The consultative ballot

This week the vote starts on the BBC’s “final” offer. It is a big decision.

Everyone – union and management – agrees that this is the best offer that can be achieved by negotiation. If we want more the likelihood is that we are going to have to engage in a bruising campaign of industrial action. (This doesn’t necessarily mean lots of all out strikes: short stoppages lasting just a few hours can have a dramatic impact at relatively little cost.)

So what to do? 

The BBC’s offer is terrible. If CAB 2011 had been the BBC’s first offer, back at the start of the summer, we’d have thrown it out. Anyone who has played with the pensions calculator following the principles I laid out a week ago will know just how bad CAB2011 is.

For me there are two tests for strike action. Is there a clear objective? And is that objective achievable. It seems to me that the answer to both questions is  yes.

The objective is to force the BBC to follow its own procedures: withdraw the “draconian” pensions proposals and negotiate with the trustees to deal with the deficit and future funding issues. That is a perfectly reasonable and realistic demand.

Is it achievable? Of course. We’re not asking for anything outrageous, simply that the BBC negotiates in good faith with the trustees of the pension scheme – just as the rules of the pension scheme insist. There are many ways in which the BBC could address the current and potential future deficit without taking the draconian action that it has decided for political reasons it wants to take.

My view is this. If we don’t fight now, we’ll spend the rest of our working lives, and our retirement, regretting our timidity. Working at the BBC we tend to believe in a reasonable world, where difficult issues can be resolved by discussions between fair minded people. This pensions dispute is not like that. We’re caught up in a power play, as Mark Thompson attempts to position the BBC for the next licence fee discussions.  (Take a look at Steve Hewlett’s piece in Ariel this week for some heavyweight confrimation of this line of thinking.). Reasoned argument is not (yet) going to win the day. It’s about power, and the only power we have is to withdraw labour and make the costs of going ahead with the proposals too high for the BBC.

And here’s the good news. Mark Thompson’s strategy is to win favour with the government by forcing through unpopular pensions reforms. He very quickly loses that political capital if he drags the BBC into a prolonged battle with its own workforce. That runs the risk for the BBC and for the government that the story becomes resistance to pension reform, rather than the successful achievement of pensions reform.

We’ve earnt our pension rights, they’re not unreasonable and they’re not unaffordable. Now they need defending. It’s time to fight back.


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