Hundreds of trade unionists in the NHS gathered in Brighton this week for the health conference of the Unison trade union.
Delegates discussed the prospect of massive cuts to public spending promised by all mainstream parties—and what should be done to resist them.
Mike Jackson, a leading Unison national official, told the conference that any attempt to freeze the pay of NHS staff would get a “robust response” from the union, which would include strike action.
Scottish delegate Gordon McKay got a standing ovation when he told the conference that they should not be made to pay for an economic crisis that was not of their making.
In contrast, health secretary Andy Burnham got a lukewarm response from delegates, who were largely sceptical of his claims that Labour will protect the NHS.
Delegates came back to life when Margaret Roberts from Trafford angrily condemned him for “issuing promises we’ve all heard before.”
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis used his conference speech to repeat his attacks on the Tories.
But he also issued a warned to New Labour.
“If Gordon Brown thinks hatred of the Tories is enough for us to vote for Labour, he should think again.”
Prentis promised that if members voted for a fight over pay, he would lead it
However, despite some tough talking, the union’s health executive has no strategy for defending its members from the massive cuts planned for after the election.
A big fringe meeting around the issue organised by the Healthworker group was a sure sign that many in the union want a leadership that matches up to the fighting words at the conference.