On Tuesday we discuss ‘what next’ on pay. The NEC’s position is that there should be another ballot. We agree – but that should only happen after there has been a serious debate as to why we lost the ballot (indeed why we have lost two ballots) and we put in place the necessary corrective actions to ensure victory in the third ballot.
Of course using the word ‘lost’ is misleading. We only ‘lost’ because we did not get above an arbitrary threshold set by a Conservative government; we didn’t lose the ballot in true democratic sense that a majority of members voted against action. The irony of course is that the Tory’s can only fantasise of having a similar majority vote in the upcoming EU elections or indeed in any future general election.
Nevertheless we have to face the fact that despite the sheer hard work of many reps and Full Time Officials we didn’t get over the 50% limit. Before trying for a third vote we have to know why this was the case. Why couldn’t we persuade over 50% of members to take a piece of paper out of an envelope, mark it with a pen and post it off?
It seems to us, though the open debate we are looking for may point in other directions, that there are five main reasons why we did not get over the 50%.
- Firstly members didn’t believe we could win our pay demand. We heard comments that a 10% pay increase would be ‘nice’ but many were sceptical that it could be delivered. A reason for that is that the union didn’t spell out in any real detail what industrial action would be triggered if we voted ‘Yes’.
- Secondly members were not energised by the demand; it was just a number. It had no emotional grip on them.
- Third, the level of organisation across the union is variable. Some branches got over the threshold easily, many struggled and some got nowhere near.
- The level of preparation for the ballot was not as good as it should have been (the app was produced late in the day, volunteers for phone banking were only called for close to start of the vote, no final leaflet reminding members of the cut off date for posting their ballot was produced etc).
- Lastly during the balloting period, the state, in the guise of the Civil Service effectively banned freedom of speech and freedom of association for the union in the work place e.g. you were not allowed to hold strike meetings on the premises.
A secondary factor was that a minority of members who didn’t want a strike had worked out that not voting was a better way of scuppering action than actually voting ‘no’.
So what to do?
We should confirm that there must be a further ballot. Without strike action, it is inconceivable that we can get better than a 1% pay increase. But just to go for one more push using the same methods as the last vote would be a mistake. We have a wealth of data to show us where branches did well and where they did not. That data should be freely available so that Groups, branches regions etc can direct help to where it is needed.
As said, there must be an honest debate amongst members and activists as to why we didn’t get over the line. In some parts of the union e.g. DWP that will be difficult as leading reps tend to respond along ‘party lines’, repeat formulas and heavily criticise those who don’t do the same. Without an honest debate though, we won’t learn anything. Also nothing should be off limits in the discussion. Therefore the debate must include examining the pay claim. It must also look at what action we would take if we win a fresh ballot.
Armed with the results of the debates we can carry out the necessary corrective actions and work up a detailed plan – a plan that had been discussed and agreed by activists in advance.
Then there has to be a serious campaign of preparing members in advance of the third vote. The CWU spent seven months preparing for its strike ballot in Royal Mail. Their hard work was rewarded with a huge yes vote. They didn’t hope to win, they planned to win. Now we are not advocating a seven month run up to the third ballot but we are saying that we should take the necessary time.
Although there will be a top down plan, we want the members to be the active ingredient, for them to show local initiative. The union’s task is therefore to persuade members/activists into self activity; for there to be local campaigns as well as the national one; for local messages in parallel to the national ones. Everything possible must be done to encourage this local activity.
In our view the objective conditions (e.g. real living standards continue to fall) exist for a successful ballot and for there to be a real fight over pay. So it is YES to a ballot. The subjective factor, how we win members over to fight for pay is the difficult part. That can be done but requires real democratic debate and working up a plan; a plan with prior buy in of members and activists.