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from farce to fiasco


The dispute by public service workers in UNISON, the TGWU and the GMB over the London Weighting Allowance moved from farce to fiasco last month as the employers walked out and tried to 'suspend' the Greater London Provincial Council. This is the joint negotiating forum, which cannot be 'suspended' by one party acting unilaterally.

The two year dispute has seen the ebbing away of support for the strike days and other industrial action. It has seen the TGWU and GMB desert the dispute, be coaxed back in, break ranks and re-unite. Falling support and lack of strike funds means a re-think of tactics is needed. What was supposed to be a face-saving strategy -- a reference to ACAS for conciliation and binding arbitration -- has misfired as the employers walked out.

Instead of a tactical withdrawal by all concerned from a flawed strategy, the dispute staggers on and on. Perhaps the script for the dispute was stapled in the wrong order. For example, references to ACAS usually occur at the beginning of a dispute, or at least come from a position of industrial strength rather than one of weakness. Lobbying of Council budget meetings and model resolutions to branch AGMs are the tactics from two years ago. The farce of pursuing a poorly supported early day motion in the House of Commons is a waste of time.

Meanwhile, the local council's assault against the Newham UNISON branch leadership continues. The destruction of facilities, the undermining of the branch and threats to union subscriptions have still not been seen off despite the "consultative" ballot for strike action to defend the branch officers. The Newham Branch leadership provided the backbone of the London-wide dispute but a flawed strategy has led to its isolation.

If the Local Government Pay Commission recommends significant improvements in London Weighting, then a lot of London local government workers will scratch their heads and wonder what the last two years' dispute has been about.