The Unison union local government conference, also had a significant discussion of pay for local government workers, which took place in the wake of chancellor Gordon Brown’s declaration of his intention to clamp down on pay in the public sector.
An emergency motion, which was supported by the union leadership and passed overwhelmingly, condemned the chancellor’s attempt to cap pay increases at 2 percent. This reflected the growing animosity between the unions and Brown, who has also threatened to break up national pay agreements.
Adam Smith, a delegate from Ealing branch in London, spoke in the debate. He pointed out that with inflation at 2.6 percent the proposed pay cap “would mean a pay cut in real terms”.
“We have to say we’re going to fight across the public sector,” he added, pointing to the response from ordinary members when they were asked to fight over pensions earlier this year.
There was a surprise defeat for the union leadership when another motion, which criticised union leaders for their strategy over pay, passed on a card vote. This motion argued that the union was wrong to say to members that the only alternative to accepting the 2004-7 pay deal was “extensive strike action”.
It called on the national leadership to be “less pessimistic and defeatist” when negotiating over pay and conditions.
Other important issues debated by the conference included the fate of workers transferred to the private sector as part of the government’s attempt to sell off council housing.
Delegates pointed out that such attempts harmed both tenants and council employees. A Defend Council Housing fringe meeting was packed with over 100 delegates.
The meeting was addressed by Kelvin Hopkins, joint chair of the Unison group of MPs, Jean Geldart, chair of Unison’s local government committee, and Alan Walter of Defend Council Housing.
The meeting called for direct investment in council housing – known as the “fourth option”. Hopkins told the meeting, “I hope Unison will tell the government we want the fourth option, and argue to go beyond that and build the hundreds of thousands of houses we need.”
The Unison national delegate conference, which draws together delegates from across the whole union, was getting under way as Socialist Worker went to press.