UNISON and unions' wider role
A UNISON case study

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Page 4: Industrial Action

Unions are reluctant to resort to industrial action in order to solve a problem. They see it as a last resort after negotiations have failed. In any dispute in which UNISON becomes involved, it always tries to negotiate a solution by agreeing a compromise.

No sensible union will take any serious industrial action without its members' permission and explicit support. Indeed, unions are now required by law to allow their members to vote on any proposed strike action prior to asking them to embark on it. Even then, there is a scale of industrial action activities before any sort of all-out strike action occurs.  Examples include:

  • bans e.g. on overtime working, weekend working or working anti-social hours
  • action short of strike action. This includes 'working to rule' i.e. working exactly to contractual conditions and ceasing to perform non-contractual tasks that rely solely on goodwill
  • selective strike action. This involves a union in asking only certain key workers to strike or in limiting strike action to certain days in the week. The aim is to achieve maximum impact whilst keeping the cost of the action, to both the public and the union, within reasonable limits.

Sometimes disputes drag on. Only when all other avenues have failed will a union look to call a blanket (or 'all-out') strike. There is no guarantee that such action will always be short lived.

UNISON habitually works to prevent industrial action by improving workers' pay and conditions before real trouble emerges. For instance, it successfully negotiated a fair deal with British Gas in November 2003. This was at time when workers' existing conditions seemed under threat.

The new agreement gave workers improvements in some areas and essential protection in others. Joint roadshows with union and management were used to get the message across to workers. They also encouraged employees to join the union so that they were covered by any agreement on rights and responsibilities. More than 60 meetings were held.

Roadshows are just one of several methods that UNISON uses to gain publicity and support. It uses modern techniques to make its campaigns effective. These include:

  • stunts intended to attract press attention
  • demonstrations, rallies and lobbies
  • special events e.g. concerts, such as two held in Newcastle and Manchester as part of the campaign to introduce a National Minimum Wage.

UNISON | UNISON and unions' wider role