Workers across local government reacted with anger and dismay at their unions’ decision to go for binding arbitration in their fight against New Labour’s pay curbs rather than call more strike action in England and Wales.
Motions have been passed in a number of council workplaces condemning the Unison, Unite and GMB decision. For instance, a detailed motion was passed in Bristol Unison for the next regional council.
This demands, “That the chair of the LGSE (local government service executive) formally apologises in writing to each branch for the actions of the negotiators in respect of the 2008 pay claim, and provides an assurance that there will not be any repetition of the events in the future, without consulting and seeking branches’ approval beforehand.”
Other branches have also discussed the decision. Adam Smith from Ealing Unison reports in a personal capacity, “Ealing Unison branch committee voted unanimously against binding arbitration to settle the pay dispute. Arbitration equals a pay cut, and our members in Ealing want action instead.
“Having used deputy general secretary Keith Sonnet’s speech to the TUC, calling for united action over pay, to increase support for all-out action in the consultation ballot, we learn that within 48 hours of his speech and before the ballot had closed, our negotiators had agreed to binding arbitration.
“This stinks. Members of Ealing Unison voted 76 percent in favour of further all-out action, 62 percent for another two days and there was no support for selective action.
“Our members’ votes had been ignored before they were even counted and we still have no official, national ballot ‘results’. So much for democracy in Unison.
“In Scotland, with an SNP-led Scottish Parliament, Unison is taking further strike action. In the rest of the UK, some in our union are clearly trying to save Gordon Brown’s skin by ditching further action over pay regardless of the pay cut it means to Unison members.
“This is a disgrace and we should reverse the decision to go to arbitration and take the united action the Unison motion to the TUC called for over pay.”
Tony Barnsley, of Sandwell Unison, also reports in a personal capacity, “The mood in Sandwell was one of bitterness towards Unison leaders for going to arbitration.
“Not one person spoke in favour of the national leadership and stewards outside of the left called for a challenge to existing leaders.
“There was disgust that some union leaders seem to be putting connections to Labour above the interests of the union’s members.
“They also expressed a feeling that the consultation exercise after the two days’ strike in July was an exercise designed to get a poor response.
“The anger looks likely to be seen in the next set of national executive elections.”