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Local Government Pay - The fruits of poor leadership


As the dust settles on the 2008 local government pay dispute a further 0.3 per cent has been gained by referral to ACAS, bringing the settlement to 2.75 per cent plus £100 for those on the lowest salary point.

The consensus in the trade union movement is that referral to ACAS, like asking for TUC intervention, means you have lost. The two-day strikes in July for someone on an average £20,000 have achieved an increase of roughly £60.

The members will view the call for strike action as at best misconceived, at worst disastrous leadership. But things are set for a re-run this year: a dispute to be pioneered by Unison and led by a national negotiating body dominated by the ultra-left adhering to a strategy of immediately moving to industrial action ballots. The ultra-left cannot blame the leadership for selling out the 2008 dispute as it was their strategy, their dispute. It definitely wasn’t the members, they were AWOL.

So for 2009? The employers, possibly feeling bullish, have made an offer of 0.5 per cent, despite evidence that they were budgeting for a settlement of 2.5 per cent. Hundreds of jobs are being cut nationwide, especially in the mergers around district councils and new unitary councils.

The employers have offered a consultation period effectively over the Easter and two May bank holidays – a real “take it or leave it” option. They can read the policy position of Unison: lodge the claim and move towards a ballot for industrial action. They wait eagerly for Unison to walk right into the trap.

With the membership absent and more worried about other things, Unison is going to have to produce a strategy of deft and skilled negotiation rather than one-size-fits-all industrial action – or end up being made the laughing stock of local government.