For the second time in 15 months local government workers in the Unison union have revolted against their leadership after a pay sellout in England and Wales.
At the union’s conference in Brighton on Monday delegates voted to censure Unison’s National Joint Council (NJC) committee.
The NJC had accepted a 1 percent pay deal from local government employers, despite a two thirds rejection of the deal by members.
Moving an emergency motion, Jon from Lambeth in south London called the whole affair a “sorry tale”.
Some of the motion’s opponents blamed members for not wanting to fight. Others blamed the GMB union for accepting the deal, or the Unite union for only wanting limited industrial action.
Some argued that low paid workers cannot afford to strike. But Tracy from Sefton said, “I’ve worked 15 years as a general domestic assistant in the care sector. I’m one of the low paid members who got 6 percent in this deal.
“But after 15 years I get £7.20 an hour. My pay award this year was crap—I got 6 percent of next to nothing. Don’t patronise the low paid by saying we won’t strike.”
Esther from Hounslow in west London asked, “Are we a member-led union? It doesn’t feel like that.
“We talk about how we have to recruit but when do we get the most recruitment? When we are fighting back.”
The leadership’s sellout of the last local government pay deal was overturned by a special conference in March last year.
Yet officials again accepted a two-year deal that leaves a majority of local government workers worse off.
Jim from Doncaster argued that members “look to our union for a lead. The 20 percent real terms cut in pay since 2010 cannot stand.”
Jim responded to those who said there is “no appetite” for action. To huge applause he argued, “You have to campaign and you have to fight to win people to a strategy.”
He said, “We’re not talking about blame here, we’re talking about accountability.”
He said there is a “democratic deficit” in the union that needs to be addressed.
He pointed out that general secretary Dave Prentis was elected on just 5 percent of those eligible to vote.
Monday’s vote is another sign that many members and branch and regional officials have no faith in Prentis’s leadership.
His re-election last December is still subject to internal investigations and complaints to the Certification Officer.
Recent elections to the union’s service group executives saw around two thirds of seats filled by candidates standing unopposed. A third of all seats were left vacant.
It is a damning indictment of Prentis’s reign. Activists need to push for resistance—and union democracy.