Thursday, 3 November 2011

Unison on Strike

This is a rare political post. Ignore if you so wish. 

So, it seems that Unison, the union to which I belong, having decided to ballot all its members for a strike, has got the majority it wanted. 70% voted in favour. However, fewer than 30% of the members bothered to vote in what has been billed by union chiefs as the public sector fightback of the century. Several things have become obvious over the past few months: 

1) Many public sector workers are indeed feeling particularly unfairly treated, and often with good reason. 


2) Very few trust their own union (also, I believe, with good reason), and 

3) Very few, in relative numbers at least, believe that as public workers, striking is the correct course of action. 

I voted against the strike. Not because I think there's nothing wrong, because there is plenty. I voted against because it goes against each and every one of my principles as a public sector worker in general, and as a paramedic in particular. We are all entitled to our rights and privileges, and must indeed sometimes fight for them. Turning off the engines on all the ambulances, however, seems the wrong thing to do. 

The government won't suffer if we down tools. Our patients will. These patients won't turn their anger at the government either, they'll aim it squarely between the eyes of the ambulance service, and at the very next paramedic they meet. 

Time will tell if this strike will eventually go ahead, but I, for one, won't be striking. If that means resigning my membership of this particular union, so be it. If my maths is any good, it would seem that a mere 23% of members of one single union are holding an entire country to ransom. That, in and of itself, is wrong. If the majority of the majority voted in favour, then that might be something different. But to have two-thirds apathetic to the point of not voting, and then going out on strike based on the majority of a small minority, will always, in my eyes, be wrong. 

Fight the fight, but don't lose sight of who we really are, what we really do, and who we are really here to help. 


Anonymous said...

Well said! I agree!

Anonymous said...

There was a general consensus on our sector a few months ago, and a vast majority switched Unions. (Need I say, we decamped from Unison) I needed their services in regard to a matter (having just switched by about 4 days) I must say, their response was superb! They were professional, fully engaged, and I finally felt as though someone had my back, even if it was a minor matter,(wages related) they made me feel as though it was the most important matter in the world. Hats off to GMB. "Judge a man by his deeds, not by his words"

AmbulanceManDan said...

I too voted no, for the same reasons. I like the union and they have been helpful so far, but also we do not have enough support from the public we serve to strike. It will be damaging.

SaintPara said...

While I totally agree an all out strike is wrong and may hurt those who we are here to help, where does that leave use when a service or government start treating us all really badly? Do they count on this fact, that we and other similar groups such as nurses are so dedicated to our patients that we wont strike and will just roll over eventually, to allow them to do what they like to us? If so, what is there to protect us when things get even worse?

It could be argued that unless we stick up for ourselves that the service could go into decline as a result of talent moving elsewhere etc thus hurting patients in the long run.

I'm sure there are many more arguements. I honestly dont know which way to turn. I dont have the answers. I dont know which course is right. I don't know how we can defend our jobs, pay, conditions etc and ensure all patients always get what they need.

Troubling times.

Anonymous said...

Mr Insomniac you have summed up my feelings exactly. I was one of the few that bothered to vote and I also voted no. The way we have been treated by the government is terrible but I am a firm believer that no public service should ever strike. To with hold our capabilities from people is down right wrong and not the way to go about protesting our feelings.
I will also be leaving my union if this strike with such a small mandate goes ahead.
People should not be put in the awful situation of having to break picket lines etc when so few have actually shown an interest.
I for one am delighted that I will be out of the country on the day proposed so I dont have to witness the repercussions of that day.

Anonymous said...

perhaps most people didnt vote because we all new what the result was going to be?

Anonymous said...

to say nothing of the fact that however tough the pension changes are, the private sector woke up to these changes ages ago. the public sector needs to realise that times have changed. same with the teachers throwing their toys out of the cot a few months ago.

Anonymous said...

the nhs pension scheme pays more into it that it pays out, giving the government a tidy surplus. this is nothing more than an additional revenue from a sector that has already seen pay freezes.
the private sector still get bonuses and are still receiving (all be it small) pay rises.....
"At the last valuation of the NHS Pension Scheme, the average pension in payment was
around £6,500 per annum" hardly "gold plated"

Anonymous said...

If you're not going to abide by this ballot decision because it's the decision of a majority of a minority, what's your position on being governed by a government for whom fewer than 42% (in England) of the electorate voted? If you want a democracy you have to abide by decisions taken in a fair vote. You can't pick and choose which results of democratic votes to accept, based on whether they went the way you wanted them to.

"perhaps most people didnt vote because we all new what the result was going to be" - a self-fullfilling prophecy.

Anonymous said...

Unison never even sent me a ballot form...I am however in the process of joining GMB

InsomniacMedic said...

Right you lot - I truly appreciate your comments, but just calling yourself Anonymous just isn't good enough. There's too many of you, and I know you're not all the same person. So PLEASE put some form of ID on when you comment so that I can reply individually!
In the meantime, saying that the public sector should wake up to the real world is at best a little disparaging. To be perfectly honest, we're the ones, certainly at the lower ends of the public pay scales, who live in the real world and are fully aware of its true reality. We serve the public, get paid a fair day's wage for a fair day's work, and just want what we deserve. No-one is out there saying that we deserve more than anyone else. But on a pay freeze (ie, with inflation, a de-facto pay cut) allowing fewer to save, and now the threat to pensions as well, we have to start looking out for ourselves.
However, I still stick by what I believe - and that is NOT striking. There are other methods we can employ short of a full strike. The public wouldn't support it (and therefore not the cause either), and to be honest, it doesn't seem like we support it ourselves.
Saying that you can't pick and choose your democracy, and which votes you like.
I can't say I like the way the government's been elected, but the rules are that if they have a majority in the HoP, which, by hook or by crook they do, then they rule. And in the national elections, well over half the voting public actually bothered to turn up, and therein lies the difference.
To claim that this is the strike of the century, and yet have the vast majority of your members totally apathetic, clearly shows that somewhere along the line, the "electorate" thinks that the strategy is wrong.
As for people leaving faster than anticipated by the powers to be, well, I guess that just remains to be seen, and how that may or may not affect any future decisions.

Sasha said...

There are a few things to note here,

Firstly, Unison is not just an NHS union. It also the union of dinner ladies, school cooks, bin men/ street cleaners, council office workers, and school cleaners.
Most of these people do not pay in to pensions some are just doing their jobs as a part time job whilst the kids are at school, some are simply not interested in pensions as the don't earn enough to live in the here and now, so don't pay in and yet others are just doing it until something better comes along. These are the people that are unlikely to have have voted at all. The likelihood is that those that voted are those that are long term NHS workers of middle class pay, that cant save for there old age. Those that pay a high proportion of tax and are currently stuck with a pay freeze.

The private sector on the other hand, sings of how we need to attract the brightest and the best and high wages and bonus are the way to do this. Well I ask you, would you not like the nurse or the paramedic or even the teacher to be the brightest and the best to care for your loved ones and teach your children? When I first started training as a nurse I was told that the NHS is run on goodwill and hard work, well this is the way that you will break that good will and hard work by taking away the few things that make the job more bearable in the hard times of job cut and cost saving drives.

Secondly, very few know how the pension scheme has work for the last 60 years. The government has taken the money that the NHS pension contributors have payed in and pocketed it, paying out only what is needed. Currently the NHS pension is very much cash rich this year there was a surplus of over £2 billion which the government simply pocketed. The NHS pension has always payed out more than it has received. This money was taken by the government and used as part of it general funding (in affect a tax) in exchange for a grantee that the government will always pay NHS pensions which the employees signed up to! Now the the government has realized that that surplus will not always remain it wishes to change the pensions to ensure that it will ways have this extra income (TAX ON PUBLIC SECTOR WORKERS)in exchange to grantee the pension. Well I simply do not think this is fair. I can see how it would be fair and reasonable for the government to change the pension for those joining as they have not payed for the grantee of there pension in to the government. However those that have, well this could be seen as a breach of contract by the government. Can you see how they want to have the cake and eat it?

Now as for striking, this I find very ethically difficult! The government hold me over a barrel with this, I like to think that I am a person of strong moral fiber and would do the right thing.

And the government knows this, they know that nurse care for the patients and paramedics do know that they save lives even if it is just picking a granny up off of the floor.

My question is however, should we allow ourselves to be emotionally blackmailed in to excepting a less secure retirement, or even the pay freezes the we have been so happy to shoulder for the last year?

Truth be told I voted yes, and I struggle with the idea of striking! In fact it frightens me a little, but I can tell you know the government will not be frightened to make further attacks on my pension and wages over the next 40 years that I will be working for the NHS.


MSgt B said...

Great article Insomniac, and this comment thread is phenomenal in and of itself.

You can be sure that a nationalized health care system which is in turn staffed with unionized workers sounds to me like the biggest scam since the the Stamp Act of 1765.

Regardless, sounds like you're keeping your head on straight.

"Resolve to do what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve." ~ Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson

Anonymous said...

as it happens nobody, thats 0% of the population voted for a coalition goverment either. that said i wont striking, althought he pension could be better, it is the best bit about being a paramedic, lets face it the rest of it is pretty abhorent. i would leave but 20 years in with 20 to go...just working for my pension now!