Over the past few years debates in our union meetings have moved so far, so fast, that at times I’ve found myself having to catch up with the mood. It’s the war of course, but not just that. The experience of New Labour in power has dismayed and angered colleagues on a whole range of issues – everything from pensions to library closures to tuition fees. Often the angriest and most bitter cries of betrayal come from Labour Party members themselves.
In the last year our branch voted for opening up Unison’s political funds, sent delegates to the Convention of the Trade Union Left, and is about to consider a motion to invite a speaker from Respect. All of these have been in defiance of tellings-off from the union bureaucracy (in fact, nothing’s more likely to provoke a unanimous vote).
And this has gone hand in hand with a more active, confident campaigning stance on workplace issues. We recently saw off an attempt to outsource (privatise) frontline staff, though management naturally claim their change of heart had nothing to do with our threat of strike action. In the pay ballot, rather than stick with the ‘neutral’ national line, we put out strong advice to reject and won a majority among our members. And we’re seeing the results in a rise in recruitment too.
It’s all a far cry from the pre-1997 days of keeping quiet and hoping for a Labour victory. I don’t think there’s any turning back now. The tide will continue to rise – let’s hope we can help it sweep away the whole corrupt system.
Convenor, York City Unison (personal capacity)
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