Socialist Worker

Signs of clashes to come at Unison conference

by Anindya Bhattacharyya
Issue No. 1957

Local government workers in the Unison union met in Glasgow earlier this week for their annual conference.

Top of the agenda was a discussion on New Labour’s plans to attack pension schemes across the public sector.

Delegates passed a motion pledging to “vigorously defend our pensions, using industrial action if necessary”.

The motion pledged to defend final salary pension schemes and insisted that its opposition to increasing the retirement age to 65 was “not negotiable”.

One key debate involved the “single status” deal for local government workers.

This scheme, agreed eight years ago, is meant to unify the pay scales of manual and clerical workers.

However, many councils have been dragging their heels on implementing single status, while others have used the deal as an excuse to cut the pay and conditions of some workers.

The motion passed at conference called on Unison to campaign for proper funding of the single status deal and to ensure councils “level up” pay, rather than improve some workers’ conditions at the expense of others.

It also pledged to support industrial action where it was necessary.

Overall the atmosphere of the local government conference was subdued compared to last year.

The executive shifted to the left, in terms of rhetoric, neutralising many potential points of conflict.

There was little attempt by the executive to pretend there was much to cheer about in Labour’s “historic third term”. Delegates who attacked Labour and called for the union to fight were cheered and clapped by the conference.

One indicator of unresolved tensions came in a messy debate over a three-year pay deal for local government workers agreed last year.

Many delegates were angry that union leaders had not recommended rejecting the deal, despite publicly describing it as “lousy”.

There was controversy over the “workforce remodelling agreement” for schools support staff.

Last year the conference voted to suspend involvement in the scheme.

This year the conference voted to return to the scheme, but to support action by branches who resist attempts to worsen terms and conditions.

The union’s general conference was continuing this week.

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Article information

Sat 25 Jun 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1957
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