Striking Decisions


UNISON have called a strike of local government employees for the 16th and 17th July. I’m a member of UNISON. So I strike. It should all be so simple. In reality I am in two minds and I haven’t decided – or rather, our team haven’t made a united decision yet.

In the whole team, there are 5 social workers – one each in four the local teams and two in the other. Two of them aren’t trade union members, so that leads three of us who are.

I admit that I don’t like strikes generally . I don’t like the idea of strikes – at least in my line of work. It can have an immediate effect and really does effect the quality of support that is able to be offered often to those who are most vulnerable.

We (the three of us anyway) have decided to act together for what its worth. One person doesn’t want to strike and one does. I’ve veered towards the non-striking line but, believe it or not, for three people, we haven’t been able to ‘meet’ formally about it yet and we intend to tomorrow.

And, as we pointed out when our manager asked, he cannot demand that we tell him our decision until we have made it.

andydr andydr @ flickr

For

-it’s a matter of union solidarity. Some of the lowest paid workers in the country are Unison members and will be struggling and taking an effective pay cut as a result of this decision. In fact, we’ll all be taking an effective pay cut but it’ll affect those who earn less – more.

-the pay offer is lower than the nurses offer and these are the people that I sit and work alongside.

– I honestly think the government line about inflation being fed by public service pay deals is vacuous. After all, MPs didn’t retain the same constraints themselves.. other public sector workers have received higher offers after all.

– Continued strike action might make a difference. It’s a way of expressing displeasure at the pay offer made.

image malias at Flickr

Against

-A one day strike would have been easier to justify than two consecutive days. I wouldn’t say no-one would miss me, but the effects again on the service are much more dramatic with two days.

– I work in a multi-disciplinary team where other disciplines far outnumber social workers. Having an entire team out on strike is sending one message but having a few people not turning up for work is another thing altogether. It feels a bit more just like skipping work rather than making a statement.

-I think the pay offer that UNISON is asking for is unrealistic. The government has on  its agenda to cut public sector pay, and local government workers are generally the targets who garner the least public sympathy. Anyway, whatever pay deal we like, we aren’t going to get 6%. I understand this is a basis for negotiation but I think it’s not necessarily honest.

-The strike action could well continue beyond two days over the summer as there isn’t really anywhere to go until someone backs down.

-There is little public sympathy or appetite for a strike.

-On a completely selfish level, living in a household where I am the main wage-earner – the money lost by striking would be definitely missed.

Nurses have been offered more but realistically the difference between 2.45% and 2.75% is likely to be pennies.

The pay deal is on a par with the teachers who went to strike on the same issue.

Police were offered a staged 2.5% pay increase and an effective 1.9% offer but are unable to strike.

All of which  make the Shell tanker drivers’ settlement at 14% seem more than a little generous.

Part of the difficulty about demanding pay increases is that there would possibly be a reduction of personnel in order to budget for it.

My gut instinct is taking me to a non-strike position. I doubt I’ll be noticed or missed and I’ve increasing less and less time for UNISON in general (perhaps another story for another day).

In a completely selfish view, my ideal would be for the strike to be called off over the next couple of days so that it doesn’t become an issue.

Although uncomfortable with striking, I’m also uncomfortable with breaking a strike.  I understand the need for union representation but have seen it on a micro level – rather than a macro level. To be honest, it’s why I feel there is a need specifically for a union of social workers.

I also have doubts about the motivations certainly of some of the locally based union leaders – and I don’t like the idea of the vulnerable members of the community being affected directly by strike action.

I was interested that in Brighton and Hove social workers in CMHTs have been exempted from the strike and

Diana Leach, branch officer at Unison in Brighton, said: “We have only agreed exceptions for ‘life and limb’ cover, so for emergency purposes such as residential units, elderly care and mental health services.

“We have agreed that because we understand some of our service users are extremely vulnerable and they should not suffer as a result of us going on strike.”

I wish our local branch would make a similar call. It certainly makes sense to me – and it would ease my conscience too..

14 thoughts on “Striking Decisions

  1. I really don’t envy your position – strike action is the only tool employees have in wage and conditions negotiations so it needs to be available, but I suppose in your case, as well as any other social or emergency service, the employer feels it less than the end user, hence the predicament. I suppose another ‘for’ would be a better pay level is likely to encourage retention of staff and increased recruitment (long term, and if pay levels were increased going forward)? Hope you come to a decision that you’re ‘happy’ with in the end!

  2. Thanks for stopping by my blog. It’s always interesting to meet people already active in my field!

    Striking is a confusing thing. My dad has been a union man (teacher’s union) since I was born, and I kind of grew up being taught that the union is always right. However, now I see problems with unions because it is often the clients who end up suffering. I guess there is no clear cut answer.

  3. Thanks Chuckle and good to see you over here, Kiwi! Still undecided but veering towards the non-strike option, I have to say. I just know I’ll feel guilty either way!

  4. Only the dedicated ASWs have been made exempt and only social worker across the 3 older people CMHTs for Safeguarding Adults work. Most of the exemptions are for residential and home care services who traditionally don’t strike

  5. I guess you have to go which ever way you feel most comfortable with. It’s a pretty hard choice.

  6. We don’t have a social worker’s union over here, so this concept is completely foreign to me. Unions here are mostly for blue collar workers, although a few airlines have them for all their employees. Teachers and nurses are unionized as well, but not in all states. Good luck with your decision.

  7. I expect there’s a different attitude to unions here. Just about everyone has one! One of the more recent changes is that a lot of the more specialised unions have merged which mean there are many interests to serve.

    Unison (the one I’m a member of) represents a lot of local govt employees from call centre staff, to waste refuge collectors, to care assistants, to librarians to police civilian employees.
    Some of the issues can be very different which is why my preference would be for a more social work specific union..

    and thanks 🙂

  8. I am for strike action, especially as I have just found out my student loan interest rate has gone up from 2.4% to 4.8%!

  9. I have just re-joined the Union after leaving in 1983 (I think) when there was a strike over pay and I didn’t want to strike, or cross a picket line. However I do feel that there should be a Union for Social Workers after all who else will care about ICS but us! (Now there is a cause worth fighting about).
    I’m working tomorrow as I have a family group which has taken me over three weeks to set up and if it doesn’t go ahead, no one but me and my family will feel the effect! Frustrating isn’t it!

  10. It’s a shame there are so many different ways of judging inflation, JT and I know exactly what you mean, Jane. I think some of my difficulties with Unison lie on the broad load it carries.

  11. The argument for meekly accepting anything that erodes pay and professional standards on the basis of “I came in [to social work] to protect children and I can’t do this if I am on the picket line.” is that we should go back to the era of Almoners and the bored rich doing good works. It always amazes me that a “profession” that prides itself on attracting a diverse group of workers and fetishises the “celebration of difference” falls back on the tired middle class mantra of “we are only here for the clients” If you want a social workforce made up of the otherwise unemployed offspring of the rich, have your condescending stereotypes of who should do social work. Those of us who have no other means than our wages to support ourselves and tackle the inequalities of our country through our work have other ideas. I came into social work because of the vilification and violence I suffered as a bin man in the so called winter of discontent. I need no lectures from the likes of the LGE on the merits of responsibility when I see the pay and perks of senior social care managers. Those of us who do not support New Labour can easily settle for the Tories. They at least remain consistent in their wish to represent their own class interests. Ooops, a naughty bit of politics there, sorry for being so unreconstructed.

  12. It’s a very good point, Nihat – I have an equal problem with lack of alternative options or rather two very similar looking alternatives at the ballot box.

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