Friday, 24 June 2011

Conference Review: Everybody agrees it was consensus

UNISON National Conference 2011: Organisation, dispelling myths, winning hearts and minds to defend over 60 years of a civilised society that our people fought for and won.


That’s what this week was and rightly should have been about. Consensus on the need to defend the founding principles of our NHS. As Bevan said, it will be there so long as we have the faith to defend it.

Consensus on the need to defend care of the most vulnerable; the welfare state; education for all, not just the few; a voluntary and community sector that enhances rather than competes, underpinned by properly resourced public services.

Consensus against attacks on our civil liberties. Against the big business financed politicians who want to destroy our trade union rights so they can control, exploit and steal the dignity of our members and those they serve.

Consensus on pensions. The ultimate mark of a caring society being attacked not because we can’t afford them. Not because we don’t pay enough into them. But because the profiteers don’t want to pay their share now or in the future or for the workers they want to exploit in privatisation.

Most of all, consensus on the need to get back to basics. To organise, to recruit. To enable and trust members to stand up for themselves with all the support they need. The examples were there.

Campaigns that built 98% membership through involving, educating and organising. Not patronising with “I’ll fix it for you”, instead “We’ll fix this together”.

Consensus too on the need to keep articulating that there is an alternative political and economic strategy to the ConDem ideology.

Exploding myths. Like the North West newsheet pointing out that national debt repayments were much higher under Thatcher than they are now.

The delegate who reminded us that the debt was much higher after the war, yet we could still build the NHS. The exposure of the great ideological con about the economy.

It is not sequential. We don’t explode the myths one day then move onto action the next. We need to make the arguments again and again.

Dave Prentis and our Conference reached out and did that this week. Record recruitment online followed as the news media had to at least nod towards the fact that there is an alternative.

We need to keep up that work because only when our members and their families are convinced, will action follow. Lots of consensus then.

But it is just a conference after all. It is not yet a movement. A movement enthuses beyond its boundaries. We have made steps. Look at the Northern Region alliances and the work with communities in parts of Scotland. That’s where organisation is the key.

If these motions go no further than the conference hall and the pubs of Manchester, then this Conference has been a failure. If they go out into our workplaces and communities, it will have been a real success.

But consensus can be skin deep. The rule change debates exposed suspicion, mistrust, and not a little political sectarianism.

Whatever happens, we must find ways to exclude the BNP and other fascists from our union. We must sort out branch finances and we have to get our disciplinary procedures right at some point.

That will require the consensus we’ve had on everything else. Are we up to it?

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