What now?

The full and final offer from the BBC is much as I guessed yesterday: a small adjustment to CAB2011, with a marginal reduction in members’ contributions, and slightly more inflation protection. The true value of these concessions can be divined from Mark Thompson’s email. He says the new proposals “still deliver the overwhelming majority of the financial effect we knew we needed to achieve…” Translation: the offer costs the BBC virtually nothing. Or to put it more simply: we’re still shafting you.

So where does that leave us now?

It is clear from the union statements and from Mark’s email that this is as far as negotiation takes us. So the first conclusion is, if we want more, we’re going to have to fight for it. And I mean fight. It would be naive to believe that one strike lasting two days will bring the BBC to the negotiating table. To win further concessions will mean a long, gruelling and bitter campaign of industrial action. Striking now will not be about strengthening the union’s hand in negotiations, it will be about defeating the BBC, forcing Mark Thompson to re-open an issue he has publicly declared is closed.

In theory, it should be possible to sustain a campaign of strikes with this objective. Strike ballots yielded 90%+ majorities in favour of industrial action. But I am not in a position to judge whether the anger that fueled those ballots is still widespread. I know it still boils inside me. This issue will be decided in union branch meetings over the coming days. However it does seem to me that the union leadership have been outmaneuvered by the BBC. Twice now the unions have called off strikes to consult about improved offers. Their statements suggest that they believe they have negotiated a good deal, when by the yardsticks the members set them they have done nothing of the sort. They have accepted the BBC’s terms of reference. Very early on they have accepted that our pension rights DO need to be renegotiated, long before their members had given them a mandate to take this view. This meant they were sucked into talking about CAB2011, which the BBC has always been happy to admit is a vastly inferior offer than our existing arrangements.

(Just to reiterate at this point: the pensions deficit is not the real issue. Mark Thompson and Zarin Patel have admitted that even if non licence fee assets like BBC Worldwide or TV Centre were used to effectively wipe out the deficit, they would still be attacking our pensions. They want to use this opportunity to reduce the BBC’s spending on pensions. It is a conscious choice to destroy hard won benefits because Mark Thompson has decided they are too generous – in the phrase he used talking to me a couple of months ago, he doesn’t want the BBC to be an “outlier” in terms of pensions provision. So let’s make no bones about this: our pensions are affordable, the deficit is not the main issue, and the BBC is attacking our pensions out of choice, not necessity.)

I worry that with the union effectively now selling the BBC offer as the best it can get, it will be hard to motivate and sustain staff to mount a campaign of effective industrial action. I’d love to hear what people are thinking in other areas of the BBC.

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2 Responses to “What now?”

  1. Joti Brar Says:

    You’re asbolutely right that the union leaderships have allowed themselves to be sucked into negotiating details of the CAB2011 scheme when they should have been focused on saving the existing schemes.

    Their constant presentation of tiny tweaks to that shitty offer as great victories of negotiation is sickening.

    This is what 100 years of being part of the establishment has done for our unions. They’re more interested in helping Labour get elected, giving themselves nice respectable careers, and keeping hold of union funds than in serving the interests of their members or their class.

    Every step of the way, they’ve been acting to DAMPEN our resistance and to help management to persuade us that change is INEVITABLE and irresistible.

    But we can and should be fighting this. If we don’t, even the shitty CAB2011 will be closed down in a few years, just as soon as there are enough new starters in the poverty-assuring Defined Contribution scheme to render strike action by the rest of us null and void.

    And this is the thin end of another important wedge, too, which is the government’s drive to make us all pay for the bank bailout etc by slashing pay, pensions and public services across the board.

    They want to pick of the BBC pension first so that it’s easier to take on the rest of the public sector. The remaining private sector schemes will then follow suit. Hey presto – a massive saving to the ruling class at the expense of the poverty of millions of ordinary people.

    There’s only one way to stop that and it’s to fight back. Now. Together. We should be ready to coordinate with all the other public-sector unions. We should be raising awareness with the public generally about just what this all means for them too. It’s not just our pension at stake; it’s everyone’s.

  2. Sue Maillot Says:

    I agree with all you say. If the union won’t fight, I shall resign from the union and put my monthly subs into a private pension instead

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