A blog from Chris Bartter, trade union writer and communications expert in Scotland,
This blog is a small contribution in opposition to the right-wing consensus in the media, and will. hopefully, campaign for working people and public services.
Any comments on this blog to firstname.lastname@example.org please.
Thursday, 10 May 2012
Working in unison needs a broad base
Coalition formed in UNISON?
Amongst all the surprise and
astonishment that has greeted the 'historic' Labour/SNP coalition in
Edinburgh (although constituents in East Renfrewshire might be
forgiven for questioning the novelty of this situation) it is
interesting to consider a factor that might well have been a
A factor that has not been publicly
mentioned (as far as I know) is what happened in the huge furore
around the LibDems' Alternative Business Model (ABM) proposals in the
last administration. The proposals, which primarily involved
privatising both support and front-line services in the city, caused
a huge backlash, with a very successful campaign, led by the council
trade unions but incorporating a much wider community base,
ultimately leading to its defeat.
Of course, given the knife-edge balance
of the previous party make up (29 each with the Tories always likely
to back selling off services), this defeat had to involve detaching
SNP support from their LibDem coalition partners and a joint vote
with Labour (and the Greens) to defeat the plans.
UNISON (the largest council union)
activists in the city have admitted privately that their greatest
concern was the the notorious resentment between Labour and the
Nationalists might scupper the final votes. In the midst of a very
vocal and highly-charged campaign, the difficulty in gaining the
joint support of the two key parties without pushing either into a
political corner was a manoeuvre worthy of Balkan dexterity!
As is now known, it was ultimately
successful and scuppered the LibDem privatisation plans in all areas.
Ultimately two ABMs were defeated by joint Labour/SNP amendments and
the LibDems threw the other one out themselves. The two parties also
– it now appears – reaped the benefits in the elections. Jenny
Dawe and her LD colleagues were left to face the full wrath of the
electorate on their own.
Was this experience a straw in the wind
of this week's shock coalition? A positive experience in working
together can only have assisted the move towards it. Too much cannot
be ascribed to this working together, or indeed should it be
predicted for this coalition. The economic future for all local
government in Scotland is bleak, and difficult times lie ahead. Not
only will these strain the alliance, they will almost certainly mean
issues with their own workforce and with the communities they serve.
Lessons that both Councillor Burns and
Councillor Cardownie need to heed are that power does not simply
involve the division of positions on the council, but must ensure
that services are defended for their communities. And just as the
workforce was instrumental in piloting joint activity over the ABM
crisis, they need to continue to be part of the working together
package to steer Edinburgh through the crises to come.