Members of the main health unions have overwhelmingly rejected the government’s 3% NHS pay award.
RCN rejected by 91.7% (in Wales 93.9%), Unison by 80%, and GMB by 93%. Unison and GMB included willingness to take industrial action in their informal ballot.
These votes show the activist base of the unions is ready to take action. The decisive figure for action, under the anti-trade union laws, was always going to be the turnout. There, the news is not positive. RCN turnout was 25.4% (29.3% in Wales), and Unison, 29%.
GMB have not released their turnout figures, presumably meaning they did not reach 50% overall, though rumours have it that there was wide variation across branches.
They have decided to move straight to a formal ballot on action. RCN and Unison are holding further indicative ballots. Those add an unnecessary barrier to taking the campaign forward and reflect the union leaderships’ ultra-caution in dealing with the anti-trade-union laws.
We want the union leaderships to acknowledge that their work in the run up to the recent consultations was inadequate and now put the full force of the unions behind a move to action. The way to beat the laws is to campaign vigorously, provide leadership and confidence to members, and use tactics to circumvent the laws when necessary, not fixate on the laws as an excuse to not ballot formally.
The cross-union organisation, leafletting and speaking to members at workplace level needs to continue and grow. Branches should organise members’ meetings, set up campaign teams of activists, organise phone banking and workplace walk abouts
Of course, huge change will be needed to reach legal threshold turnouts of 50%. The detail of the results by sector and branch has not been released. It should be available to branches and needs to form the basis of a strategic campaign to focus on areas where formal ballots can be won on a disaggregated basis.
The 80% plus results show that is possible, and the turnouts show it is necessary. Opposition to the anti-union laws, and explanation of how they have worked here as an obstacle to challenging the employers, should be tied into the campaigning.