145th annual jamboree. Starting on Sunday, Congress will set out its campaign programme for the period up to the next general election.
A road map of a different direction for British politics has been developed over the two congresses since the Tories were elected. At this Congress the trade union movement needs to find a unity of purpose and a commitment to an action programme to take its policies out of the conference hall and into the community; into parish churches and women’s groups, uniting bedroom tax campaigners with tax avoidance advocates. It’s a tall order but only the trade union movement has the potential to achieve such a coalition, if that is not a dirty word.
The Sunday Session
The recent innovation of a Sunday session continues this year, when the main item on the agenda will be employment and trade union rights, an old perennial but this year seeing a new emphasis on emerging problems like zero hours contracts.
It is a phenomenon well remarked on however that for some trade union leaders a sentence containing the words Bob Crow, RMT and General Strike encourages a Pavlovian reaction that he must be vigorously and vocally opposed. Reading the actual motion that his union submitted and basing a policy on that seems a step too far, when having a fit of the Daily Mail vapours can be substituted. In a motion titled ‘Fighting Austerity and the Attacks on Trade Union’, RMT ask the General Council to consider days of action on a week day. Don’t be fooled that there’s any more to the RMT demands than that. However in the commentary within the motion there is a reference ‘that consideration of the practicalities of a General Strike should remain.’ It must be stressed that it is part of the commentary not an action point. But that will not be at all important as it will be the sound and the fury of right wing trade union leaders that will be duly reported following the debate. It’s probably best to get the domestic dispute over with early though.
Interestingly, the need for changes in the law to allow unions to use the possibilities of electronic balloting is on the agenda. The law on this point is way behind the times and it needs to be updated. The session finishes with debates on Women at Work and pregnancy discrimination.
Monday starts with a debate on Housing, where UNISON’s amendment means that the position of those forced to live within the private rented sector are highlighted. Public sector housing policy has featured on the agenda for many years, but private sector problem need a spotlight placed on them.
The main debate then will be Pay with the need for continued opposition to the public sector pay freeze pursued by UNISON with PCS, UCU, the teaching unions and various others in the composite, which includes opposition to Tory policies on pay progression. Staying with the economy Congress will debate Banking and Energy policy.
Monday afternoon will be the show piece debate on the Anti Austerity agenda, and perhaps more importantly than just the composite, there will be a statement from the General Council on its campaign programme. It will be interesting to see whether unions use the debate to pursue their particular criticisms of Coalition policy and the extent to which the engage with the action programme that seeks to do something about them. Let’s see. Criticise the Tories in the conference hall or prepare to take action? Place your bets.
Following that UNISON has secured a debate on the state of local government, whose near bankruptcy and collapse in services has sadly been neglected over the past few years, before moving on to education from schools through to the Higher and Further Education sectors and the Arts. The afternoon finishes with the Health and Safety debates.
The economy debates continue around remaining public sector issues such as Cuts to Fire and Rescue Services, Civil Service politicisation and Privatisation of the Royal Mail, debates that will probably be predicable. Privatisation of Criminal Justice is also on the agenda with the UNISON contribution focussed on cuts affecting out police staff members.
But the real highlight of the day will be an address by the Rt Hon Ed Miliband, as he is called in the Congress programme. Neither Blair nor Brown ever caught the imaginations of Congress delegates as Prime Ministers. However if the Rt Hon Ed is ever to move into Downing St he will have to do better than his predecessors and realise that he can cancel the moving van unless he takes the unions with him. Wait and see, wait and see.
Welfare policy will dominate debates on the Tuesday afternoon. The rapid roll call of disastrous changes from the Bedroom Tax to Universal Credit, from ATOS to child credit changes provides a lot to debate and discuss.
The debate on the NHS starts the final morning.
The final session, as is tradition, will debate international issues. The big ticket issues like Palestine are missing but international LGBT rights are there as well as the position of Bangladeshi garments workers and the Greek economy, so the debate should be eclectic, to say the least. The biggest debate however will be around the General Council statement on Syria, which seeks a non military response to the civil war events there.
UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.