Hundreds of Unison union delegates voted to restart their local government pay campaign on Tuesday of last week. They overturned the position of the union’s leadership.
Delegates at the special one-day conference—which was forced by the membership—voted by two to one to restart the fight for a higher pay rise for 2015-2016.
“People are still a bit shocked at what happened,” Kirklees Unison branch chair Nick Ruff told Socialist Worker.
It was an historic decision and a bruising experience for Unison’s leadership. Delegates heavily criticised it for suspending pay strikes in England and Wales last October.
Despite Tory claims that workers are better off, anger at poverty wages has made local government workers determined to fight. Nick said, “Our pay campaign showed both the fear and the anger.
“When we struck last July it gave people the chance to express their anger.
“But you saw the fear being exploited when the leadership called it off in October, claiming it was the best we could achieve.”
The rotten two-year deal that was cobbled together is little better than the 1 percent pay offer that members had overwhelmingly rejected.
Workers were furious that it left many worse off. Ameen Hadi from Salford City Unison told Socialist Worker, “We supported the call for the special conference.
“The fight against austerity feels a little bit closer after last week.
“We’ve already had members get in touch asking when we restart the fight.”
Jean Kilpatrick, a vice convenor in the Glasgow City Unison branch, was at the conference. She told Socialist Worker, “Members thought the leadership didn’t have the stomach for a fight. What I liked was that people were fighting back—it was clear people feel we need leadership.”
Nick agreed. “Where an argument was put to reject the pay deal it was won significantly,” he said.
Ameen added, “Everyone is asking what we do now.”
As the news filters through workplaces, rank and file workers will be pleased the leadership got a kicking. But they will be looking for answers.
Activists need to organise workplace meetings to report back and build on that mood. Unison members have shown they want to fight for a decent pay rise.
But it is one thing to win a vote—it is another to get the campaign restarted. The lack of real lead given from the national union dampened workers’ mood.
That’s why it’s significant that a slate of candidates are putting forward a left challenge to the leadership in the union’s national executive elections that open next week.
The left in the union needs to relate to that mood on the ground and pressure union leaders to act on last week’s descisions.