Unison members in local government recently voted by 59%, on a low turnout, to accept a 1% pay deal.
Although the ballot was already over by the time Unison’s Local Government Sector conference met in Liverpool (16-17 June), many activists felt the union leadership had failed to lead. The Local Government Service Group Executive voted by 14-13 to describe the deal as “the best that can be achieved through negotiation”, a de facto endorsement.
At the conference, it justified its stance by saying that members had no appetite for a fight, but that it would build for a fight against next year’s pay deal — a grimly comic rerun of the scenes from the 2012 conference where Unison leader Dave Prentis took a sledgehammer to a pound sign made of ice, signalling his intent to “smash the pay freeze”. One year on, he and his leadership have capitulated.
Although it is true that morale amongst local government workers is low, particularly following the defeat of the 2011 pensions dispute, it is by no means impossible to win the arguments for a fightback if branch, regional, or national leaders actually attempt to have them.
A rank-and-file network within Unison’s industrial sectors is also needed.
• Unison’s National Delegate Conference voted by a large majority to reject an amendment committing the union to take a more serious attitude towards confronting violence against women.
Opponents of the motion spoke against it on the outrageous basis that it did not mention violence against men — ignoring that violence against women arises from the systemic oppression of women. Many of the speakers in favour of the motion, including from the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers’ Party, spoke only weakly, emphasising their qualifications and slight differences with the motion.
That it was voted down is disgraceful, and emphasises the need for a socialist-feminist campaign to transform the culture of the working-class movement.