Socialist Worker

Fury at four years of cuts at Unison conference

by Raymie Kiernan, in Brighton
Issue No. 2409

Over 2,000 delegates left the Unison union’s national delegate conference in Brighton last week with a plan to wage a national campaign over pay, starting on 10 July.

Some 1.4 million public sector workers could unite their fights to strike against the Tories on that day.

And the idea that more workers could join the battle for a further two-day strike in September, including the union’s health sector, resonated with delegates.

General secretary Dave Prentis promised the aim should be to “make it an autumn for this coalition to remember” with “a wave of action never witnessed before”.

Anger at four years of Tory austerity punctuated almost every speech made at the conference – and calls for sustained action were common.

The union’s approach to campaigning and organising was discussed in the context of the impact of cuts on union organisation.

John McLoughlin from Tower Hamlets branch in London won applause when he argued for a fighting strategy.


“It’s not our job to manage the cuts—accepting them doesn’t save a single job,” he said. “We haven’t accepted a single cut to our terms and conditions and we don’t intend to.”

In a major discussion on the future of the NHS James Anthony of the union’s national executive (NEC) said staff shortages were “endemic” while pay continued to fall.

He argued, “A coordinated pay strike with local government will send a message we are prepared to fight to defend public services.”

Unison branch secretary at George Eliot Hospital Dawn Dawnes warned against the consequences of failing to fight. She talked of the “poisonous corrosion” of public sector values caused by profiteering private companies in the health services.

And many speeches referred to the Doncaster Care UK dispute showing the reality of Tory cuts and privatisation but also as offering a lead to others on how to fight it.

Other debates included the privatisation of the probation service and the Health and Safety Executive, the fragmentation of public services and zero hours contracts. 

Anger at Labour - and racist Ukip

The Labour Party took a hammering during Unison conference. In his opening address general secretary Dave Prentis said Labour’s opposition had amounted to “re-written sentences from a Tory manifesto”.

To loud cheers he warned Labour leader Ed Miliband, “When we fight on pay, we don’t expect Labour to oppose us – opposition means opposing the coalition not us.”

Prentis said workers should look to Labour winning the general election as an answer. But many contributions urged the need to fight now.

Sussex delegate Stephen McLean applauded Prentis’ attack on Miliband yet pointed out, “We’ve heard it before. Why should another penny of Unison money go to Labour?”

Delegates committed to stemming the tide of anti-immigrant racism and the growth of Ukip and fascist organisations.

Claire Williams from the northern region said they had been “given credibility by scapegoating by mainstream politicians”.

Tony Phillips from London argued, “Every time Ed Miliband panders to anti-immigrant racism he hands votes to Ukip.”

Kirklees delegate Nick Ruff warned that while “we need to knock back Ukip, we can’t be complacent about the Nazis” and oppose them at every turn.

Delegates discuss Scottish independence

In the discussion on Scottish independence delegates reported “standing room only at branch AGMs” discussing the referendum. The same was true for one of the fringe meetings arguing for a Yes vote.

Unison Scotland’s deputy convener Stephen Smellie used the fringe to declare support for independence. He argued that as a Labour Party member he searched the party’s policies for “proof of why we’re Better Together but it’s not there” 

Stephen told Socialist Worker he thinks a lot of Labour members are saying they will vote yes as “they see it as an opportunity for the party to get back to its roots”.

“There is no guarantee if we vote yes that things will be better. The SNP’s neoliberal economic policy will mean that some its promises on social policies won’t be delivered. So we can’t have any illusions.

“As Joe Strummer said ‘the future is unwritten’ so we have to make sure we write it.”

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Tue 24 Jun 2014, 17:34 BST
Issue No. 2409
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