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

Monday, 17 June 2013

Conference Preview - Time to Twist and Shout

#undc13 Oh this year UNISON Conference is off to sunny.... Liverpool. Ferries cross the Mersey, the glories of eating scouse (possibly deep fried, the Liverpool/Everton rivalry, and as much Beatles memorabilia as you can possibly want. What more could the UNISON delegate require? Well, a memorable conference would help.

Eighteen months before a general election, UNISON needs to decide its political priorities and a strategy for achieving them. We know that our members are skint and demoralised. Under constant threat of job loss, suffering from not just diminishing pay packets but the loss of in-work benefits and demonised as public sector parasites, this conference needs to be about a real fight-back. How can we grab hold of the political agenda and turn it to our advantage? When there is a General election will the Opposition have policies that that we can sell to the union as a credible alternative to the coalition? As a union, can we start to provide hope of change?

Day 1
Tuesday starts with the debate on Trade Union Rights. In one sense, it is unlikely to prove controversial as there is a consensus in the union about trade union freedom. But rightly, the fight for our own rights is the springboard that would enable us to tackle so many of the other problems that we face as workers. Our demands as a union for the tools to let us effectively represent our members are fundamental.

The first significant debate of the afternoon is on privatisation and outsourcing. This affects every section of the union, from not just health and local government, but police, all sectors of education and the community and voluntary sector. The composite addresses not only the problems that produces in terms of the quality of services, and the waste of public money that ensues, but attempts to produce a union-wide strategy to address these issues. Dave Prentis will then address conference in his own inimitable style.

From there we move on to the twin issues of campaigning to save the NHS, an issue not just for the Health SGE but of vital importance to all of us as service users, and the integration of health and social care. The latter has rapidly moved up the political agenda for all political parties, as everyone thinks that it is a good idea, but usually without any substance behind it. What does it mean? How will it be funded? Who will be in charge? How will the services be accountable to the general public? This debate will try to draw out where UNISON stands on these issues.

Day 2
Wednesday is Austerity Day. Outside conference the TUC will be campaigning from its Austerity Bus and inside Frances O’Grady, the new TUC General Secretary will address conference on the TUC campaign plan. Following Frances, UNISON will debate Composite E, its own plan for Alternatives to Austerity. This presents a credible analysis of the current economic situation in which this country finds itself, based not on an agenda of cuts to jobs and services and the demonization of the public sector, but on an approach that seeks to boost the economy.

Just as importantly however, the composite includes a plan of how the union can achieve it. Listen to the debate and work out what role your branch can play, as the composite is not only about action from the centre. In contrast to the positive campaigning agenda advocated by the composite,

Amendment A1 represents a major break from mainstream Left alternative thinking, advocating that the union turns up the cul de sac of backing the policies of a very minor sect, but will not hopefully be adopted.

Later that afternoon there is further discussion about the union’s key strategies on organising and recruitment, that are crucial to local level organisation. Allied to this Conference will discuss the important areas of facility time and organising for health and safety.

Day 3
We begin by moving from navel gazing about our own internal agenda to looking outside the boundaries of the UK, in terms of debates about our international perspective. Conference will be addressed by Rosa Pavanelli. Recently elected as the General Secretary of Public Services International, Rosa is not only the first woman to hold that particular international trade union job, but is also the only woman worldwide elected at that level.

She also represents a break with tradition within PSI, where the leadership has traditionally come from the Nordic trade union within the tradition based on a more statist approach. Rosa has been a dynamic leader in the Italian trade union movement, taking on the Berlusconni government and more recently the EU approved Austerity agenda, with her union CIGL leading major industrial action. Definitely a contribution to be in the hall to listen to. Conference will then debate Palestinian policy and solidarity with Nicaragua.

Who loves the Rules debate? Well Thursday afternoon will delight you. Most of the changes up for decision this year are best described as minor tinkering with the rule book, as they have been for some years. Here’s a seditious thought. Do we need to go through this agony every year or could we discuss rule changes every other year, or even once every three years?

The current practice seems to encourage endless minor carping debate rather than discussion of matters of substance.

After matters constitutional however, Conference comes back down to earth to debate social security changes of deep concern to us as a union where members rely on in-work benefits to survive day to day. There is real anger about the coalition’s inability to understand that its cuts hit precisely households who are in work but for whom work at present doesn’t pay, anger that will be reflected in the conference hall.

Day 4
Friday of conference is pay day. Following the Scottish Local Government decision to ballot their members for action, UNISON is beginning to face up to the challenges of the imposed pay freeze. Composite A allows a full airing of the issues, as well as beginning to ask how bargaining itself needs to change for the future. There will also be a discussion of the issues around the Living wage, a good idea in theory but one which some branches have had imposed on them at the expense of other terms and conditions.

Thereafter we move to the free for all of reprioritisation.

Other Major Debates throughout the week
Outside those debates that have been timetabled Conference will have the opportunity to debate the major issue of Tackling Inequality. As well as debating Public Services (and the NHS as referred to above) the issues of Housing and State Education are on the agenda as subjects for debates in themselves.

Conference will also be able to put forward its views on tax and tax avoiders. Further down the agenda, motion 80 places the UK economic situation within the European context. Also bringing up the rear at the present time is the campaign against the EDL and recent events point to the importance of the union’s opposition.

By next weekend the battle plan should be decided and the UNISON troops primed for action. We hope!