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From The Socialist newspaper, 3 May 2017

Unison health conference: fury over leadership's feet dragging

Delegates were angry that leaders were unenthusiastic about the 4 March NHS demo, photo Paul Mattsson

Delegates were angry that leaders were unenthusiastic about the 4 March NHS demo, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

Roger Davey, Wiltshire and Avon Unison health branch chair (personal capacity)

This year's Unison Health conference was held against the backdrop of the general election and the unrelenting attacks on the NHS. The growing grassroots community fightback shown in the magnificent 4 March demonstration called by Health Campaigns Together also had a major impact on the debates, which eventually resulted in a significant defeat for the leadership (health service group executive - HSGE).

The composite motion, which was introduced by Socialist Party member Paul Tovey, called on the HSGE to build on the 4 March demonstration and to "support any national calls to lobby and/or assist with developing a national campaign against sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) involving not only unions but also community campaign groups." This contrasts with the leadership's position of not opposing STPs and, in reality, refusing to build a national campaign against them.

The leadership's amendment attempting to remove this call was heavily defeated. Such was the size of the vote against the leadership they changed their position to support the composite "with qualifications". Activists will need to campaign for the HSGE to now build a national campaign against the STPs.

It was clear during the debate that delegates were furious at the HSGE for initially opposing the demonstration in March and then belatedly giving it only lukewarm support. It also illustrated that delegates are more aware of the inherent dangers of STPs than the leadership.

Pay

There was an amendment from Mid Yorkshire health branch to a motion on pay. The amendment reiterated the call for a minimum wage of 10 an hour (current health conference policy but not fought for) and also a 10% pay rise for all staff to recover what has been lost over the last seven years.

Unfortunately this was never debated due to an emergency motion on pay from the HSGE. However, during the conference, delegates who are Socialist Party members raised the need for a national campaign around clear demands in order to build members' confidence and win mass support for strike action.

Socialist Party members and others raised the need for Jeremy Corbyn to insist that his demands - for renationalisation of the NHS and a fully funded comprehensive health service free at the point of delivery - be included in the Labour general election manifesto.

Labour's shadow secretary of state for health, Jon Ashworth, addressed the conference and delegates welcomed his declaration that the pay cap would be ended, that the training bursary would be reintroduced, and that safe staffing levels would be established. However, he was less clear over the need for public ownership and to kick out the market from our health service.

The NHS will be a dominant issue in this election campaign and, as the demonstration showed, has potential for a mass campaign to be launched. If Jeremy Corbyn was to adopt bold socialist policies around the NHS, the Tories could be defeated.

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In The Socialist 3 May 2017:


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Sheffield mental health campaigner: "austerity kills"


 

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