Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Equal Pay Fiasco Reveals Choice For Workers

The ongoing process around the implementation of “equal pay for work of equal value” in local government in this part of the world is continuing to cause all sorts of unforeseen problems. Various groups of workers are very disgruntled about the situation, which in many cases around the country is leading to disastrous pay cuts for some and substantial rises for others. What was hailed by management, unions and government as something leading to more equality and as a good example of “partnership unionism” in action is leading to division and anguish on the ground.

In my local area for example, there have been mass resignations from local government Union Unison as low paid women white collar staff face pay cuts that in many cases will mean they cannot afford to stay in their jobs. There is a wave of anger against what is seen as a stitch up between the local authority and the Unions (chiefly Unison and GMB – both Labour Party affiliated and vulnerable to the accusation of yellow unionism when facing Labour local authorities and a Labour government.) I speak as a Unison member myself, albeit not employed in local government at the moment.

This all seems to be a somewhat inevitable result of the established social democratic TUC affiliated unions’ stance and approach. Instead of militant defence of all workers’ interests, (supporting each group of female workers to fight against differentials that could be argued to be gender based and leaving the employers to sort out the financial aspects and take the heat for any negative consequences), the main local government unions have fully cooperated with the process, waving their commitment to “equality” and “feminism” as ideological justification. The unions have gone along with typical management-consultants-style job evaluation exercises and a legalistic approach. Hence, when the Councils say that they are proposing pay cuts as part of the process, and possible job losses, and when the government simply will not pay up, but only allows councils more borrowing to get themselves in more difficulty (and incidentally continue to aid the private sector to get its claws into local government services) the Labour-affiliated unions are tied in and implicated - and left exposed to face the wrath of their members.

With many workers in local government this has been the straw that broke the camel’s back. It is sickening enough to get the likes of “Unison Labour Link” propaganda delivered through your door (unasked for even when you are not a subscriber to the affiliated political fund) at election time - when you face cuts, privatisation and attacks on conditions from administrations led by the very same Labour Party. To then have your union stitch up a deal that leads to victimisation (ironically in some cases of low paid women workers, who we were told that this was all about), division and further cuts leaves many workers in local government angrily demonstrating against their own unions as well as the employers.

It is now time for a return to the kind of workers organisation in the public sector and elsewhere that fights for the interests of all its members, does not depend on legalistic strategies and does not tug the forelock to management or fund their political organisations. It is the time for rank and file organisation in the existing TUs and for building up networks and unions through the IWW (who allow dual card membership to avoid isolation of activists in workplaces organised by TUC unions). We must get together within the existing unions where necessary and outside them where possible. This kind of militant industrial unionism is fortunately also the type of organisation best suited to organise the now largely unorganised part time, casual, migrant and hyper-exploited sectors of the workforce. It was amongst these sections of workers that the original IWW in the USA spread and developed in the days before the cataclysmic wars of the last century.

2008 should see redoubled efforts from syndicalists, industrial unionists and rank and file activists to get their message across and help a new generation of workplace militants organise in Britain. The sell outs and stitch ups by the leaderships of the bureaucratic unions in their last citadels of mass membership (the public sector) should act as a rallying cry for a different and more effective form of organisation across sectors the labourist unions either milk or ignore.

The appeal of radical industrial unionism is growing on a global scale as we see the conditions that existed in America and Europe during the early days of the movement reproduced worldwide by neo-liberal globalisation. It is perhaps significant and appropriate therefore, that IWW members have just voted to hold their first main assembly outside of North America – in London. Hopefully this will provide an opportunity for contact between delegates from many of the exciting new and renewed syndicalist and industrial unionist groupings from around the world.

Internationally society and economies are changing rapidly, and tried and trusted methods and approaches to struggle have renewed relevance in the face of the global challenges faced by working people. In 2008 as before, but with the added urgency of threats from climate change and war, we have a world to win and nothing to lose but our chains.

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At 5:31 am, Blogger Renegade Eye said...

Not only do those union leaders betray workers, they get paid chump change themselves.

In the US, union organizers are minimum wage employees.


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