UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

North West TUC debates wide range of industrial & political issues

The Annual Conference of the North West TUC was held in Manchester yesterday and debated a wide range of industrial and political issues. Nick Lowles from Hope Not Hate spoke about a recent large study which showed that “economic pessimism is a real driver for fear and hate”.

Although many see the BNP imploding on itself, we have to guard against complacency.

“Nick Griffin was elected in a relatively benign economic climate in the North West so we must continue to be on our guard” he said “ as we work to oppose cuts and defend communities” .

“We have to reach the economically insecure and pessimistic and make sure they don’t believe that the far right have the answer” he said to applause.

Diane Kelly UNISON Regional Convenor (pictured) in supporting the motion on pensions spoke of the anger that members feel with the proposed increases in contributions, changes from RPI to CPI and the hypocrisy of those in the media who lie about our ‘gold plated pensions’. Declaring “this is a fight we must win” the motion was unanimously carried.

Regrettably, a divisive and diversionary debate was provoked by an emergency motion from Unite which brought rhetoric and grandstanding to a whole new level. It is questionable why a motion that was handed in one minute before the start (and cannot be amended) and which commits the NWTUC to “believe joint approaches by Unite Branches, the local Trades Councils and Communities can play a significant part in defending our vital services” was competent, ignoring as it does all other trade unions in the Region and the local authority workplace.

But that fact aside, this was a pretext for an anti Labour rant and saw the only major divisions during the conference. By condemning the actions of Labour Councillors in Manchester and Liverpool, speakers from Unite and its trades council allies demanded that they should allow Government auditors in to run these cities and to administer the cuts. This they argued would see massive support from the public and trade union members alike.

Highlighting the reality on the ground in Manchester UNISON Branch Secretary Pat McDonagh spoke of the need to build genuine united opposition to the cuts, with all unions and the communities, channelling anger at the Tory Government and their Liberal backers for slashing the North West council grants.

Frank Hont UNISON Regional Secretary spoke of the need to negotiate in all 41 Councils in the North West against this onslaught of cuts and our members expect nothing less. With passionate speeches from the GMB amongst others, opposing the motion it was however carried by 45 to 24 votes with 8 abstentions.

The condemnation of the Labour Party and Unite’s backing for ultra left calls for support for alternatives to the Labour Party will haunt the NWTUC leadership when building unity amongst its members should be its number one priority. In stark contradiction to these futile gesture politics, all other 8 motions pledged the TUC to do just that and were supported unanimously.

TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O’Grady spoke in detail about the extent of the Tories savage attacks on working people and committed the TUC to continue to fight, by building on the success of March 26th and to continue the campaign into the future.

Glen Williams from UNISON in moving a comprehensive motion on Local Government cuts stressed the need for quality information and facts to expose the myths around funding and the economic con trick promoted by this Tory government.

Protests, lobbying, marching and strong leadership are inseparable from the need to win the battle of hearts and minds of our members and educate them to the real alternatives that do exist. Opposing the word ‘minimising’ in the context of the impact of the government cuts Liz Epps from Merseyside Trades Council was overwhelmingly defeated.

Other important motions on Keeping the Post Office Public, Break up of Local Authority services, Social Housing, Transport, Pupil Risk Assessments, Academies and Free Schools and International Solidarity were all agreed unanimously.

Frank Hont spoke of the real threats posed by this Government to the NHS and called on the NWTUC to organise a campaign to safeguard against the government plans to transfer community services into social enterprise type organisations. “We are NHS workers but we as members of the community are all service users – only by uniting across communities can we defend quality community services for all”, said Frank.

The last debate was on a composite motion on Student and Youth protests against Education cuts and unemployment from three trade councils. Whilst much was supportable UNISON agreed to oppose the motion because of the far fetched reference to “the problem is…..the systematic and continuous violence of the police against the youth of Britain”. Whilst in no sense supporting any attacks or violence by the police such statements do nothing to build the type of unity and community support the rest of this conference was so emphatically keen to build.

Whilst many of the issues discussed at the conference would resonate in workplaces, the lack of political cohesion, discipline and unity of purpose at the event demonstrates why the North West TUC has so far failed to provide the co-ordinated leadership to anti cuts campaigning achieved by its counterparts elsewhere.