Tuesday, 24 March 2015

FIGHT FOR RANK AND FILE CONTROL OF UNISON
a contribution from Ed Whitby delegate from Newcastle (pc) also included in the Worker's Liberty (www.workersliberty.org) bulletin to todays conference

The defeat of the Local Government pay dispute and the NHS pay dispute have shown the current weakness of both the national leadership as well as branch and workplace organisation.

Today's special conference gives us an opportunity to connect a movement against the rotten pay deal with a positive plan to ensure we cannot be sold out again. The process of reforming the structures and behaviours of the national union has to be backed up with stronger branches, livelier and bigger branches, representative of the workers in the workplace. Where action is taken it should be to win, not as a token demonstration of anger.

Unfortunately much of what is needed has not made it through the prioritisation stage on to the conference floor. Given the extent of bureaucratisation in the union, in reality national committees and regional committees are the only ones who can confidently get motions on the agenda.

Nevertheless, some good proposals have made it onto the agenda. We should vote:

- to recognise that members were consulted on proposals and not an offer

- to bring back lay member control of our union's negotiations (and vote for all motions and amendments that seek to achieve this)

- for motions that propose a more transparent consultation process before making decisons to call off action

- to condemn the decision and leadership strategy that has negotiated a two-year deal which in practice offered little more than the present 1%  and tied us to not taking action in the run-up to the 2015 general  election and local elections.

Our starting point must always be supporting workers in struggle  against their bosses.

To build a movement capable of winning and popularising socialist ideas we have to fight for the control of disputes to be at the workplace level, with strike funds and strike committees, cross-union where relevant, that meet regularly to democratically decide how to push a dispute forward. We need to be creative and present a strategy that can include selective action and a strategy announced at the start of a dispute. To do this will require the left to put motions forward at conference and also to 
transform our branches and discuss these ideas with the people we work  with (not just those who are currently active).

Control at the workplace level will require fighting for such policies regionally and nationally. If we can connect branches across the country and develop cross-union local disputes we will be much better placed to win, create new activists, and break down the divide between union  members’ local and national union structures.

What is not on the agenda or might not be reached is more discussion on strategy that can win. This would include both national and branch funds - a war chest that shows we are serious about taking more than 3 days of action. Regarding timing of pay negotiations and disputes, by not even 
balloting on the employers' offer after it is due, we are asking our lowest  paid members to chose between a pay rise they can live on, or a dire deal straight away. We need to discuss how we fight and win a serious flat rate increase for our members, and control this in branches and by members.

Sections of the left in Unison have taken the defeat as a basis to direct their energy into the upcoming elections for the National Executive and General Secretary, as a way to build confidence. Calls for the left to unite around agreed candidates are of course welcome, but they don’t allow discussion of ways to transform the union or to build power in individual workplaces.

We need as a matter of urgency to build on the possibilities this special conference has given us to set up a new rank and file organisation for local government including re-energising blogs such 
as lgworker... and linking up rank and file branches and worker groups in branches, and across unions.

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