Despite being the union that campaigned for an end to tribunal fees and won. Despite being the union that strikes for hospital workers, wins equal pay claims for cleaners and tries to prevent the outsourcing of care workers everywhere except Bristol. Despite having nearly all the cuts in this round of austerity aimed at those areas only they really have members in – Bristol Unison still refuse to do anything to oppose the cuts. That is, unless Mayor Marvin asks them to go on a demonstration against his own cuts. In which case out comes the banner in what could only be described as a giant blow struck for irony.
The cuts are coming in social services, children’s services, libraries and community services. All areas that are almost exclusively Unison and all are areas where member engagement, information exchange and political activism are non-existent. Meetings with unions have been cancelled, barrack room lawyers silenced in staff meetings, management have denied a plan to outsource libraries but then put out an email about mutualisation.
Does anyone remember the battles of the past? When disabled residents and unions lobbied noisily on the ramps of the Counts Louse? Where day centres were occupied and workers broke the blockade passing them fish and chips through the windows? Where library workers struck for the right to a family life? Where have the activists gone? I’m reliably informed that Unison hasn’t enough activists to fill a Renault Espace when they once numbered in the hundreds. They’re voting with their feet comrades … Wake up and get a grip.
I was told that regional officers consider the cuts to have been democratically arrived at and that is that, nothing more can be done. We at The BRISTOLIAN reject that sort of democracy. We want an engaged, participatory democracy of mutual solidarity and so should the unions. If we don’t get it then protest and actions must rightfully take place.
But here we come to the nub of the matter and that is the risk social and industrial agitation poses to the electoral prospects of the Labour Party. Occupying day centres and striking for work-life balance is OK as long as the Liberal Democrats or an Independent is in charge but not when it’s Labour.
Last year there was a scandal at Unison’s AGM as to whether Unison should affiliate to the anti-cuts groups – a no-brainer in anyone’s world assolidarity with people against the cuts should be ingrained. A self-appointed standing orders committee, which no one knew existed because it didn’t, ruled the motion incompetent. This year, the union’s members ruled their own representatives’ incompetent over a scandalous redundancy pay cut ballot stitch-up. And this was in front of a firebrand assistant general secretary, from head office, who was so embarrassed he didn’t know where to look.
Sorry, Roger McKenzie, that you had to see the union in such a sorry state.