Health section, whose conference recently voted for action over their even worse pay offer (1% or increments for those not at top of the scale).
We have our local government and national delegate conferences in late June, and activists will attempt to get emergency motions on the agenda for both of these to pressure the leadership to offer a more thought-out and ambitious strategy (see box).
While there is a strong sense of opposition to the 1% pay offer, there isn’t a great confidence that our leadership is in touch with its members and can deliver a strategy to win. Four years of pay freezes and massive job cuts, with very little opposition, has had its impact on morale.
We need to take every opportunity to turn the anger over another proposed pay cut into a confidence that we can win against, not just against pay cuts but also job cuts. In the National Union of Teachers, activists formed the rank-and-file LANAC network to develop a fighting industrial strategy and tackle on the conservatism and caution of the union leaders head-on.
Workers’ Liberty members in Unison will be working with other activists to try and replicate that model of rank-and-file organising and develop a network that can offer an alternative strategy and leadership.
We are aiming to get emergency motions proposing alternative strategy onto the floor of both local government conference and the national delegate conference.
To win the current pay dispute, we need a sustained and escalating programme of industrial action which moves beyond one-day strikes.
The current local government pay dispute should begin with a two-day national strike, with the union announcing an ongoing timetable of action beyond this, with the dates for further strikes set and announced in advance, and including:
• Selective action involving groups of workers to maximise impact (e.g., parking inspectors, caretakers, revenue staff, etc.)
• Programmes of action-short-of-strikes in between national strike days, including a work-to-rule and overtime ban
• Attempts to coordinate where possible with teachers’ unions
• A commitment to coordinate and distribute hardship payments, levied from both branch and national funds
• Encouraging branches to convene local, cross-union strike committees to inform regional and national SGE strategy
The current timetable for pay claims means that members wait several months for new pay deals to come into effect, hitting lowest-paid members hardest, and means lower-paid workers are more likely to accept whatever pay deal is offered at an earlier stage.
In future years, Unison should begin its pay claim process earlier, and demand that employers respond to the union’s claim at least four months before any pay award is due to come into effect. If employers fail to do this, Unison should commit to launching a dispute to win the pay claim through industrial action.
• Build for a yes vote in your branch. If you’re not a Unison member , get in touch with local government branches and offer support
• Could you submit a version of either policy above through your Unison branch? Get in touch here.