Socialist Worker

Unison local government conference: Fury at Tory cuts creates mood to fight

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2408

Unison local government conference discussed recent action, such as the Care UK strikes by health workers

Unison local government conference discussed recent action, such as the Care UK strikes by health workers (Pic: Socialist Worker)

The Unison union’s local government conference took place in Brighton on Monday and Tuesday of this week. The conference hall simmered with anger at Tory austerity and policies that benefit the rich.

Unison’s strike ballot of 600,000 members against a miserly 1 percent pay offer from bosses will put them potentially at the head of a strike of up to 1.4 million public sector workers on 10 July.

Motions denouncing the cutting of public services to the bone and the crisis this has created for working class living standards ran through the whole agenda.

The most well received contributions argued for coordinated, escalating strikes as the alternative to Tory austerity. Those who pointed to local disputes such as at Doncaster Care UK as the lead to follow got big cheers.

Other discussions included the crisis in social care (see below), pay inequality and the disproportionate impact of cuts on women and black people.

Zero hours contracts were also discussed as was the pitifully low paid apprenticeships for young people. Wider political issues hit the conference floor as arguments were taken up against the witch hunt against Muslims in Birmingham schools.

Tony Barnsley from Sandwell said, “Gove and the Tories had sunk into the sewers with Ukip.”

 Anger at the Labour Party implementing vicious cuts locally was a consistent theme. Chair of the Local Government Service Group Executive, Glen Williams said, “We don’t want crocodile tears and wringing of hands from Labour councillors.”

 “We want Labour to stand with us not against us. The silence is deafening,” he said.

Time and again the union’s funding for the party was questioned – cuts under a Labour administration don’t make them any better.

Bolton social worker Andrea Eagen said £100 million local cuts from Labour had created the “biggest challenges in my 27 years working in the public sector”. She said Labour had to be held to account.

Nottingham delegate Jean Thorpe argued, “Before we hand over any more money to Labour we should demand they support our pay strike on 10 July.”

Diana Swingler from London said that Tory austerity was an “ideological assault that Labour was disgracefully going along with”.

She drew huge applause making an argument for a solid, active strike over pay insisting, “Members need to believe their union is fighting to win this.”

 Dave Ellis from Yorkshire and Humberside took Labour leader Ed Miliband to task for his decision to promote the hated Sun newspaper.

 To huge cheers he said clutching a torn up Sun, “We don’t read the Sun. We tear it up into squares like these and we keep them in the bathroom where we’ve got other uses for it.”

Pay fringe calls for united fights

Up to 130 delegates crowded into one fringe meeting on building a united fight over pay.             

Bernie Gallagher from Bolton was critical of trade union leaders “for failing to have any real strategy to fight pay cuts”. She argued, “We’ve got to put the pressure on to get the union to coordinate our strikes.”  

She raised concerns about union officials on much higher pay than the members they represent. “If a pound an hour increase is good enough for the general secretary – it’s good enough for us,” she said.  

John McLoughlin from London said Unison members should continue to work flat out to win the ballot over the final days before it ends on Monday of next week.  

“We also need to make sure 9 and 10 September strikes become a reality – we need the escalation. Speeches are great but words need to be turned into action,” John said.  

There were also speakers from the NUT teachers’ union and from Lambeth College strikers in both Unison and the UCU union.

Spread action to beat crisis in social care

Austerity is creating a crisis in social care. Workers are under so much pressure with rising workloads and dwindling resources that, as one delegate said, it was like “sticking plasters on wounds that need stitches”.

Privatisation and outsourcing of services are putting people in danger. Quality care is under threat as workers, stressed to the limit, are undermined by cuts and the drive for profit.

New Unison research says that over 200,000 care workers in Britain are routinely paid less than the National Minimum Wage.

Delegates welcomed a motion that called for the Care Quality Commission to highlight the link between working conditions and quality social care.

Helen Davies from London argued the strikes by care workers in Rochdale, South Gloucester, Glasgow and Doncaster in the last year against worsening conditions were the lead that others should follow.

Southend care assistant Ray spoke to Socialist Worker. She said things have got so bad in the sector she feels “like care workers are the new plantation workers”.

“Every week I see care workers borrowing and lending money to each other to survive. We really are not valued but we look after the most vulnerable people in society.”

Ray has worked in social care for 22 years in both the public and private sector.

She said, “These companies want the lowest pay and standard of care they can get away with. Care workers face the choice now of eating, buying electricity and striking for better pay. We have to get organised – it’s line in the sand time.

“Good on the Care UK strikers, really. I think we should spread their action everywhere.”

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