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Posted on 17 July 2013 at 16:19 GMT

Narrow vote against action in Kirklees Unison

In the industrial action ballot against compulsory redundancies in Kirklees Unison, a narrow majority has voted against strike action by 57% to 43% on a 30% turnout.

This is a setback for one of the branches in Unison which has presented itself as one of the flagship bearers of the left and has previously voted in favour of strike action in branch-wide ballots over single status.

The issue surfaced in January when two school workers were made redundant. The branch went into unnecessarily long discussions with the council to try to find a remedy which was not forthcoming and ultimately went down the path of a ballot towards the end of June.

The Labour-led council went into overdrive to try to drive a wedge between school workers and council workers and took the unprecedented step in a coordinated campaign of writing to every worker at home urging them to trust the council and to vote against strike action.

Some workers received up to five emails from managers and the chief executive threatened staff with further job losses if the strike went ahead.

For its part Unison was maintaining that school staff were part of the council workforce and need protection, not least because other schools are already threatening redundancies.

In the end, members were not convinced in large enough numbers to vote in favour of action. The background climate of council cuts, attacks on pay and conditions of service and the very recent failure of the union's national pay campaign has eroded confidence in feeling sufficiently confident in a 'go it alone' strike action.

However it will give confidence to the council to impose more job cuts and to try to sideline the union.

The next few months will be crucial in rebuilding confidence and union organisation to defend workers against further attacks on jobs and conditions - branch activists will need to consider whether the current branch leadership is up to this task.

Whilst this round of the battle has been lost, there will plenty more opportunities to turn the tables back on the council.

Mike Forster

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