Unions in higher education were offered a 1 per cent pay rise for 2012-13. Unison, gung ho for a dispute, launched a ballot for industrial action with a result of 50.3 per cent voting yes and 49.7 per cent voting no. The actual return is still under wraps, perhaps owing to its minuscule size. The ultra left on Unison’s higher education service group quickly turned to the University and College Union (UCU) to bail them out.
Until recently UCU had its own problems with ultra-left postures. But no longer. After cleansing its Executive Council earlier in the year, its membership delivered a sensible 44 per cent to 56 per cent vote against taking strikes over a pointless dispute. How much do you want to lose fighting for a 1 per cent pay rise? Even though members voted for action short of a strike, national negotiators didn’t see the overall mandate for action as strong enough to proceed.
All of a sudden Unison adopted a unanimous rejection of industrial action. The smaller unions in HE – Unite, GMB and the Educational Institute of Scotland, are now left floundering. If they have a Yes vote do they go it alone or do they unite with colleagues and think through the strategy and tactics of pay (or any other) dispute.
Pay fights do not just happen because a union committee issues an instruction. Nor do they happen when the employer defines the criteria of battle – a 1 per cent straitjacket. Workers have to return to thinking about how to mobilise for action, not just tokenism or running up and down the street making a racket. Successful pay fights are won by thought, through tactics and deployment of forces, not by thoughtless sloganising or posturing. ■