“The Trade Union Bill is a sign that the Tories fear us,” Helen Davies from Barnet Unison argued at the union’s local government conference this week.
She said the coming onslaught on the unions and the public sector means we “cannot carry on as if it is business as usual”.
The impact of austerity on workers, services, young people and the poor dominated discussions at the conference. Delegates agreed that austerity must end.
The debate came over what the union’s strategy should be – and whether workers can wait for Labour.
The Tories have promised new curbs on strikes in “essential services”. As local government service group executive member John McLoughlin pointed out, “We are only essential when they want to stop our right to strike.”
Delegate after delegate talked about the damaging impact of cuts. Shazzia from Sandwell spoke of the “salami slicing” of libraries and other services. This has cut jobs, hours and resources – and driven up stress and workloads.
Sarah from Nottingham described meeting an older man on a protest over the closure of a day centre. He explained that he used it two days a week because he couldn’t afford to heat his home on those days.
Many delegates pointed out that Labour-run councils are imposing attacks. Esther Ray from Hounslow in London said, “We have heard a lot about outsourcing from Tory councils in Barnet and Bromley. But it’s not just the Tories.” She felt her council was “proposing worse” things.
Jim Board from Doncaster said, “Labour has wholeheartedly bought into the austerity agenda. We should demand if you are in opposition then you have a moral duty to reject austerity.”
Left wing fringe meetings were big.
The evening before conference began around 100 delegates met to debate how to get the union to lead a real fight over pay. They discussed how to make sure the union properly implements decisions made at a special conference in March.
These debates shaped the conference floor.
The anger and disillusionment at Labour’s general election result saw a big meeting of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. Up to 70 delegates debated how the left can unite to offer an alternative to austerity.
A Socialist Workers Party meeting on “Why did Labour lose the election?” drew almost 100 delegates.