Socialist Worker

Unison’s call for arbitration in local government dispute is big set back

by Nick Ruff, chair Kirklees Unison (personal capacity)
Issue No. 2120

The fight by 600,000 Unison union members in local government in England, Wales and Northern Ireland against poverty pay took a disastrous turn for the worse last week.

The workers – who took two fantastic days of strike action on 16 and 17 July – were informed by their negotiating body, the NJC, that they had voted for binding arbitration in this year’s pay dispute.

This means that the union is using a clause in the national negotiating agreement to ask the employers to come to the Acas conciliation service to resolve the dispute.

This will mean a deal done behind closed doors that will be final and members will not be balloted on the agreement.

The Unite and GMB unions have also agreed to arbitration.


Hundreds of thousands of Unison members will be stunned by this decision.

It is just a week since the TUC voted to support coordinated action in the public sector over Gordon Brown’s pay freeze.

The decision by Unison’s NJC does not just let down its own members but seriously affects the fights of our Scottish colleagues, and of others in the public sector.

This is also a dangerous precedent to set regarding any future industrial battles.

The employers have been given a green light to go to arbitration in the event of any future action to defend our pay and conditions.

Branches must openly discuss the decision of the NJC and pass motions condemning it for its undemocratic decision.

However, we must also ensure that every seat is contested in the forthcoming national executive elections by activists who will represent the members with the same fighting spirit Unison members have shown in the strikes over pensions and pay.

And we should also show our active solidarity to all those taking action against Brown’s attacks on wages.

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