The biggest ballot in Britain’s trade union history has begun.
Ballot papers were posted out this week to a massive 1.1 million members of the public sector union Unison.
Now the race is on to build a huge yes vote—and get the whole union striking with other unions on 30 November.
Nottinghamshire Unison branch secretary Martin Sleath told Socialist Worker how his branch is pulling out the stops to get out the yes vote.
“We’ve got eight meetings in the major workplaces this week,” he said.
“And we’ve got about 55 workplaces of over 20 workers where we’ve got stewards, so we’re asking them to do meetings.
“We’re having pensions dispute meetings every week to organise the campaign.”
Martin added that the branch will send speakers into workplaces without stewards. Activists are also planning walk-rounds at major workplaces.
He stressed that what every activist does matters.
“I’m pretty confident we’ll get a yes vote—but it’s about getting the biggest possible turnout,” he said.
The union is sending a “Vote Yes” ad van on tour, starting in the centre of Nottingham and going around council workplaces and the hospital.
In Leicester, union members have come up with another imaginative plan.
They’re getting workers to sign “pledge sheets” saying they’ll vote yes in the ballot.
“There are 46 people in my workplace,” said Jackie Lewis, a housing steward in Leicester. “And when we had a union meeting 38 came.
“It was a really good meeting, talking about what 30 November means both on a small level and a big level.
“Thirty-six signed the pledge sheet there and then.”
Jackie says it shows the strength of feeling—and that the union is giving activists useful tools to use. “We’ve spent the last few years fighting to get Unison to do things,” she said. “Now they’re moving.”
Unison’s leadership is throwing itself into building the ballot.
“We are doing everything possible to get a high turnout and we are confident of a big yes vote,” said Unison general secretary Dave Prentis.
“This is a fight not just about whether it is right to increase contributions—it’s a fight for the survival of public service pension schemes.”
Unison’s members are spread across local government and the NHS (see Health workers go all out to stop Tory attack), as well as water, environment and transport.
Branches have already been sent enough “vote yes” leaflets for every member to get one.
Everyone can do something, even in branches where union membership is not as high.
“We have to get back to basics—a lot of people still aren’t in a union,” said Alex Brooke, a social care steward in Middlesbrough.
“We’re leafleting workplaces next week to encourage people to vote yes, but also if they’re not in the union to join.
“We can’t wait until the next branch meeting—that’s why I’ve been going round my workplace already.
“There’s a hell of a lot of work to do. We can’t be complacent.”
The ballot closes on 3 November