The Unison union will ballot over the local government pensions deal—but it won’t make any recommendation until it has asked members what it should be.
That was the result of a strange pensions debate at Unison’s local government conference last weekend.
The right of the union were determined to talk about anything but pensions. Those on the left submitted dozens of emergency motions calling for conference to recommend rejection of the deal.
The union leadership didn’t take them on by arguing for acceptance.
Instead it backed a motion calling for a “massive consultation” on what the recommendation should be.
Eddy Redmond of Manchester moved the executive-backed motion. He said that opposing the consultation was “paternalistic and patronising and elitist by those who believe their own views are more important than our members’”.
The conference was set up so that if Redmond’s motion passed all motions calling for rejection fell.
“This is a debate of smoke and mirrors,” replied Doncaster delegate Jim Board. “It’s selling you a pup and it’s taking you for fools.
“I don’t think we should be patronised by a group of people who negotiated in secret for eight months. This is the politics of defeatism.”
He pointed out that the retirement age will still rise to 68 under the deal—yet in working class parts of Doncaster 68 is the average life expectancy.
Jackie Peploe said it was the same for manual workers in Bolton. “Working longer is not an option,” she said.
Young member Hannah Thompson of Tower Hamlets added that she could end up working into her 70s.
She said the deal meant “accepting a society that leaves youth without jobs while the elderly work until they’re dead”.
She, together with others, was also angry that the proposed ballot would take place over the school summer holidays.
Jon Rogers of Lambeth argued that the right’s motion was about refusing to accept responsibility for a bad deal. “It’s saying, you have a look at it and tell me what I should recommend,” he said.
He added to applause that it is “exactly what you would do if you wanted to engineer acceptance of an otherwise unacceptable deal but lacked the confidence to put your real position”.
This lack of confidence over the deal shows there is still space to win rejection in the ballot.
Up to 40 percent of delegates voted against the leadership’s position and so effectively for rejection of the deal. The chair refused a card vote on the issue.
And around 170 people—a big chunk of the conference—came to the left fringe meeting on pensions.
Many took away materials to build the vote to reject the deal.
The ballot will run from 31 July to 24 August.