UNISON sells out in pensions dispute

prentisWe have been sent this report by a UNISON branch official.

It is a strange phenomenon in British trade unionism that when we are engaged in major national struggles we often send in people with no material interest in the outcome to negotiate for us. In the case of Unison, full-time officers whose pensions do not come from the public sector.

Sometimes, when committees made up of union members who are affected actually scrutinise the details, bad deals can start to unravel. So it proved with the Unite union, whose sectoral committees in health and local government rejected the “Heads of Agreement” which was negotiated just before Xmas. A similar thing happened in the teaching unions.

But it was not to be in the case of UNISON, whose main service committees today all voted by convincing margins to accept the “deal”. This was despite a lively lobby of about a hundred activists organised by a number of London branches.

As Glenn Kelly, Bromley Branch Secretary, pointed out at the lobby, the “deal” still amounts to paying more, working longer (to 68 for many younger members) and getting pensions which could be worth 20% less for many members. Glenn also pointed out that Francis Maude and Danny Alexander were openly gloating that they had “settled” the dispute without any more money being put on the table. All that has been achieved is a delay in the imposition of increased contributions in the local government scheme only.

Speakers also pointed out that these committees had no mandate to accept proposals which fell far short of what members had demanded at the outset of the dispute.

There were reports of various shenanigans by the bureaucracy – such as unfounded claims that there was “no mood to fight” in certain regions, and blatant misrepresentation of the outcome of various meetings.

Whilst there is no doubt that this is a real setback, unions representing about a million of the workers who struck on 30th November have rejected the deal, and PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka will propose at the TUC on Thursday that further action is announced.

In UNISON, left activists will campaign for a Special Conference to try to overturn today’s decisions but it will be an uphill struggle. Todays events reinforce the need for the left to mount a serious and united campaign to increase its influence in the union’s structures.

  1. UNISON’s decision was taken by elected lay members following consultation with lay members in the regions. There were clear majorities in every service group. Glenn Kelly was not present for any of the debates and as usual ignored the facts. Unite and PCS have followed the diktats of their General Secretaries and refused to enter into negotiations thereby denying their members a seat at the table.UNISON is a democratic member led union and it is fatuous to criticise the leadership for doing what their members want.

  2. Alan Hughes is right that it was elected lay members in their majority that voted to sell out on pensions – but nothing else he says bears any relationship to the truth. The idea that there was any or indeed could be meaningful consultation in most branches before a meeting on January 10 called on December 19 is nonsensical. A number of branch executives were able to hold meetings – some of them unanimously decided to back a lobby of the meeting … Other activists were rather annoyed to receive briefings about why UNISON was continuing to negotiate before the SGEs had even met… None of us can know what the membership want at this stage – but we know what the leadership want. According to Christine McAnea coming out of negotiations we all knew it was “just a damage limitation exercise”. Well first of all we didn’t – we knew that the government could be beaten if we had determination on our side – and secondly how does anyone who backs what the leadership has done think we are going to prevent further attacks on jobs, on conditions on the very right to organise in such conditions

  3. One account, by someone who was there said: “presented with a motion at our Service Group given less then 10 mins to read it, allowed no amendments and denied a recorded vote! So much for Democracy. Then insult to injury dissenters accused of not representing members views.”

    That, to me, sounds just like a gutless bureaucratic stitch up more than an example of a union’s leaders actively trying to defend their members.

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