Building pensions strike in South London

Submitted by Matthew on 2 November, 2011 - 9:34

By a Unison activist

My union, Unison, has been slow in readying the union to fight the government’s attacks on our pensions.

This means that my branch have had to throw everything at building for the ballot. We’ve used a number of tactics to try and ensure a big turnout for the ballot.

• A week before the ballot opened we held an all members branch meeting focused on pensions. 250 members attended and voted for two motions, one which laid out how we will build for a large turnout and the other which commits the branch to fight for a strategy to win based on the widest possible rank and file democracy.

• All stewards have been tasked with organising shop meetings about the ballot. Although the branch meeting was very successful, many workers cannot attend central meetings because of shift patterns or where they are based. Shop meetings also allow people to ask questions or make contributions in a smaller, less intimidating setting.

• Branch officers have been holding stalls outside large council buildings handing out information about the strike and urging people to vote yes. In addition, all officers on facility time have been asked to walk around workplaces with leaflets about the strike and answer members questions.

• The branch has been producing weekly pensions briefings emailed to all members. The briefings focused on different ways of explaining the strike- case studies of different workers and how much they would lose from pensions changes, statements from members on why they are voting yes, mythbusting, wider politics around the strike.

• We have been calling all members to keep track of who has voted and using the information to decide where to focus our efforts.

All of the council’s unions — Unison, GMB, NUT and Unite — have been working together to build for the strike. The joint union meeting room has been transformed into a “war room” with lists of all workplaces and how they have been covered. We are reaching out to other local public sector branches to offer to help them build. Lambeth Unison members will be holding stalls and leafleting local hospitals and benefits offices.

In early November we are holding the first cross-union meeting of the dispute for all activists from unions which are balloting for action.

It is often stated that the majority of people who vote in a ballot, vote in the first week. This is true but that is because in most ballots, only the most organised members vote.

To achieve a big turnout we must campaign from before the ballot opens to the day it closes and aim to reach the people who don’t usually engage with the union.

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