Socialist Worker

Left captures spirit of Unison conference

by Karen Reissmann and Sam O\'Brien
Issue No. 2157

Workers from Brighton Housing Trust outside the conference

Workers from Brighton Housing Trust outside the conference

The Unison union’s national delegate conference last week was left reeling by general secretary Dave Prentis’s opening speech in which he said the union would issue “no more blank cheques” for Labour.

To roars of approval, Prentis called on Unison’s Labour Link organisation to suspend payments to constituency Labour Parties where the MP does not agree with Unison’s values.

Prentis also roundly condemned MPs over the expenses scandal which he argued was “the inevitable consequence of a society built on greed”.

The mood of delegates was expressed in debates on conference floor and in the fringe meetings that followed.

Left wing union activists Yunus Bahksh and Glenn Kelly, who are both threatened by attacks from the right in the union, spoke to over 250 delegates at a “stop the witch-hunt” fringe meeting – by far the biggest at the conference.


They spoke of attacks on activists who challenge the union’s leadership and its previously unquestioning alliance with the Labour government.

At the meeting many pointed out that Unison is prepared to risk British National Party (BNP) moles within the union but has expelled a black anti-racist activist who has given over 25 years service to the union.

Several delegates raised the point again on the floor of conference during a debate on fighting fascism.

The conference resolved to continue the fight against the BNP, both through Searchlight and Unite Against Fascism.

However, delegates threw out rule changes that would have replaced Unison’s existing ability to kick fascists out of the union with a policy which would allow the leadership to expel those in “a political party the objectives of which are contrary to Unison objectives”.

Conference felt that the executive might use this clause against left wing activists and instead decided to maintain a clear policy to deal with the 264 members of the BNP who are known to be in Unison’s current membership.

Reflecting the strong spirit of anti-racism that ran through the conference, Prentis roundly condemned the recent immigration raid on cleaners at Soas university.

Dave Prentis’s speech can be read in full on the Unison website. Go to »

In the debate on housing several delegates, including Angela Bowen from Unison’s executive, paid tribute to Alan Walter, one of the founding members of the Defend Council Housing campaigning group, who died recently.

Delegates voted to reject proposed changes to the union bargaining structures – the means by which Unison negotiates with employers.

The executive argued that the structures had to change to reflect the increasing number of employers in the services where the union organises.

However, most delegates felt that the proposed new rules did not contain enough detail on how union negotiators could be held to account by the rank and file.

More than 90 delegates attended a Unite Against Fascism fringe meeting to discuss how best to counter the threat of the BNP.

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Article information

Tue 23 Jun 2009, 18:19 BST
Issue No. 2157
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