For a brief moment there was a whiff of the 1980s about the conference last week. There was a real sense of left against right as a motion against NHS privatisation passed with a big majority against furious opposition from the party’s leaders.
The motion, from the Unison union, condemned the “market madness” of the NHS reforms and called for the government to back down on selling NHS Logistics to a private firm.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said, “Leave the privatisation and failing markets to the Tories. This is their agenda, not ours.”
But he was abruptly cut short before finishing his speech. Because of frequent interruptions by applause, he had exceeded the time limit, but was given no reminder from the chair.
Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary of the T&G union and treasurer of the Labour Party, strode to the rostrum to describe the chair’s move as “discourteous” and “outrageous”. Meanwhile delegates heckled in support of Prentis, and health workers waved placards saying “Save Our NHS”.
The motion called on the government to “rethink the headlong rush to a competitive system”.
David Williams, a delegate from Birmingham Selly Oak, said, “I didn’t join this party to see this privatisation programme. I joined this party to defend the health service. What we are seeing here is a process of losing support and losing votes among the very people that we look to for support in election after election.”
Other defeats for the party’s leadership included:
- A motion on pensions opposed government plans to increase the retirement age to 68 and called for the pension link with earnings to be restored earlier than the 2012 official target.
- A motion on rights at work resolved to extend protection to agency workers, was also passed.
- A motion demanded that company directors be made liable for the deaths of employees.
- A motion demanded support for direct investment in council housing and no discrimination against tenants who vote to stop privatisation.