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.