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From The Socialist newspaper, 28 June 2017

Unison conference: confident delegates take control, give Corbyn 'rapturous' welcome

Unison conference 2016 photo Paul Mattsson, photo Paul Mattsson

Unison conference 2016 photo Paul Mattsson, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

Glenn Kelly, Socialist Party industrial department

Unison's 2017 conference was the first big trade union conference after the general election. It didn't take long to see the lift in confidence the result had given.

Delegates broke out in spontaneous cheers when it was announced that Jeremy Corbyn would be addressing the end of conference.

The first debate on smashing the pay cap and for a £10 an hour minimum wage was electric, with so many Socialist Party members speaking, it started to feel that you were at a Socialist Party meeting!

Such was the mood the leadership was compelled to say it "would break the pay cap in the next 12 months." However, many delegates have heard this before and remain sceptical that, without a clear strategy, they were going to do it.

Cliff edge

In his conference speech Unison general secretary Dave Prentis tried to wrap himself in Corbyn's red flag, saying that he and the leadership had always backed him and the union "effectively wrote the Labour manifesto".

As delegate after delegate cheered Corbyn's victory that had pushed May to the cliff edge, they now demand that the union help push her over, by supporting the demo on the 1 July and preparing for strike action.

As the conference went on and delegates took control, Prentis and his supporters looked increasingly glum. Like Theresa May, they looked like the team who had won but lost.

Compare that to the upbeat mood of the 400 delegates at the Unison Action fringe meeting (the new left organisation initiated by the Socialist Party) celebrating that we had won 29 of the national executive committee seats and now were ready to organise to win the union for the members.

Socialist Party delegates played a key role at the conference and our ideas were warmly welcomed. This was reflected in the fact that we sold 238 copies of the Socialist, 20 non-party members attended our fringe meeting where £1,400 was raised for the fighting fund, and two delegates agreed to join.

The conference ended with Corbyn addressing delegates to a rapturous standing ovation. When asked by a young delegate why 16-year-olds should be denied the £10 an hour minimum wage if they were doing the same job - Labour's manifesto promises it for over-18s only - Corbyn responded: "That's a fair point, I agree, 16-year-olds don't eat any less so they should get the same."

Having addressed 2,000 delegates in the conference hall, hundreds of young people from Brighton then organised an impromptu rally outside to greet Corbyn, where he then stayed and addressed them. When he climbed into a car it had to crawl slowly along the road with supporters following him lining the streets singing "oh Jeremy Corbyn".

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In The Socialist 28 June 2017:


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