Unison copy Blue Peter methods

I’m a member of the public service union, Unison.

We’ve recently been in dispute regarding this year’s pay deal. Initially, the local government employers offered around 2%, which was rejected by Unison and the other unions involved after informal consultation with their members. After a further round of discussions, the local government employers improved their offer to a 2.475% increase, which was still felt to be below the rate of inflation, and in effect a pay cut.

However, this has to be put in context: the Prime Minister told public sector organisations to limit increases to 2%, so the employers were obviously under political as well as financial pressure to try and keep the rise down. The GMB balloted their members as to whether or not to accept the pay deal, which they said was the best that could be achieved through negotiation (i.e. sustained strike action would be required to get a better deal).

The members voted to accept the pay deal.

Unison then decided to ballot their members — not as to whether or not they wanted to accept the deal, as they had rejected it — on whether or not the members would be prepared to take sustained strike action to fight for a better deal. Unison recommended that members voted yes. I voted no, as it happens, because I didn’t think we would be able to win a significantly better deal and therefore I didn’t see strike action as worthwhile.

The members then very narrowly voted yes (51.6% in favour on a 24% turnout). However, despite the majority of the union membership who expressed a preference voting in favour of strike action, Unison then decided not to go ahead with strike action and accept the 2.475% pay deal.


Oh, I can understand why not strike action — there wasn’t a great groundswell of support for it in the first place, the majority was narrow, the turnout was low, it wasn’t likely strike action would be sustained or substantial, and therefore it would be a bit of a waste of time. Plus I strongly suspect if Unison’s position had been neutral, rather than recommending a vote in favour of strike action, there wouldn’t have been a vote in favour in the first place.

What I don’t understand is how any body can hold a democratic ballot and then choose to ignore the result of that ballot. Effectively, it means everyone who voted has pretty much wasted their time, if the preference of the members is to be ignored. It’s just like the children’s program Blue Peter, which held a phone poll to determine what to call a cat and then the Blue Peter producers ignored the result of the poll and picked their own name anyway.

What’s the point in asking, if you don’t accept the result that you get back? How can a union that is supposedly meant to represent the interests of its members achieve that by overruling the wishes of those members expressed in a democratic ballot? It’s like having a referendum which narrowly said “keep the pound as our currency” and then going with the other option anyway. If you aren’t going to legitimately accept the result of a democratic process, then it’s foolish to try and pretend you are acting democratically. You aren’t, plain and simple.

As a UNISON member, I would have been prepared to accept the result of the democratic ballot if it went against my vote: I would have been prepared to go on strike with other UNISON members if that’s what the majority had wanted (and they did). If I wasn’t prepared to accept the results of a ballot, I shouldn’t take part in the first place — like the rent-a-quote celebrities they trot out near a general election to announce they’ll leave the country if X gets into power. Fine. If you want to toss your toys out of the pram and you aren’t prepared to live in a country with a democratically elected government — unless that’s your democratically elected government — then you’re not fit to live in a democracy. Piss off to whichever tax exile you like, and don’t come back.

It would have been different if the union had set out that they wanted at least a 60/40 majority in the first place, or that they wanted a turnout of over 40% or something, but to allow the vote to proceed on the basis that it was a simple majority ballot and then for the ruling executive to overrule this ballot, when it narrowly came out in favour of the very thing that they were asking for in the first place, is plainly not democratic.

Whether it was realistically possible to undertake effective strike action is another thing (I think it wasn’t, hence I voted against it) but this is a question that should have been considered before the ballot, rather than overruling the legitimate ballot when they didn’t like it.

If you want to be heard, speak in UNISONUNISON poster

Except, it would appear, when Unison’s ruling body don’t like what the majority of you have to say…

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