‘The pressure is on the leaders of Unison. They can be under no illusion that they only got away with not reinstating strike action by the skin of their teeth.
The narrow vote at conference reflected the real mood in the union. Even those who spoke in favour of the motion saying that there should be no immediate reinstatement action spoke about the need for strikes in the future – for many it is a question of timing.
Every branch should constitute its own local government strike committee and they should insist that there are regular reports to members on negotiations.
We should be looking for tactical points in the future where we can reignite the debate about industrial action.
One point at which this might take place is when the judicial review into the government’s proposed changes to the scheme comes out, likely to be in the autumn. We certainly shouldn’t wait until the negotiations are finalised.
We should also be clear that this is a political debate.
It was clear in 2005 when the union leadership suspended planned strike action on the basis of a promise, and again in 2006 when our strike action was suspended on the basis of a dishonest “framework agreement” for negotiations.
When you have a union so closely linked to a party that isn’t pushing any kind of working class agenda there is a problem. There is a debate raging now and it’s not just the “usual suspects” questioning the link with Labour, it is ordinary members.
It was widely reported in the media that the union was cutting funding to Labour during our dispute. It will be news to a lot of people that we are still paying £2.4 million a year.
The money cut off was the extra money to fight the local government elections.
One speaker from Kirklees, who I believe is in the Labour Party, spoke at conference about “Blair’s people” and how Tony Blair is just not interested in people like us. He’s only interested in the well paid, well educated elite. The road sweeper who cleans the streets outside parliament doesn’t even register on his radar.
The awareness now goes right through the union and people are seriously looking for alternatives.
We have to continue this debate. Activists in the union also have to keep the confidence we began to see on 28 March bubbling away. And we have to go beyond the idea that one day actions are enough.
One day action makes a statement. But it’s like the introduction to book – sometimes it gives you a flavour of what the book’s about, but you have to go on to read the whole book.’