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Disarray in local government


The two-day stoppage of Unison and Unite members in England and Wales local government – 16 and 17 July – has come and gone. In most regions, according to the employers' figures, those who took strike action were less than 10 per cent of the workforce. Even with the greatest mathematical wizardry employed by Unison head office it was very hard to get a majority of Unison regions into double figures. Both the employers' and Unison's figures are too embarrassingly low to print!

Two Unison regions dominated by the ultra-left rushed motions for escalation of the action to the respective national lay committee – the National Joint Council (NJC), numerically dominated by Unison. Meanwhile, the largest Unison region, the North West, threatened to declare independence and withdraw from the NJC agreement if such motions were tabled.

National bargaining and undying loyalty to the NJC terms and conditions have always been a feature of Unison and its old Nalgo (National Association of Local Government Officers) local government core. To make such a threat reflected how dire the action was perceived to have been.

Later, the Unison and Unite members of the NJC unanimously signed up to a joint statement with the employers which reopens negotiations, an action seen by many activists as the running up of a very large white flag very rapidly. And in classic Nalgo style the failure to have taken the members with the vocal minority clamouring for the dispute in the first instance becomes a campaign of more newsletters, more lobbying, more recruitment, more consultation and the ultimate weapon of industrial struggle – another meeting of the committee!

But those who mindlessly argued for this dispute without engaging or listening to the members, without any concept of strategy and tactics other than a national, now totally discredited, strike can take succour. Their ultra-left comrades in the Public and Commercial Services Union are balloting for three months discontinuous action and the NUT may even ballot again.

Industrial action is not delivered by weasel words put through a blog site or painted on the side of Lambeth Town Hall or any other town hall in the hours of darkness. Industrial action is delivered when the members, through their own tactics and ingenuity, decide to take on the employers. What is clear in local government – abundantly in England and Wales – is that there is no such mood despite all the grumblings.

• Read the article about the action in Scotland on 20 August.