Socialist Worker

Unison women's conference shows the thirst for a political alternative

by Louise Harrisen-Powis
Issue No. 2441

Austerity and the general election dominated discussion as around 700 delegates attended the Unison union’s women’s conference in Southport last week.

Labour shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper  was a keynote speaker along with union general secretary Dave Prentis.

The push to elect a Labour government in May ran through many discussions. 

Delegates were happy to listen to arguments from Prentis and Cooper to kick the Tories out. But challenges for Labour to offer more resonated strongly.

Frustration at the lack of a real alternative to cuts and racist scapegoating spilled onto the conference floor time and again.

The union leadership came under fire for failing to give a clear lead to reject the rotten pay deal in local government last year.

Prentis was cheered for denouncing Ukip as a racist party. 

Delegates also criticised Labour for tailing Ukip over immigration instead of challenging racism.

There was huge support for the battle to defend the NHS and the recent strikes by health workers. People felt the picket lines offered an antidote to Ukip’s racism.

There were calls for Unison to start putting concrete demands on Labour as people took inspiration from the election of an anti-austerity government in Greece.

Over 30 joined a fringe meeting discussion organised by Socialist Workers Party on Greece and fighting for a real alternative in Britain. 

The rise of the Spanish radical left party Podemos also offered hope to people.

Many argued that Labour didn’t represent that alternative. 

They supported standing candidates to the left of Labour, such as for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

If that alternative is to be built it has to come from the bottom up.

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Article information

Tue 17 Feb 2015, 15:56 GMT
Issue No. 2441
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