Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/676/12257
Unison conferences discuss action on pensions
In the days running up to Unison's local government conference, on 19-20 June, general secretary Dave Prentis made announcements to the press about strike action to stop pension attacks. This reflects the pressure that Unison members are putting on the leadership for action. Many delegates will be asking the obvious question: "Why aren't we out on 30 June with other unions?"
A resolution committing the local government group to "make preparations for potential lawful industrial action, within Unison's rules, and coordinate with other trade unions" was unanimously passed. But the question of timing and tactics for this action was not fully discussed as the debate was cut short. This is a vital discussion for the union which will hopefully be continued at the full conference.
Unison members in local government are facing cuts from councils of every political hue. The responsibility of parties who are in opposition in central government but who lead councils and dissolved governments was discussed.
Brian Smith of the Glasgow branch was applauded when he explained that: "it's not good enough to say 'a big boy did it and ran away'". He outlined the responsibility that local councils, and members of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly have if they want to be part of the anti-cuts movement. "The job of politicians, if they want to be on our side and on our platforms, is to refuse to implement cuts."
Although this position was greeted enthusiastically by conference delegates, a statement from the leadership explained that the reference to a 'needs budget' in the Glasgow resolution had been removed "following legal advice".
Instead Unison is pushing the idea of "parallel budgets". That is drawing up the outline of a needs-based budget as a propaganda tool but not campaigning for additional funding to make this budget a reality or calling on Labour councillors, funded by Unison, to implement these budgets.
The toothlessness of this approach was highlighted by Steve North of the Salford branch who stated: "If the parallel budgets were led through to their logical conclusion and money was campaigned for to pay for the services needed, there would be a point to them. And if one authority had the guts to stand up it would resonate around the country."
A marked number of other delegates expressed their anger at Labour local authorities carrying out cuts. But for people on the hard end of these attacks, just pointing the finger at the Tories won't wash.
In the discussion on youth services Monique Hirst from Kirklees spoke passionately about the fight to ensure young people are given support and opportunities in jobs and education. She praised the PCS, RMT, UCU and other unions in their support of the Youth Fight for Jobs campaign and warned Unison's leadership that they: "should not just sit on the sidelines" but get fully involved in campaigns like this.
National executive member Jean Thorpe gave the example of the Jarrow march that Youth Fight for Jobs is organising as something that Unison members can actively get involved with.
Support for the ideas and tactics that the Socialist Party put forward was shown in the copies of the Socialist that have been sold so far (over 80) and the interest in the Socialist Party's conference bulletin.
Prentis: "My call to arms"
Dave Prentis issued a call for action at the main Unison conference on 21 June. He said: "Today is my call to arms. When you get back to your branches prepare for action. You have a massive job to do: deciding in regions what action to take, millions of leaflets to distribute, winning the argument with the public and recruiting new members to our cause...
"Strike action will need to be sustained. And the political and public campaigns intensified...
"Our members deserve better than the shabby treatment they have suffered at the hands of this wretched government. That's why we're fighting to build a united, coordinated, sustained campaign of public education, community organisation, targeted industrial action and mass mobilisation."
Recognising the anger felt by Unison members being sacked by Labour councillors, he added: "It's about breaking a political consensus that says markets know best - in truth Labour built the bridge over which the Tories now march. In future [we should] only support Labour candidates who support our values, our union, our people."
The call for action will be welcomed by Unison members who are demanding a strategy to defend their jobs and the services they deliver. But they will be asking how this action will be organised. They will be searching for a clear call for united action, across all sectors of local government.
However, when asked in the press conference what he meant by regional action, Prentis repeated that he didn't want to bring everyone out on the same day because lower-paid workers couldn't afford it.
The Socialist Party is campaigning for coordinated action across the entire public sector.
In The Socialist 22 June 2011:
Socialist Party feature
Building for 30th June
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Reviews and comments
Fighting the cuts