On Sunday 17 June, the local government conference of the public sector union Unison voted for a ballot of members over the new local government pensions deal.
After six months of silence while negotiations with government were underway, Unison leadership is now encouraging its members to accept a deal which involves working until 68 and accepts a switch to a career average (rather than final salary) scheme. The ballot will run from 30 July-27 August, during the school holidays, when many Unison workers will be away from the workplace and unable to discuss the issue collectively.
22 emergency motions were submitted to the conference opposing the deal. A fringe meeting of the Unite Left group was packed, and the debate over the deal was the single issue of controversy on the day.
Composite 5, the motion backing the leadership’s proposals, won a show of hands from the floor with a majority of around 50 votes. The chair refused to take a card vote on the issue. A challenge to standing orders to force a card vote was unsuccessful; Unison activists must now orient towards working for the maximum possible turnout in the ballot, and the highest possible no vote.
At the congress of the GMB union (10-14 June), Brian Strutton, National Secretary for Public Services, told rank-and-file activists they were “out of their mind” for criticising the local government pensions deal.
Strutton used his report at the congress to talk up the deal as a positive success, despite it still requiring workers to work longer, pay more, and get less.
Despite GMB members in the NHS voting, like Unite and Unison members in the health service, to reject their pensions “deal”, there was no sense that the leadership intended to act on that democratic mandate.
In a repeat of a miserable episode last year, which saw Vince Cable invited to address GMB members, the union invited senior Lib Dem minister Danny Alexander — integrally involved in the pensions reforms — to speak. Left-wingers held up banners (one attacking the “workfare” scheme and reading “hands off our pensions”) during his speech, but on the whole his reception was not hostile. The GMB leadership’s argument is that such invitations represent an opportunity to have “a dialogue” with, and “put pressure” on government figures, but in reality represent little more than handing senior ruling-class politicians a free run to peddle ConDem policies.
Congress rightly celebrated the inspiring industrial action the union is currently involved in, such as the Carillion hospital workers’ strikes in Swindon and Veolia workers’ strikes in Sheffield.
AWL member and GMB activist Daniel Cooper spoke at a fringe meeting, organised by the GMB Southern Region Young Members’ Committee, to promote projects to organise young workers and working students in the retail and service sectors.