UNISON leaders buy a little time for Brown


THE UNISON leaders who originally accepted the three year sub-inflation pay deal for NHS workers, along with the RCN, without going to ballot, yesterday just about managed to hold the line for the Brown government, in a ballot that was forced onto them by a decision of the union’s Health Conference.

The reason that they managed to do this, is that the ballot papers went out without a recommendation to the membership to reject the scandalous three-year wage cutting deal, along with assurances that if inflation did surge out of control, the deal would be revisited, as far as its second and third years of operation were concerned.

This assurance that there was a line of least resistance, when everybody in the leadership knows that inflation will continue to rocket upwards, was just about enough to win the day, in a situation where many workers want to see if there is a way of avoiding a loss of wages, through industrial action, that will inevitably mean great hardship for families.

This result means that UNISON and the RCN, the two largest NHS trade unions, have now endorsed the three-year agreement, and that the Brown government will opt for going full steam ahead to crush the resistance of the smaller trade unions.

However the relief for the government is certain to be very short lived.

Karen Jennings of UNISON said yesterday: ‘We gave all our health members the opportunity to make their vote count and the ballot result shows what a tough decision it has been. The 2.75% on offer this year is the best in the public sector and the three-year deal offers stability. 

‘However, the rising costs of everyday items such as food, fuel and energy obviously make members wary about being locked into a three-year deal. That is why we negotiated a re-opener clause that we will not hesitate to trigger if inflation continues to rise.’

Jennings knows that it is absolutely certain that inflation will continue to soar, and that its rate of rise will accelerate. The last thing that this can be called is ‘stability’.

UNISON chief negotiator Mike Jackson also said that UNISON had negotiated a ‘re-opener’ clause: ‘We bought a three-year deal at a time when the government said inflation would go down, it has continued to go up.

‘If it continues to go up for the rest of the year, then we’ll be going back to the government saying “we want to re-open this issue”.’

The problem is that this government will tell UNISON to go to hell. It was already threatening to cut its three-year offer if the UNISON ballot rejected the deal. It will not be prepared to reopen the issue.

The government will be far too busy propping up the bankers with massive multi-billion inflationary handouts to worry about the hardship being suffered by millions of workers due to price inflation.

Instead the government will denounce the trade unions as the source of inflation, and the UNISON leaders will slink away.

All the UNISON and RCN leaders have succeeded in doing is giving the government just a little extra time to try to push their plans forward.

Even now there is a great conflict maturing.

The RCN has had to urge the government to pay large petrol allowances to 60,000 community nurses so that they can afford to do their jobs and see their patients. This the government will not do.

In a couple of months time, when inflation has zoomed even further upwards, masses of angry UNISON members will force their leaders to approach the government for renegotiation.

It is at this point that an open conflict will erupt, when the government tells the reformist trade union leaders to get lost, and that they are putting capitalism into danger.

UNISON members must prepare for this situation by building up a new and combative leadership inside the union, and dumping the reformist leaders who are not prepared to fight the Labour government, but are prepared to allow the Tories back.

These are the issues that will be discussed at the News Line- All Trades Unions Alliance Conference on June 29, in London, at International Students House, Great Portland Street, starting at 2 pm.

Make sure that you are there to take part in this vital conference.