Socialist Worker

Unite conference backs mass protests over cuts and debates anti-union laws

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2204

resistance to cuts and attacks on jobs and services ran through the Unite policy conference in Manchester this week.

Conference delegates passed motions resolving to “build the biggest possible campaign in defence of public services”—including support for the Defend Council Housing and Keep our NHS Public campaigns.

A motion calling a national demonstration in 2011, under the banner “we won’t pay for their crisis, no cuts, defend all jobs and services”, was also passed.

The conference took place as the news emerged of Israel’s attack on the flotilla heading for Gaza.

The conference chair moved an emergency motion condemning the attack and delegates held a minute’s silence for the victims.

Joint general secretary Tony Woodley opened the conference.

He launched an attack on the anti-trade union laws and called for Labour to be taken back for working people, the poor and unemployed.

Woodley condemned the anti-union laws that British Airways (BA) has used against cabin crew during their ongoing dispute.

He said it is “a scandal that at the end of 13 years of a Labour government the right to strike is hanging by a thread”.

Woodley pledged to cabin crew that the union would “stand alongside you until this company sees sense”.

He said, “It wasn’t the unions that wrecked the economy. It was the filthy rich.”

He said Labour had to apologise for taking Britain into the “illegal and unjust” Iraq war and called for the troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

He described the union as “a political force” that aimed to give “a new generation of workers the power over their working lives”.

Delegates condemned the Tory cuts. One motion described the welfare state as “an essential safety net” for working class people.

Sean McGovern, from London and Eastern region, moved the motion saying, “The banks reaped the rewards in the good times and when times got tough we bailed them out.


“Fat cat City bankers caused the crisis, not working class people, so we should not face the cuts.”

Members passed a motion demanding that the government “reverses the trend of privatisation of public services and the removal of the internal market.”

An example cited was co-op run services.

Conference endorsed a statement moved by Gill George who said, “David Cameron pretends to be the new workers’ champion.”

“While the union doesn’t oppose workers’ co-ops, the government is using them to “drive back the welfare state.”.

Delegates also condemned government plans to remove the cap on university tuition fees.

“This measure entrenches privilege and we must oppose it,” argued Tamsin Piper who moved the motion.

Union members can see the looming onslaught on services, jobs, pay and pensions.

And delegates passed many good motions opposing these attacks.

It will be up to members on the ground to make sure that the good words endorsed by the conference are turned into action to stop the cuts.

Delegates took part in a passionate debate on the anti-union laws on Tuesday afternoon.

Delegates backed a composite of motions arguing for a repeal of the anti-union laws and replacing them with a framework giving more rights and freedom to trade unions.

Nigel Gawthrope from London and Eastern region moved the composite. He pointed to the behaviour of Willie Walsh at BA and said, “These bastards have to be stopped from giving our members a kicking”.

Delegates also put a motion arguing for unofficial action to beat the laws. It read, “Despite prohibitive and undemocratic anti-union laws, a number of industrial disputes have taken place in 2009 which have resulted in victories or partial victories for working class people”.

It listed strike action at Lindsey Oil Refinery and other construction sites, occupations at Visteon and Vestas and walkouts in prisons as examples.

It resolved to “Call on the TUC to organise mass demonstrations in support of the above, leading to general strike action if the government refuses to repeal the anti-trade union legislation”.

It also resolved to “Offer full support and solidarity to all workers in struggle, including those whose action is wrongly deemed ‘illegal’ under proscription and archaic legislation”.

Colin Calder from Swansea moved it. “Usually unofficial action wins quicker,” he noted. “It’s quite simple – either you show solidarity or you don’t.”

In the discussion that followed many delegates spoke in favour of direct action to beat the law. George Hickman said, “We must be able to defend our members when they take action outside the law.”

To applause he added, “The only way these laws will be repealed is by us taking direct action.”

Many spoke bitterly of how the law had remained after 13 years of a Labour government.

Brian Davies from the East Midlands said, “Labour – you’ve let us down.”

Joint general secretary of Unite, Derek Simpson, spoke against the motion. He said there was little to disagree with in terms of what delegates had said. But he argued that calling for a general strike was a “waste of time”.

On the question of illegal action he said, “If people think it’s clever to put the funds of the union at risk, I believe they’re in cloud cuckoo land.”

The motion had mentioned several cases where Unite members had indeed taken illegal action and the union’s funds were left untouched.

Simpson asked conference to remit the motion rather than have a vote where the executive would ask delegates to vote it down. Conference agreed.

The main composite on fighting the anti-union laws was passed.

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