Friday, 18 June 2010

Go back to your branches and organise for the fightback

UNISON Conference 2010: You get Conferences that inspire. Conferences that divide with destructive quasi-political infighting. And you get 2010.

A quiet and serious resolve characterised the contributions and responses as almost 3,000 delegates set out a range of strategies to prepare for the biggest attacks we have ever seen on our services, our pensions, our pay, our health and safety and our hard won rights and equalities.

It was time to get down to work and organising is the key.

And while we worked away at detailed policies to build the fightback, we were inspired by legendary anti-apartheid campaigner Denis Goldberg as we made him an honorary member.

We were lifted by international solidarity from Canadian Union of Public Employees president, Paul Moist. Warning about Clegg and Cameron's 'infatuation' with the 'Canadian Model', he said, "Canada is no model, if the price you pay is a terrible imbalance in society."

And we were cheered up by a Robin Hood Tax knockabout with Billy Bragg.

Scotland played a central role again. From the serious and sometimes barnstorming contributions from Glasgow Housing's Jane Carolan, national policy chair, to Mike Kirby's key role in organising across Regions and bringing us a bit of fun in presenting bagpipes to Dave Prentis.

And talking of Dave Prentis. Probably the most considered, most comprehensive, most rallying and most inspiring speech our general secretary had made to Conference. A serious leadership performance for serious times ahead.

Scotland contributers were too many to mention them all. But they took part - and often led - in the most significant debates.

Jane Carolan moved the keynote debate on the economy, slamming the 'myths and lies' that cuts were inevitable. On the final day she made a rallying call to branches to go back home to educate, agitate and organise - to recruit and campaigns for jobs, pay and pensions.

“Go back and tell your members who their enemies are - and ask them what they are going to do about it”. “This union united will never be defeated”, she said.

From the Annual report when Glasgow's Angela Lynes - and UNISON vice-president - said, "When the going gets tough, UNISON gets going", to Mike Kirby's call for the political fund to offer a broader engagement, expanding eligibility for participation", that would strengthen ability and influence, we set out the broad picture while getting down to the nuts and bolts of the organisation needed to mount the fightback.

"Our services are not for sale", was Edinburgh's message to Conference as Kevin Duguid spoke in the privatisation debate.

The crisis in social care was reflected in it being the first debate of the week. Edinburgh's John Stevenson warned of 'social care on the cheap' showing no respect for people who need those services.

Mike Kirby led the devolution debate, taking the union's devolution protocol forward to the next stage.

Young and not so young united in Lothian Health's Graham Smith and Retired Member Lily McNaughton combining to campaign for high quality apprenticeships.

Combining to set a landmark policy on workplace agreements to support victims of domestic violence and to get perpetrators to address their behaviour, Edinburgh's Elaine Wishart, Aberdeenshire's Kate Ramsden and Falkirk's Gray Allan led a considered and at times emotional debate.

Are we an organising union?" asked Quarrier's Stephen Brown - and the answer was ‘yes we are’ - as he called for us to make sure we can organise in co-operatives and protect members.

Aberdeenshire's Susan Kennedy spoke on disabilities, Dundee's Rory Malone spoke on pensions and Glasgow's Alison Kelly warned that we will have to take action to get decent pay settlements. "We know our members are worried about their jobs, but we must stand together and if need be, take industrial action", she said.

http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/conf2010/story10.htm

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