Dave Prentis, Unison’s general secretary, told the union’s national conference that the new government has no mandate for cuts. He said, “If this government picks a fight we will be fierce defenders of our members and the services they deliver. We will organise public meetings and street demonstrations.”
Prentis set the angry tone as he addressed the first day of the union’s full national conference. He went on to say that Unison would look to unite with other public unions, including the PCS, to resist cuts.
He signalled that local Unison branches would get backing for strike ballots against job cuts and promised a ballot for “national industrial action” if Nick Clegg followed through on his verbal attacks on public sector pensions.
Jim Board, a delegate from Doncaster, told conference, “Private companies are hungry for the golden egg the public sector represents. We should take money off the rich and give to the poor. They want £4.6 million of cuts in Doncaster. We have to fight for every job and defend our communities.”
Delegates were angry at the lies being pedalled by government ministers and the media about a “bloated public sector”. A delegate from Hastings Healthcare told conference that he earned just £220 a week after tax.
John Gray, from the Housing Association branch in London, caught the mood of many when he said, “It’s important to win the battle of ideas” that there is an alternative to cuts.
The delegates’ mood mixes anger and fear at the coming onslaught of cuts. Delegates want to see the union take a lead, which can galvanise the anger, and unite with other unions and communities to resist.
Protest against witch-hunts
More than 200 delegates held a lunchtime protest on Tuesday against the witch-hunt of left wing union activists.
They marched from a fringe meeting which heard Yunus Bakhsh, Glenn Kelly and Caroline Bedale all speak out powerfully against their own and others’ victimisation by the union leadership.