Two public sector strikes suspended: proposed council deal offers little

The local government and tube strikes set for next Tuesday have been called off, though the new deal on offer to council workers is little better than the previous one.

Photo: Marcus Rose for Unison, flickr

Photo: Marcus Rose for Unison, flickr

Two key public sector strikes planned for Tuesday 14 October have been cancelled by the unions involved. The local government workers’ strike by over 1.5 million Unison, GMB and Unite members has been suspended after new proposals from employers – though these come nowhere close to the unions’ demands. Separately the RMT has called off its tube following “substantial progress” at ACAS talks. Strikes in the NHS, civil service and further education are still taking place.

In a statement Unison said the local government unions would “consult their members on new proposals put forward by the Local Government Association as the best achievable by negotiation”. Unison’s head of local government Heather Wakefield added that “these have been tough negotiations, in a tough financial climate for local government and our members”.

The local government strike was over low pay. Workers rejected an offer of 1% pay rise for most of them and slightly more for the lowest paid. Unions demanded instead a minimum £1 per hour increase for all workers – which would bring them up to the Living Wage.

Details of the new proposals are now available. For everyone earning more than about £22,400 a year they are no better than the original offer. For lower-paid staff, they represent a tiny increase over management’s previous proposals – at the most, 27p more a week. They leave the lowest paid staff earning below the Living Wage of £7.65 an hour until 2016 at the very least, when the unions’ stated aim was to get them the Living Wage now. National executive member Jon Rogers has described the proposals as “rubbish now and rubbish in the future.”

A Unison activist from the north west told us that in his workplace people have been joining the union in the run up to the strike, with some areas nearing 100% union density  – far better than the membership rates typical  in local government. Staff saw the national strike as preparation for the local fight over cuts which they can see coming. People were enthusiastic for it, and were furious when they learned yesterday that it had been cancelled.

There have been arguments inside the Unison bureaucracy over the strike and pressure to scrap the strikes. This looks like the unions caving in to that pressure rather than winning any sort of victory for their low paid workers.

Meanwhile the RMT has suspended both its planned 48 hour strike and its ongoing overtime ban on London Underground. This follows talks at the conciliation service ACAS that delivered “substantial movement in three key areas” by employers.

The union’s new general secretary Mick Cash said: “The substantial improvements we have agreed allow us to move forwards but the union’s core opposition to the austerity-led cuts on London Underground has not shifted an inch and we remain vigilant to further developments and their impact.”

There are 13 comments

  1. Sparky

    Yet more evidence that Tony Cliff was completely correct when he argued that in times of Capitalist crisis, the trade union bureaucracy, whether on the left or the right, looks to deals with the bosses and how to hold back the workers desire to fight back.
    Even a one day General Strike is considered too risky by the Union leaders nowadays.

    The new SWP line that the Trade Union leaders want to fight but lack confidence is shown as completely false. A strategy of working with them to build resistance was shown as a complete failure by Billy Hayes of the CWU, who attended the Unite the Resistance Conference, argued for a fight, and then promptly sold out the postal workers vote for action against privatisation, followed by selling a no strike deal.

    The only realistic alternative for socialists is to look to the rank and file. Whilst this won’t be easy because of the general lack of confidence in the class, the potential is there. The anger over the bureaucrats and the rich will not go away because all we are being offered is job and pay cuts and greater insecurity. The victory of the electricians a few years ago, who were “offered” 35% pay cuts is still the shining example militants need to learn. They took the position that they supported the trade union officials only as far as when they were representing the needs of the workers, when they failed to do this they took action independently of them.

  2. Ray B

    In a period in which racist UKIP are winning and almost over taking Labour in by-elections the last thing we need is a generalised and indiscriminate attack on the TU bureaucracy. Not only would this divisive strategy reinforce the anti-union propaganda of the Tories, UKIP and shamefully, Labour, it would also further distances any potential alliances among the left to offer an alternative to Labour. There is no contradiction between criticising the TU leadership for compromising (what a surprise!), organising among rank and file workers for a better deal, while at the same time arguing for unity among the left.

    If it was the good fortune of the Left, including trade union members and parts of their bureaucracy, to form an alternative to Labour it would be suicide to squander this opportunity for the sake of sectarianism. The stakes are too high.

  3. Sparky

    You have a very poor memory Ray B. Dropping criticism of the trade union leaders will not stop the growth of racism.

    After Gordon Brown made a speech about “British jobs for British workers” there were wildcat strikes against foreign labour at refineries and power plants in 2009. The response of Derek Simpson, the General Secretary of UNITE was to appear in the Daily Star with a couple of models to campaign for British jobs for British workers.

    A few months later there was a second unofficial strike, whilst repudiating this, the GMB and UNITE were forced to call an official strike with 647 workers dismissed. The workers won by militant action to defend jobs and conditions. The racism of the first strike was dropped and Polish workers took solidarity action.

    Like with the electricians, there is no contradiction with Lindsey engineering and construction workers supporting the official strike called by the trade union leaders but acting independently of them when they are not representing the needs of workers.

    Socialists had to argue hard that the “unity” we needed was of the workers – whatever the nationality. If we do argue we have to wait for the Trade Union Bureaucracy then racism will increase. You are much more likely to be looking for a scapegoat if you loose your job or have massive pay cuts. Even if all the trade union leaders suddenly opposed racism it would not be enough, racism breeds on despair.

    It is not sectarian to tell the workers when they have been sold out by the bureaucracy. As Tony Cliff would say, you always have to tell workers the truth. We should want to work with trade union leaders, but on our terms, not theirs. The growth of the left electorally in Greece was tied in with a high level of class struggle.

  4. Ray B

    Who has advocated dropping criticism of the TU leaders? The false dichotomy you present between building unity among the left and challenging the TU bureaucracy when they sell out is what is sectarian.

  5. Sparky

    “This divisive strategy would reinforce the anti-union propaganda of the Tories”, what evidence is there of this?
    It really comes down to using code words to argue that the politics of Tony Cliff are out of date.
    A stronger rank and file means a more active and confident working class.

    In 1974 the Tories held the election on an anti-union ticket arguing “who runs the country?” and lost. The future Lord Gormley was powerless as leader of the NUM to stop the rank and file miners smashing the bosses in their strike.

    Your faith that the trade union leaders will eventually give a lead, is just fatalism. It is pressure from below that can win and is what has won in the past. The trade union bureaucracy has always been a conservative layer.

  6. Ray B

    Sparky, it’s as if you live in a different universe and my posts are being distorted as they pass through the membrane. I can think of no other reason, apart from a sustained strategy of misrepresentation, for why you accuse the SWP of waiting for the TU leaders to take the lead.

  7. James

    Sparky you really are the arm chair critic…meanwhile swp is attempting to build opposition to the retreat in very clear practical ways inside unison…truth is concrete as they say..you cannot show a single article in sw where it pulls it’s punches on the trade union leaders..not one..so it’s really more spart than sparky.

  8. Sparky

    This is the problem James. Whilst you reject Tony Cliff’s analysis on the TUB siding with the bosses in a capitalist crisis, you do not have an alternative explanation. So usually someone remembers to criticise the trade union leaders for calling off action, but no explanation is given for why they have sold out.

    I have no doubt many SWP members are good trade union activists, but like the Communist Party in 1926, the cadre encourage them to see elections, standing for positions and passing motions as important as building the rank and file. Cliff understood that building the rank and file was by far the most important task.

    The only attempt to analyse what has been happening in recent years that I can see is the article by Martin Smith in the Socialist Review of April 2012 (368).

    I will repeat his key argument:
    THE NASTY, MEEK AND MILITANT; HOW TO GET THE UNIONS BACK IN THE FIGHT
    There is one obvious question that has to be answered: how did the pensions fight go from over 2 million on strike four months ago to a London-wide strike involving just two unions and 70,000 workers?
    Some in the trade union movement either don’t want to see a fight or believe that our side can’t win. Years of defeat, and the decline of union influence have left deep scars.
    In this situation the trade union bureaucracy finds itself in a growing and deepening contradiction. Mark Serwotka in an article published in the Morning Star in December explained one of the key problems. He wrote “There is a deep seated fatalism within parts of the leadership of the movement that says you can never win, that industrial action, even on the scale of 30 November, will never beat the government. As one union has put it, ‘damage limitation’ was the best that was ever possible”. As we saw last month, this lack of confidence affects even the best union leaders. How else can you explain the pulling of the national action on 28 March?

    The arguments of Tony Cliff and Rosa Luxembourg are dismissed. He does not talk about how the trade union leaders are tied to the capitalist system. He does not talk about the difference between a bureaucratic mass strike and a mass strike. Instead our politics should be based on what Mark Serwotka says to the Morning Star in December 2011, according to comrade Smith.

    Martin Smith has been very quiet of late, but I see nothing to suggest the line has changed since he wrote this article.

  9. Ray B

    It seems a shame that someone from RS21 hasn’t challenged your argument but perhaps they see the folly in it and have better things to do. There are some interesting articles but not enough debate atm!

    Anyhow, Sparky, what was your position on the Unite leadership election? Did you support McCluskey, Hicks or wash you hands of them all and urge rank and file workers to abstain?

  10. Sparky

    You are getting desperate Ray B, hoping someone in RS21 will help you out!
    I support Hicks without any illusions. Though it does cut across the SWP argument that the trade union leaders want to fight. If that is the case, why stand against left winger McCluskey?
    To be fair to Martin Smith, he does (in the article referred to above) correctly mention the conservatism the link with the Labour Party affiliated trade unions creates.
    His politics becomes questionable again, when he mentions the electricians. He says the kind of shopfloor organisation and rank and file resistance that kept UNITE officials in check during the sparks dispute does not exist in most workplaces. The point is it didn’t exist amongst electricians until they fought the 35% pay cuts.

    Electricians at Unite the Resistance meetings would argue that the bosses had targeted them because of their poor organisation in recent years. The job of socialists should be to spread the revolt, not to make out that electricians are somehow different from other workers.

  11. Ray B

    As a rank and file activist I would’ve thought you’d welcome more debate. Not sure how you square voting in TU leadership elections with your sectarian strategy though!

  12. Sparky

    The strategy I put forward was the same as Tony Cliff’s.
    It is you that has the problem by adopting a Centrist strategy.
    Not one word is said about the Martin Smith article, it must be difficult to know sometimes whether to put on a reformist or revolutionary hat.

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