Organising to break the pay freeze, organising to protect our NHS and our public services and organising to turn back the vicious impact of ConDem policies on our members, on the poorest in society, on the disabled, elderly and our children. A daunting list of tasks but one UNISON’s National Conference was up for.
This year's conference was all about equality and social justice. It was
about communicating, organising, campaigning to get our message to our members,
prospective members and to the public at large. There is an alternative!
We will build now for massive demonstrations in London and Scotland on 20
October to campaign for a “Future that Works” instead of the failed coalition
“We will smash the public sector pay freeze”, said Dave
Prentis, General Secretary in his keynote speech. He slammed three years
without a pay rise, most public service workers having to tighten their belts
with escalating food and fuel bills, but one in four now struggling to survive.
"This year pay will be our battleground”, said Dave.
Later Scotland's Stephanie Herd told delegates: “We
know we are going into a fight. But rather than say, “We are all in this
together”, I say, “We’ll win this together!”
It wasn’t the most contentious conference which is just as well because we
will need maximum unity to resist the multiple attacks on public services, the
people who deliver them and the people who rely on them.
The speech of the week came from Northern Region’s Clare Williams as she
demolished the government policies that are cutting wages and throwing people on
the dole. "I'm no economist, but even I can see that if people haven't got much
money, they can't spend it in the local economy. So how is that going to
Scotland NEC member Jane Carolan outlined UNISON’s
alternative to these failed policies. “A strategy that will create demand in the
economy, will create employment through investment in skills and infrastructure,
and that sees investment in public services as a boost to the economy. We have
already agreed it wasn't the nurses, janitors, social workers or any other
public sector worker who broke the bank".
And Scottish Convener Lilian Macer promised: “We
will continue to expose the coalition for what they are - ideologues pursing an
agenda to benefit themselves and their super wealthy funders.”
Depute Convener Stephen Smellie's call on members
to 'raise our sights' in opposing cuts to public services, which vice-president
Chris Tansley described as "devastating" and a return to "Victorian values".
Victorian 'values' like child poverty, on the rise and hitting families in
work as well as the unemployed. Aberdeenshire’s Kate
Ramsden told Conference: “Child poverty could be ended tomorrow if the
political will was there to do it”.
Every speech highlighted the growing inequality in this country. From the
increases in boardroom pay of 41% whilst low paid public service workers suffer
a pay freeze - a real terms pay cut of almost 14%; to the millions paid out in
bonuses whilst more and more of our children live in poverty, delegates railed
at the social injustices perpetrated by this government on our poorest and our
most vulnerable, whilst giving tax cuts to their wealthy chums.
They railed at the thrust towards more and more privatisation, when keeping
money in public services instead of paying it as profits to private companies
would save over £100 billion a year.
They railed at the impact of welfare reforms on the poor, the disabled and
the elderly and the demonisation of these people by this uncaring government.
And they called for fair pensions for all, including a state pension not
lower than the official poverty line figure - currently £178.
A two hour debate about the England and Wales pensions proposals at Local
Government Conference ended in a plan to consult and inform widely before a
ballot. The debate challenged the confusion many have between the two thrusts
needed in the pensions campaign. The bargaining strategy in individual pension
schemes to ensure fairness and sustainability, alongside the broad political
campaign for fair state pensions for all and against the rise in retirement age.
Health and safety
Making health and safety the first debate was a key sign of the union’s
concern about laws that protect workers’ basic right to come home safe from work
being watered down to satisfy the greed of big business.
On the health aspects, Bill Dunn from Highland
Healthcare called on branches to negotiate disability leave policies and to
challenge bad practice with the Equality Act 2010.
Conference backed measures to support devolved
bargaining with additional
resources. On the constitutional front,
Stephen Smellie told delegates: "It is not about where the political power is
held -Edinburgh or London – but what the politicians will do with that power,
and how it will make a difference to our security of employment or our
Falkirk's Gray Allen reminded delegates, “Putting football and rugby aside,
between public service workers across the UK there can be no barriers, no
boundaries and no divides."
As befits a campaigning union, UNISON also agreed to reach out and campaign
on issues like elder abuse, youth unemployment and equal chances for young black
The mover of the Elder Abuse motion was ‘proud to be in a union that cares’
and rightly so. Strathclyde Police and Fire’s Brian Molloy
added: “All the citizens of the UK have a duty to protect the most
vulnerable people living in our society.”
Emotional and moving contributions came from Neville
Lawrence, ever dignified after 18 years of seeking justice for his son
Stephen. He called police privatisation plans a ‘disaster’.
Tears also met the words of Carmen Mayusa from Colombia where on average one trade
unionist is killed every three days. Standing ovations greeted four wives of the Miami 5, imprisoned in the US for trying
to stop terrorism against ordinary Cubans.
Something to celebrate
Bad as things are, Conference had things to celebrate. The victories against
privatisation in Edinburgh and Aberdeen took centre
stage. “We won in Edinburgh. We won in Aberdeen. We’ve turned the tide in
Southampton. We’re fighting on in Barnet and councils across the country. We’ve
got a taste of victory and it tastes good. Let’s go out and do it again!”
Edinburgh’s John Stevenson urged delegates.
The next step is to take that message back to our members and our communities
to show them there is an alternative to austerity - an alternative based on
compassion, equality and social justice.
And to rally our members to "March for the Future" on 20th October 2012 at
the TUC March in London or the STUC March in Scotland.