Socialist Worker

Unison delegates debate how to take on austerity

by Annette Mackin at Unison Conference in Liverpool
Issue No. 2359

Health workers in Unison on strike earlier this year. Strikes have shown workers’ willingness to fight

Health workers in Unison on strike earlier this year. Strikes have shown workers’ willingness to fight (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Deep anger at austerity and the need for an alternative dominated the annual conference of the Unison union last week.

Every example of real resistance brought the conference to life – and there were many of them.

They included Scottish local government workers balloting over pay, care workers in Rochdale striking against pay cuts or the Kirklees ballot over jobs.

The 17 ballots currently underway is a sign of an increasing mood to fight.

There was a real tension between the anger from below and the inconsistent leadership from above.

This was most clear on the failure to provide a clear lead on a united struggle to break the Tory pay policy. This policy has cut real living standards by up to 18 percent.

General secretary Dave Prentis felt compelled to express that anger. He promised a coordinated campaign on pay next year.

Prentis called on the TUC, Unite and GMB to organise a demonstration, rally and lobby at the Tory party conference in Manchester on 29 September. This would be in defence of the NHS.

He said, “Start organising. Tell them – hands off our NHS, it’s not theirs to sell.”

To loud applause he announced that Unison would not support a Labour Party that would continue the vicious assault on welfare and workers.

“We will not support a Labour government that does not end the privatisation, market madness and does not restore our NHS,” he said.

“We will not support a Labour government which does not restore our facility time and which does not restore workers rights”

He also gave Unison’s support to resistance to the hated bedroom tax.

“We expect no Labour council to implement the bedroom tax,” he said. “If we were able to stop the poll tax then we can stop the bedroom tax. We will fight for council housing.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady backed Prentis’ call for a demonstration at Tory party conference in defence of the NHS.

Now the three biggest unions in the country, Unite, Unison and GMB have confirmed they will be organising the demonstration.

Unison executive member Karen Reissmann told Socialist Worker, “Now Unison members have to be organising trains and buses to take members and non-members to the Tory party conference.”

Tower Hamlets branch submitted an emergency motion expressing solidarity with workers in Bangladesh after the collapse of Rana Plaza. This was unanimously carried.

Moving the motion John McLoughlin said, “When we were on strike over our pensions, workers in Bangladesh expressed their solidarity to us. Now we express our solidarity to them and condemn the way capitalism risks workers’ lives in the relentless pursuit of profit.”

On Thursday an important motion was put by the National Women’s Committee entitled “Unison women – active, campaigning, leading”.

Some 70 percent of Unison members are women and austerity disproportionately hits women.

The motion set out plans to empower womens’ fightback through trade union activity, by being involved in campaigns and rooted in branches.

Havering Unison branch submitted an amendment for the motion to include making our movement safe for women.

A few delegates argued that it ignored violence against men. Pat Jones from Kirklees tackled this argument.

She pointed out that women suffered more from violence because of oppression and that fighting austerity gave women the confidence to fight oppression.

Delegates supported the principle of the amendment. But many felt that the complexities of dealing with violence required a less clumsily written and more comprehensive policy, and unfortunately the amendment was lost.

Over a hundred people packed into a fringe meeting on fighting the bedroom tax at Unison conference on Wednesday of last week.

Marion Nisbet from the Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation urged Unison members to back the resistance to the tax. She received a standing ovation when she called on working class women to join the fightback.

And on Thursday over 70 attended a Socialist Workers Party fringe meeting on How do we stop the Tories? Socialist Review editor Mark L Thomas argued that the struggles happening around the world in Turkey, Brazil and Greece show that mass resistance to austerity is far from over.

He said, “This government is weak. If we push we can tip them over”

Speaking of the 30 general strikes that have happened in Greece, a member of the audience said, “At least one here would be nice!”

Fringe meetings showed the desire among Unison members to campaign against the Tories. Unison members will go back to their branches and build for a massive demonstration at the Tory party conference and other campaigns.

Marion Nisbet from the Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation urged Unison members to back the resistance to the tax. She received a standing ovation when she called on working class women to join the fightback.

And on Thursday over 70 attended a Socialist Workers Party fringe meeting on How do we stop the Tories? Socialist Review editor Mark L Thomas argued that the struggles happening around the world in Turkey, Brazil and Greece show that mass resistance to austerity is far from over.

He said, “This government is weak. If we push we can tip them over”

Speaking of the 30 general strikes that have happened in Greece, a member of the audience said, “At least one here would be nice!”

Fringe meetings showed the desire among Unison members to campaign against the Tories. Unison members will go back to their branches and build for a massive demonstration at the Tory party conference and other campaigns.


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Tue 25 Jun 2013, 18:18 BST
Issue No. 2359
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