Friday, 19 June 2009

Practical strategies to defend and invest in public services to bring us out of recession

UNISON Conference 2008: It was a Conference that took itself seriously. Most of the time.

Detailed and practical strategies to defend public services and invest in them to lift us out of the recession took centre stage.

An inspiring call to take the movement forward from American trade unionist Tom Woodruff enthused Conference as we went on to launch a programme for action around ‘a million voices for change’.

General Secretary Dave Prentis pulled a rabbit out of the hat with his call for the Labour Link to suspend constituency development payments to the Labour Party. An inevitable response to Labour's latest plans to extend privatisation to a new level in the National Health Service.

The nuts and bolts of Pensions, mileage rates and the effects of privatisation and equalities were also well to the fore.

Debate after debate confirmed Conference’s adamant view that there is no place for racism and fascism in our union and that means no place for the BNP. The challenge is to try to rebuild the credibility of the Labour party in particular so that voters do not stay away, do not ‘protest’ and do not vote BNP again.

The Domestic Violence/Abuse debate reiterated zero tolerance but also started discussion about what we do about perpetrators who are also our members.

A major debate on climate change saw delegates backing a plan to work with employers to achieve a low carbon economy.

And on the international front, Conference backed a boycott of Israeli goods from the illegally occupied territories as well as reviewing links with Histadrut.

We remembered the imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi on her 64th birthday.

Celebrating 50 years of the Cuban revolution brought a passionate and at times moving debate after delegates heard from Cuban trade unionists and the enormous achievements made by the Cuban people in medical care and education.

It is time for Obama to deliver on lifting the blockade. All positive and constructive debates from delegates who knew their subjects well.

Until we came to laying out the structures we need to take our union forward. Whether it was a lack of understanding, genuine concern or more likely a lack of engagement across the union in the consultation, we got ourselves into a fankle.

After passing the motion to set up new structures that would give a greater voice to bargaining groups, Conference went on to throw out the rule changes to give the groups more autonomy with democratic accountability.

More work is clearly needed over the next year.

It has been a lively Conference, a serious Conference at times, a fair bit of humour and perhaps a hint of a broader sense of comradeship dare we hope?

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