Socialist Worker

Crucial debate on pensions at Unison conferences

by Tony Barnsley, joint assistant branch secretary Sandwell Unison general branch (pc)
Issue No. 2005

The Unison union’s local government conference was set to start this weekend, followed by the union’s national conference.

The discussion by local government delegates is set to be dominated by the issue of pensions, which was due to be debated on Sunday.

Despite being unable to secure any kind of acceptable deal, the union leadership refuses to call more strike action.

This is clearly at odds with the feeling among the union membership. When over one million local government workers went on strike on 28 March, they did so with a determination to win and to take further action.

Talks have merely given vague assurances and signalled that the union leadership had already conceded its stance of winning the same deals as made with teachers, civil service workers and health workers last year.

Since 28 March, the offers coming out of the talks are so derisory that no one could sell them as any kind of victory.

The union’s leadership is now placing all its hopes in legal action against employers’ claims that it would be against age discrimination legislation to offer a deal that protects existing local government workers.

Britain’s biggest union now finds itself in a position of weakness rather than strength.

While national leaders feel unable to call more strikes, individual branches in regions such as the West Midlands are calling for strikes to restart.

The local government conference debate on pensions is likely to reflect this clash of opinions.

The Unison leadership seem desperate to avoid a confrontation with the Labour government, whose policy they argue we can influence.

But many ordinary members know that confrontation with the government is the only way to defend pensions.

This government has been driving the private sector into local councils since it was first elected, and more and more members find the threat of privatisation is a stark reality.

As the need for a fighting union, unhindered by loyalty to Labour, becomes clearer to activists, it creates an opportunity for the left to build.


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News
Sat 17 Jun 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2005
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