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

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Community members get ammunition to fight austerity

James Medway of the New Economics Foundation gave UNISON’s Community delegates the ammunition to argue that there is a better way than austerity at their Conference in Manchester last week.
   He demolished the Tory led Government case for austerity and gave delegates the ammunition for arguing that there is a different way of running our economy.

The last thing you should in a recession when there is no demand is cut government spending. What should be done instead is reverse austerity; redistribution of income; import less and democratise finance (break up banks).

The seminar and conference, for UNISON Community members who work in the Voluntary and Housing Association Sector, debated 21 motions and among them was a ground-breaking call for a ‘Living Wage Plus’.

This was about “ a holistic approach... so it's about holidays, sickness pay: there's a whole group of people who don't get statutory sick pay because they don't earn enough, national insurance and benefits”, Andrew Wood told delegates. http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=8434

Opening the conference, Karen Jennings, UNISON Assistant General Secretary, described herself as an unusual trade unionist since she is softly spoken. Her message however was pretty forthright and direct. The next few years are going to be tough and we are going to have to fight to protect members but if we cannot improve our union density then we will have no voice and no strength.

In a major debate on pensions, Service Group Executive member John Gray told delegates “The only hope for you and your members have of having a dignified retirement is a well funded and secure employer retirement plan” as he called for a campaign to save pension schemes from closure and to examine what role the Labour movement can play in pensions provision. In many other countries trade unions provide pensions.

National Executive member Isobel (Izzy) McVicar (pictured centre) backed a Quarriers motion calling on delegates to campaign and organise to bring an end to violence at work. “The squeeze on the poorest and most vulnerable in society from Austerity cuts, and pressure to cut costs in public services, are both major factors behind the rise in violence”, said the motion.

West Midlands Community branch gave a presentation on the highs and lows of setting up a regional wide branch. That is a single branch for all UNISON members in the region who work in the sector (Voluntary organisations and housing associations).

Hats off to regional activists and staff who have obviously worked their socks off to get the branch up and running and to the National union for being prepared to seed fund it. It is still early days but it is a leading model of branch organisation and every other branch with community members can learn from it.

The second day of Conference saw workshops and taster training sessions arranged on: Introductions for new delegates; TUPE transfers; campaigning; public speaking; how to recruit a member; violence at work and negotiating; and leadership.

Guest speaker Joe Irvin, Chief Executive of NAVCA (National Association for Voluntary and Community Action), called for NAVCA and UNISON to work together to “join forces to address the Social Value Act and be a strong voice for children living in poverty, shelter for the homeless and practical help with pension regulation and accrediting to the Living Wage.”

Bedroom Tax protest

Conference adjourned on the Saturday to allow delegates to join in with the Manchester protest against the Con Dem Bedroom Tax. SGE chair Kevin Jackson said delegates were 'proud to be showing solidarity with thousands of people up and down the country opposed to the bedroom tax. Vulnerable people we work with on a daily basis, including many disabled people, will be made to suffer and forced to the margins of society.' http://unisonactive.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/britain-revolts-against-bedroom-tax.html

Reviewing the Conference, SGE member John Gray said: “Out of the 20 odd motions there was really only one motion regarding the big Community specific branches meeting up to discuss their issues at the expense of all other branches that caused any sort of a stir.

”It does make you think what is the point of having a motion based conference that consists of moving, seconding and debating, motion after motion that nobody opposes? I think we need to think again about what we do at conference since I suspect most delegates did not think this was a good use of time and resources. Especially since we completed all of conference business on the Saturday afternoon when we had Sunday morning timetabled for it as well!"

But he was upbeat about the future: “This is the third UNISON Community seminar and conference and while it is not all perfect, I really think we are going from strength to strength. We do have a long journey ahead but I am confident we will achieve it.”