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

Monday, 20 June 2011

Conference: Our Chance to Show that Our Opposition is Serious

#uNDC11 Well you have packed the mac and the wellies, reset the Sat Nav for the North rather than the South, (or less far south for some of us) and packed the supplies of paracetamol and gaviscon. It can only mean one thing. UNISON is meeting in Manchester.

Last Year’s NDC laid down the basis for UNISON’s opposition to the ConDem government, endorsing an alternative economic strategy that showed that the cuts were not viable, unnecessary and toxic for the economy. From that basis we laid out our opposition to plans for the Health Service, for Local Government, for Welfare Benefits, for further privatisation of our services. We planned to educate, agitate and organise under the banner of the Million Voices campaign.

Our success was seen on March 26, where the UNISON presence on the March for the Alternative was nothing short of magnificent.

Last year we acknowledged that this was a marathon, not a sprint given that the coalition was gerrymandering the electoral system. At national level we have led the detailed opposition to the reform of the health service and negotiations on the future of the pension schemes.

At regional level the efforts that have gone into forming coalitions with the community and other trade unions have resulted in projects like the Northern Region Public Services Alliance, recognised as the foremost challenge to the coalition in the North East.

And our branches have continued the struggle, defending jobs and services, and increasingly moving toward industrial action like that in Southampton.

Conference this year must consolidate that struggle and the agenda reflects that. On Tuesday Dave Prentis will address Conference on his reflections on the year and how we continue the fight for the future, followed by probably the key debate of the week, Cuts are not the Cure.

This composite restates UNISON’s priorities for economic policy and rejects the Tory notion that any deficit has to be cut within five years. UNISON’s vision emphasises employment and growth as opposed to cuts and more cuts. More important than mere analysis however, the composite commits the NEC to a solid programme of work over the next year.

Wednesday starts with another Comp, this time on pensions. In this case led by the Democratic People’s Republic- or Scottish Region in UNISON-speak. The comp makes clear our very valid criticisms of the proposed changes to our pensions' schemes and should be compulsory reading for Danny Alexander and Co.

Our key issues remain affordability, viability, and entitlements to benefits, as well as the maintenance of the Fair Deal on Pensions that could see those who have been removed from public sector employment, through privatisation, pushed out of public sectors schemes - and the provisions that demand comparable pension rights ditched, to set up public services for further privatisation.

The Composite sets out a wide ranging work programme and acknowledges that our defence of our schemes will ultimately be based on the use of industrial action across all the services and sectors In UNISON with an interest in the schemes, but also across other public sector unions.

This will be followed by a debate on the Coalition Attacks on Public Services. The Composite points out the ideological nature of the attacks being made on the pubic sector and sets out the core of our defence programme, emphasising that we need to organise, campaign and take forward a political agenda both with our own members but also in the communities where we live and work. Wednesday afternoon will be dominated by International debate, with a speech by Shay Cody from Impact in Ireland.

Thursday starts with a debate on “Our NHS, Our Future”, setting out our principles for a universal comprehensive and free service, and outlining not just our opposition to Government Plans, but a campaign programme to take that work forward. A key component of UNISON’s work in this area has been the building of a coalition of those opposed to the Government proposals, involving not just the other unions whether TUC affiliated or not, but of patients groups and community organisations.

Having built a coalition that is working together on a core alternative agenda to the Government’s plans, the NEC believe that we must work within the coalition on initiatives like national demonstrations. Thereafter Conference will debate motions on organising before moving on to the rules debate.

Friday morning addresses the concerns of some of the key groups within our membership on the effects of the Tory cuts on them - Police members, members in the Connexions Service and in the community and voluntary sector.

Along the way to Friday some key issues are listed on the prioritised order of business. The Abolition of the Two Tier Code may sound esoteric but addresses the loss of the few protections that remain in the way of service privatisation, while the Future of Local Government Services acknowledges that the threats to those services are not simply a matter for local government members but for us all as members of the community.
Also on the priority list is Public Sector Housing, that analyses the fundamental flaws in the Tory housing strategy.

Motion 81 warns of the potential threats to further restrict our rights to industrial action, and given the general direction in which the union is going, this area is crucial.

Composite A sets out the strategic importance of organising in Health and Safety as a defence mechanism against the cuts, while various motions on the agenda will address our in-house matters of Branch financing.
Further down the list unfortunately are motions on Opposing the Far Right, on Public Sector Pay, on Libraries and on Education. Given the importance of these topics and the work, on which the union is engaged in relation to them, it would be a pity if they were not debated – Something to think about when it comes to reprioritisation for Friday afternoon perhaps.

After that it all over bar the shouting, and the tributes to the president and we all go home till next year, singing a chorus of  “We do like to be beside the seaside ……..”