Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Unison: a setback for strike movement

Unison's main service executives have today accepted the government's 'heads of agreement' as the basis for a deal on pensions. The executives of the union's local government and health sections met today and bucked the trend of unions rejecting the deals.

Yesterday, Unite rejected the same agreement in local government as Unison today accepted, recognising that the meagre concessions were inadequate. Last week, Unite's health sector unanimously rejected the NHS pensions deal, but Unison's group executive has today failed to reach a decision - it is putting the current offer to a members' ballot. Francis Maude, Danny Alexander and everyone in the Tory-led government will be breathing a sigh of relief.

This is a major setback for the whole strike movement. Unison's group executives are enabling the government's divide-and-rule strategy to work, by accepting shoddy deals and leaving other unions to fight on without the largest public sector union being part of further strike action. It has broken the fantastic unity and momentum which developed around 30 November, when over two million public sector workers walked out.

These decisions have come on the same day that Labour leader Ed Miliband has been widely reported as calling for us all to be 'realistic' about cuts. He is angling Labour even further to the right. The capitulation by Unison, a Labour-affiliated union led by officials who are loyal to Labour's leadership, dovetails with Miliband's push to persuade the whole labour movement to accept large chunks of the government's austerity agenda.

Within Unison, activists will be battling to overturn the decisions - any deals will be put to a ballot of members. Fortunately, many unions involved in the large-scale strikes and demonstrations on 30 November have rejected the government's proposed deal. Activists in these unions now need to pressure their leaders and executives to co-ordinate a day of strike action, bringing together the largest possible numbers in united action.

Thursday's TUC meeting, involving representatives of a range of public sector unions, is likely to be tense. TUC head Brendan Barber, along with Unison leaders, will be keen to avoid further co-ordinated strikes.

Lobby of the TUC on the pensions' dispute:
Thursday 12th January - at 2pm outside Congress House, Great Russell Street, London


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