Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Latest on the public sector pensions dispute

There's a huge amount of confusion.  The government sought to reach separate "heads of agreements" for each part of the public services - Local Government, Health, Civil Service, Education.  These aren't full detailed agreements, but set out a framework and principles within which detailed negotiation would take place.  The understanding was that unions which signed up would suspend industrial action.  Some unions have signed up to some of these agreements, others haven't.

The agreements on offer don't change the position significantly from that which led to the tremendously well-supported strike on 30th November.

UNITE seems to be gradually publishing statements on this page of its web site:

  • Civil service - UNITE did not sign up
  • NHS - the link is missing, but UNITE did not sign up
  • Local Authorities UNITE signed up, then "suspended" its signature
UNISON, whose leaders have signed up to the government's deals, has published rather more information, including the NHS "heads of agreement", the statement signed by UNISON, UNITE and GMB on Local Authority Pensions, and a newsletter which includes the text of the Local Government "Heads of Agreement".

Debate is raging in all the unions.  Many members in unions that signed up are furious that their leaders are squandering the potential of November 30th.  In unions that have not signed up, members are asking when the next action will be and how broad it can be.  This is not the time to give up or sit quiet - there is still the opportunity to recreate and build on the unity that we saw on N30.

The relevant UNITE National Industrial Sector Committees (NISCs) are meeting shortly to discuss the situation and decide on their next steps.

A majority of the UNITE Executive Council (including me) have requested a special EC meeting to:

1) Help ensure the consistent implementation of the EC statement agreed on 7th December 2011 about the way forward following the November 30th day of action

2) Receive reports on, and discuss the major developments in, the public sector pensions dispute since our last meeting

We have also called for copies of the agreements offered by the government in each sector (whether signed by UNITE or not) to be circulated to all EC members as a matter of urgency.

Under rule 14.3, a majority of EC members can call a special meeting.  I hope this will take place after the discussions at the NISCs but before the crucial meeting at the TUC on Thursday 12 January.

These are matters that should concern everyone.  If the government gets away with dividing and defeating union members in the public sector, where membership is highest, it will encourage every employer to speed up their attempts to further boost profits by squeezing the proportion of wealth going to working people.  The pensions fight was also a unifying issue for the wider anti-cuts campaigning which is crucial for the defence of our public services.  PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka set out the dangers of defeatism in his recent article in the Morning Star.

What you can do:
  1. If you haven't already done so, sign the statement saying "Don't give up the pensions fight!"
  2. If you're in one of the sectors directly affected, speak to the reps on your NISC and make sure they know your views before they meet
  3. Get along to the open national meeting called by PCS Left Unity for Saturday 7th January which will be an important chance to coordinate pressure against rotten deals
  4. Lobby the TUC meeting on Thursday 12th January
  5. Get along to the emergency Unite the Resistance meeting on Saturday 14th January which will be an important chance to get organised following the outcome of the TUC meeting

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