What the unions should do next

1st December, 2011 9:37 am

By most accounts yesterday went well (the Prime Minister begged to differ, but then in the words of supreme political commentator Mandy Rice-Davies, “Well he would, wouldn’t he?”). The strike generated a reasonable amount of support from the public who – unlike the Tories – seem to have gotten over the strikes of the 70s and 80s and accept that this strike was fair and that the Government’s proposals are not.

The question is what to do now. How can the unions build on that public support and transform it into a change of policy that makes a real difference to their members? What can they do now that doesn’t lose hard won public support, but keeps the pressure on the Government?

It is my sense, that what they should not do is threaten individual strikes by the disparate unions that came together yesterday. That would dilute the power of their message of unity. Yesterday, it was definitely the unions who were all in it together, not the Cabinet of unfeeling, unempathetic millionaires. Maintaining this, and building on it to form a longer-term alliance with the public, is their best hope of rattling Cameron enough to get what they want.

Doing this should not preclude more action days, but they should remain well planned, joint and focused affairs. They should again be well sign-posted to allow the public to plan around them, and they should be infrequent enough not to diminish their power and message, but frequent enough to keep up the pressure.

Yesterday’s marches were also superb. I was at a conference all day, but the images flooding onto my phone were of families and friends standing and marching together. The ‘Big Society’ were on the streets yesterday. But if the numbers start to diminish, that will be seen as a sign of weakness. Again careful planning should be made both to continue to keep in line with the public and keep the pressure on.

My advice would be that every union striking should consider that their next day of action should be a day of volunteering. Perhaps at one of the more than 2000 charities threatened by the Tory cuts. A day on the streets and a day in communities seems to be like a good way to win the publicity battle as well as keeping pressure on the negotiations. It will also help stymie some of the worst excesses of the reporting we have seen from the less respectable end of Fleet Street.

Unions are already well rooted in their communities. But a coordinated, national day of union giving could be the ideal way to finally dispel some of the myths of union “barons” and “pampered” workers the Tories like to perpetuate. It will have the same economic effect as any other strike, while also directing the resources of strikers to helping those equally left vulnerable by the Tories continued mishandling of the “recovery”.

Yesterday I was proud to be a union member. I fully support all my fellow members from Unite and all the unions in their struggle to protect their member’s rights from Osborne’s targeted tax. If we continue to fight while continuing to innovate, we could win. There remains power in a union. But we must harness it well and unleash it imaginatively.

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  • Yup, that’s a good one.  A Union-led National Day of Volunteering to support threatened Charities is definitely a way forward.

    You’re right about keeping Public Support as well.  We need to show The Public that these are normal workers being priced out of their pensions.  We also need to make more noise about helping Private Sector workers with their pensions.  And this is something the Labour Party has to do as well.  Private Sector pensions need increasing/ fixing, rather than smashing Public Sector pensions up to make them as bad as what is now in the Private Sector.  This perceived ‘race to the bottom’ The Torys seem to want, and how daft it is. We need more people with pension-pots, not less.

    We need to repair the damage done by Blair in the early years of New Labour.  It’s not worked in its aim, has damaged Private Sector pensions, and people have been harmed.  It is Labours’ responsibility to correct this mistake, as we were the ones that caused this mistake.

    This should be very easy in reality.  Some Union members work in the Private Sector after all.  And Labour will want to increase its votership, so can easily devise a policy ( working alongside The Unions and their connection with The Populace ) to address this Private Sector crisis we helped create.

    Sorry Tony, you got this one wrong.  And us modern Labour types are now going to have to clean up your mess.

    • Anonymous

      I really cannot be bothered if you lot cannot see the problems with this idea.

      • Dave Postles

        I share your ambivalence.  I’m about to join some volunteers in driving the ‘community service’ bus to take the elderly and infirm from the adjacent villages to the Co-op and other shops.  It would be better conducted by regular, paid and properly-trained people.  That sort of service has never been provided, however.  The only extent to which the county council will be involved is licensing the drivers after a test.  The parish council subsidises the scheme.  Both are Tory-controlled.  It’s using us as a cheap solution and depriving someone of a job.  What else can we do in the circumstances? 

        • Anonymous

          I have been working for the last eighteen months under workfare, although I do not have to do it.

          You can hardly get a into a charity or volunteering group these days as the government uses them for workfare or to get the louts off the street you know those people who dare to be on the dole or JSA.

          I use to volunteer as a football coach now  done by workfare, Heart foundation now filled by workfare.  where do you think these workfare position come from factories or offices who would not touch workfare with a barge pole, and now you want a million people  in part to cross picket lines, since most of the paid employees of these groups like nursing homes hospital will be on strike.

          Go on strike if you have to but march

        • Anonymous

          Hi Dave, maybe I’ve misunderstood this, but I don’t think Emma is advocating volunteering as a replacement for statutory services?

          I totally agree with you and Robert that charities shouldn’t become some sort of “dumping ground;” but equally- there is a large array of these doing fantastic work in communities, and I would have thought, great potential for people to be working together on different projects-
          eg youth work. Identifying needs out there and filling a few gaps?

          As a general overview, I’d definitely agree with you the danger is,
          what should be universally provided, such as social care for the elderly- can become patchy and fragmented service delivery if left individually to local councils, especially with heavily reduced budgets?

          I read this phrase around the time of last election, which i think was quoted from DC: “rolling back the welfare state and enlisting volunteers.”

          That has many implications…..which parts of the “state” is meant?

          Does it include frontline essential services and highly skilled professions?

          Finally- it’s been reported that charities themselves are struggling with funding problems…..

          Good to hear about your work Dave-
          I applaud your community spirit and hard work.

          Still haven’t got around to joining the Co Op….


    • Anonymous

      “Make some noise.”

      I like that Chris, and your comments.

      Yes, don’t let them succeed with this public/private split
      and divisive politics- which is misleading.

      This should be about all workers ultimately.

      I’ve said before- the focus should be on the disparity
      between lower and higher paid workers across all sectors,
      and “value” assigned to different roles.

      Perhaps we could begin by asking what are the essential roles to society,
      rather than what raises the most revenue; also, with regard to the latter-
      how is that money used and where does it go?

      Food for thought.


  • I think the voluntary action is a good idea and that it will win the publicity and more importantly be a jolly good thing (so long as it isn’t all about putting in security features on public buildings and installing mosquitos on estates troubled by youths); I have been saying this for a while 🙂

    • angryange

      I agree – my union, UNISON ran some free workshops for unemployed workers yesterday, using external tutors not involved in the dispute and supported by volunteers from amongst our striking members.  We need to be doing more of this

    • Anonymous

      And of course most charities which are not struggling as they get all the people they need now from workfare a new labour idea.

      If your going to go on strike then march, charities have enough people already and how  will you all sort out CRB checks like it or not another idea from New labour to work any where in which the vulnerable are you will need advanced CRB check at a cost of £130 each and that means charity shops, hospital, welfare,  not so easy now is it

      • Go away Treborc you’re like a very miserable troll. You’re like a death at a birthday party. There are many ways around the CRB check issue so please, dry up.

        You could even extend the idea to a ‘day of help’ in all manner of businesses and not solely restricted to the ‘voluntary’ sector but as a basic idea it is excellent and will encourage other, more positive, things to come out.

      • Anonymous

        Robert, I’ve just tried to post a link to volunteering opportunities,
        which I hope will be published later.

        They are pretty well known, but not sure if many know about it.

        Thanks, Jo.

        • Anonymous

          (Sorry Mark- I don’t understand why this keeps going for moderation;
          if you check out site later you can see a very good portal for volunteering.
          I hope it hasn’t closed?)

          I’ll just leave that here- but thanks anyway.


          • Anonymous

            Thankyou for re instating above Mark; I wasn’t too sure why hadn’t got through.

            It’s an excellent site though, and I hope someone finds useful.


    • Anonymous

      Kathy, great suggestions too.

      I think having the experience of seeing what a palaeontologist does with
      bones and fossils would be a brilliant experience; eg working with schools
      and colleges; also organizations like the U3A?

      I’m sure if such volunteer positions were advertised there would be a great deal of interest! It could be flagged up via the local press, or places like GP centres,
      leisure centres, supermarkets, school/parent noticeboards?

      Museums, libraries, theatres and art galleries could club together for a whole range of cultural/practical projects.

      There is a central organization that advertises charity posts which I heard of some time ago- as it’s a good way to gain experience in different fields; but I can’t remember the name! Will try to retrieve.

      I’m in favour of anything that brings people together for shared projects,
      and useful tasks in local communities;
      I think some of that spirit disappeared in the 80’s onwards;
      also it’s easy to watch TV etc instead of getting involved
      with social activities….

      I actually feel really heartened by seeing so many ordinary
      and decent working people out there on the streets, using their voice
      to express their experiences and speaking out against what
      they feel to be an injustice.

      It looked very well organized, and done in good spirit.

      I cannot see how that can be painted in a negative light,
      especially if frontline servics were protected by union members.

      Anyway, hope all is well with you.


    • Guest

      Kathy, Robert, and others:

      I’d like to pass on a highly recommended charities’ website,
      for amalgamated volunteering opportunities:


      If you sign up to their emails, they send out regular updates.

      Good luck if interested.


    • Guest

      Sorry- just tried to post a link to excellent volunteering portal, but might not have had complete web address; it’s:


      or try: do-it.org/

      “Do-it volunteering made easy”
      description on website.

      Hope that’s OK to share please Mark?

      Thanks, Jo.

  • Anonymous

    Will you start now by asking for the CRB checks to work in Volunteering

  • I disagree that individual strikes shouldn’t occur. This isn’t just a wider campaign against the broad thrust of government policy, it’s also about specific changes that will negatively impact workers in specific industries. Sometimes we won’t all have specific issues around which there is a dispute and secondary picketing remains illegal. This being the case,  we may sometimes need to strike alone.

    That doesn’t mean we don’t support each other, but we can stand together without always having to strike together.

  • alex williams

    There are probably many ways to engage in industrial action, the key is to find things that directly annoy the government. teachers could teach on an interest of their own, or even better unions could put together, with teachers, some lessons highlighting any negative actions by the present government. Or some lessons about pensions in general. In other areas simply not providing statistics or reports that central gvt demand. Transport workers could provide the service but refuse to take payments, leving up to managers to decide if they want to cancel the services. Some voluntary work could be good, simple thinsg like tidying up a public area possibly. With some creativity I’m sure there might be some ways to try and win public support, although my experience is that some people have bought into the gvts them and us narrative.

    • Anonymous

      Wow, brilliant suggestions Alex.


    • Bah Humbug

      “Unions could put together, with teachers, some lessons highlighting any negative actions by the present government”

      Of course, in the interests of a balanced curriculum, they would also highlight any of the positive actions taken by the present government.

      If I discovered that any teacher of my children had attempted to indoctrinate* them with a particular political perspective – of whatever hue – I would lodge a formal complaint against them.

      * Indoctrinate – teach (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically

      I took mine (aged 9 and 11) to the Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum earlier this year (yeah, I know, what a fun-loving father they have), which they enjoyed up to a point (the displays aren’t that child-friendly). If they ask me about news items relating to politics, I always try and explain both sides as objectively as possible. They asked me about the strike on Wednesday, so I explained what it was about (their school was shut, so I looked after them); but I also explained to them that my being at home meant my business was affected financially and that I lost income that day. I am complimentary about our Lib-Dem MP, who is very committed to our locality. My children know that I am a member of the Labour Party.

      I don’t want my children to slavishly adopt my own beliefs, nor those of their teachers. I want them to develop their own, evolved through intelligent enquiry and reason, based upon a developing understanding of the world and nurtured by people they can trust to be objective.

      • Anonymous

        But teachers can feel very constrained by a prescribed top down imposed curriculum Bah Humbug; I do think there should be far more scope for skilled and experienced teachers to apply individual creativity, and “bend the rules” sometimes!

        Private schools, for example, don’t have to adopt the national curriculum, yet acheive excellent results.

        (Just an additional point. I also enjoyed your comments!)


        • Bah Humbug

          “Private schools, for example, don’t have to adopt the national curriculum, yet achieve excellent results.”

          Although independent schools do not have to follow the national curriculum, most of the courses they offer work towards standard public examinations. Since these are aligned with the national curriculum, the teaching of subjects in independent schools does end up substantially aligned with it too (disclosure – I taught physics/science/maths in independent schools for nine years).

          Not adopting the NC does not necessarily correlate with achieving excellent results. Other factors include:

          1. Ability to afford private school fees, which probably implies better early years opportunities too, which massively improves education outcomes

          2. Smaller class sizes – I was typically teaching no more than 22 in a class to GCSE and about ten in an A-level physics set

          3. Great emphasis on prep (homework), which in boarding schools is supervised strictly to ensure pupils do it thoroughly

          4. Parental pressure to achieve (not necessarily healthy I hasten to add)

          Oh, and its not all a bed of roses, there are some crummy private schools.

          “Bend the rules” … no thanks

          “Apply individual creativity” … yes please

          • Anonymous

            Thankyou Bah Humbug- just read; great comments-
            will try to return later.


      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        What an intelligent approach.  Bravo.

        • Anonymous

          Very much seconded.  I personally believe that if someone can’t empathise with both sides of a contested debate, then they probably aren’t well enough equipped to add any value through participating in that debate.

      • alex williams

        Since a teacher would technically be on strike, provided they were clear up front what they were going to be discussing  for example ‘why I am striking’ and provided they made it clear that it was their perspective, I can;t see your problem. You can always keep them at home if you considered it wrong. Alterrnatively you could then provide other positions when the child arrive home. Stranegly enough there is generally only one side when it comes to an individuals persective on an issue. Out of interest where do you see education ending and indoctrination beginning?

    • Guest
  • Anonymous

    What an excellent idea Emma!

    Yes, keep the public onside- and involved at every stage.

    I think you are right about being very cautious re the individual unions splitting
    actions at different times.

    Although some professional unions in the NHS,
    (I think RCN and ?BMA for example) may still be planning to ball0t members
    for possible strike action in the future.

    So it appears a mixed picture on the “health care ” front.

    Perhaps different professions will be presenting different arguments?

    But I agree, strength in solidarity and community.

    There was a brilliant little documentary this evening on R4 about the events
    surrounding preparation for day of action in B’ham; did you hear it?

    It was interviewing the real people on the ground involved in different ways;
    much more compelling and convincing than the spin and rhetoric
    from people so detached from ordinary people’s lives…..

    I saw briefly the front page of the “i” newspaper, which had a headline:
    “….ministers plan to divide public sector unions,” and “bid to break strikers.”

    It’s only they who are trying to carriacature the whole situation and the people
    involved, who are far from “militants.”

    It’s a kind of “divide and rule” mentality…..

    It makes me very angry that they seem to have decided that people working
    in public services are the single target to pay the most proportionately into the
    “deficit pot.”

    It may be all part of the bigger plans to “roll back the (welfare) state”
    and bring in privatisation by stealthy measures?


  • derek

    Emma, lets see where all this is going first? there’s a tax on the lowest workers, that’s not going into the pension fund but direct to the deficit reduction plan of Osborne, there’s effectively an additional pay freeze up until 2015, there’s legislation being put through parliament to slash health and safety in the work place, there’s a real danger that the Euro will fall and nations will become bankrupt. there’s is a feeling that we’re heading backwards to 1906 period and the trade unions will have to do it all over again from scratch……….scratch…….where do we start and when do we stop??????????   

  • Anonymous

    I think Robert has difficult circumstances jpd;
    and he does add some very useful suggestions on LL.
    I know he can be a bit grumpy and negative too!
    But he’s also been very receptive and honest,
    and accepts feedback.

    (Hope you don’t mind me saying, Robert.)

    With regard to your last paragraph, I’d agree,
    very good idea in the business sector too.
    It would be useful to mix up workers across
    all sectors to have a “taster” of what other people
    do in their workplace?

    Like a sort of job swap!

    Cheers, Jo


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