Socialist Worker

Unison stalls pensions struggle—but the fight goes on

Issue No. 2285

The Unison union’s local government and education service group executives today voted to accept the government’s outline deal on pensions.

However, the health executive voted to ballot the union’s members in the NHS instead of accepting or rejecting the offer now.

The ballot will take place in February, after the health executive has met again to decide whether to recommend the deal or not.

“No one in the room thought it was a good deal,” health executive member Karen Reissmann (pc) told Socialist Worker. “I think they’ll end up making either no recommendation or a recommendation to reject.

“We need to immediately start arguing in branches about what the question on the ballot paper should be—and that the union should recommend a no vote and produce lots of material saying so.”

She said the main argument on the executive was nervousness about whether more strikes were possible.

“People forget how much work it took last time and how nervous they were then,” she said.

“But last time Unison was able to give members confidence and show we weren’t on our own.

“We got a fantastic day on 30 November by the union throwing its weight behind the vote and the strike. That’s what we need to fight for them to do again.”

The health executive voted by 27 to 5 for a motion calling for the ballot, after it was amended to remove language calling it the government’s best offer.

That means there will be a major battle inside the health sector of the union to win a rejection in the ballot.

Meanwhile in local government the executive voted by 24 members to 10 for a motion which effectively accepts the outline deal.

It was agreed that there will be a ballot of the membership, but it will not be until negotiations on the main points of the deal are finished in April.

“It accepts the Treasury’s final offer and the limits of that,” said local government executive member John McLoughlin (pc).

“They say we’ve still got a live ballot and we’re just not going to take any further action during negotiations.

“But we need to be honest that it is a serious blow. It makes it harder to reinstate the action later.”

John added that it takes Unison local government out of the action for those three months—but there is still some possibility of renewing the fight then.

“People should be calling for local government a special conference in April,” he said.

“The best situation for us now is that the action continues in other unions between now and then.

“And if our sister unions are taking action on pensions, after having such powerful unity on 30 November members will feel they shouldn’t cross picket lines.”

Many executive members fought hard to get the strikes put back on, and a significant minority did oppose the positions put by the leadership.

On the union’s education executive the vote was only narrowly won, by 7 votes to 6.

A lobby outside at Unison’s central London headquarters meant as they went into the meetings the executive members saw their union’s activists demanding they reject the deal.

Another lobby is planned of the TUC meeting this Thursday, where unions will meet to discuss the way forward for the pensions battle.

Unions representing around a million workers have voted to reject the offer. What they do now is vital. They need to name a day for the next round of action to pull the other unions behind them.

And activists need to keep up the pressure on all the unions to keep the fight going. That’s why the Unite the Resistance meeting this Saturday is so important.

Thursday 12 January. Lobby the TUC, 9.30am, Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS

Saturday 14 January. Unite the Resistance emergency national meeting: Reject the pensions ‘deal’—more action now. With PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, John McDonnell and Kevin Courtney and others. Friends Meeting House, London NW1.

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Tue 10 Jan 2012, 18:56 GMT
Issue No. 2285
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