Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/445/5296
UNISON local government conference
Anger at inept handling of pensions dispute
UNISON'S LOCAL government conference, held prior to the main UNISON conference, exploded into anger at the blatant manoeuvrings of the platform.
Bill Mullins, reporting from Unison conference
Two composite motions on pensions were up for debate but the pro-leadership one was narrowly carried by 350,381 to 330,482, a majority of 19,000.
Delegates were particularly angry when the chair ended the debate by calling in two pro-leadership speakers.
SOCIALIST PARTY member Roger Bannister, speaking in the debate, made it pretty clear that he considered the leadership's handling of the pension dispute as "particularly inept".
"It is not rocket science," said Roger, "we backed off the fight over pensions by suspending industrial action and the employers took this as weakness.
"The action on 28 March was not just to defend the '85-year rule' but also to defend the integrity of the pension scheme against the government's unilateral changes. Now the advantage built by the action has been thrown away."
Jane Carolan, speaking for the national executive, let the cat out of the bag when she said: "The opposition motion calls for the reinstatement of strike action until the existing workforce gets full access to their pensions when they retire. Well, pigs can fly as well."
Yet full protection for existing members is exactly what the rest of the public sector has achieved. The government was forced to retreat last October, in the face of the threat of united action.
Now it is clear that local government workers are about to get far less than this from their leadership, as they negotiate a new pension scheme for present and future council workers.
Throughout the debate the leadership referred to the need for equality of pensions. But the employers are not prepared to plough back savings made form closing the old '85-year rule' scheme into any new scheme.
Socialist Party member Glenn Kelly said in a well-attended pensions fringe meeting: "It is obvious we will get the worst deal in the public sector."
Delegates supporting the leadership either could not see or did not want to see that they were being taken down a cul-de-sac.
It was clear to those who came to the fringe meeting at least that something was afoot.
But many in the conference hall were living under the illusion that negotiations result in something. Unfortunately concessions are absolutely ruled out, without action to back up the negotiations.
Delegates enthusiastically participated in a ballot on whether or not UNISON should continue funding the Labour Party.
Socialist Party members ran the stall and the result was to be announced at the Campaign for a New Workers' Party meeting on 21 June.
Amicus health conference
Hewitt deflects criticism for health service cuts
ABOUT 120 delegates assembled in Scarborough on 12 June for the Amicus Health Sector conference, representing the union's 82,000 members in the NHS.
The first part of the one-day sector conference was given over to general secretary Derek Simpson, who seemed tired and defensive from the start.
He reflected on the difficulties of such a large and diverse union giving sufficient voice to its smaller sections and professional associations. His answer was to point to the industrial democracy in Amicus in which each section sets its own priorities at these sector conferences.
But why not elect the head of the health and other sectors and elect our own dedicated NHS officers? As it is, the sector heads are appointed by the general secretary and the officers in the regions cover all sectors. They report to regional secretaries who are also appointed by the general secretary.
Derek Simpson emphasised that we need a larger union to exert influence with government and employers in today's difficult climate. But later he argued that: "Even a mighty union like Amicus is impotent before multinationals like General Motors". His answer of course was to merge and merge again, first with the TGWU and ultimately with unions across Europe, like IG Metal of Germany.
Derek Simpson made a spirited attack on the lunacy of New Labour's NHS polices - PFI, payment by results, redundancies, turnaround teams costing more than the deficit they are supposed to solve. But again the answer was to merge to get increased influence.
Although admitting that Warwick has "stalled", Derek Simpson argued that the only choice is between a Labour government and a Tory one. He attacked Blair and his advisors saying that they know they are finished so they are constructing their legacy, going on to declare that any successor must change direction. We all agreed with him, the question is, will Gordon Brown?
I got a good round of applause for asking why Amicus had not used its influence to sack Tony Blair three years ago.
In the health sector conference we were treated to a visit from Patricia Hewitt. Delegates had made it clear that they were not going to sit as a photo opportunity while she droned on, so she spoke for only ten minutes and took about 45 minutes of questions.
In her speech she talked about the financial crisis, explaining that she had make the system "transparent", exposing poor management to public view.
She promised to stick with NHS values - an NHS funded by taxation, access on the basis of need not wealth and care free at the point of use.
She waved the bogeyman of a Tory government who would dismantle the NHS and move over to an insurance-based scheme - with some success.
The questioners were almost uniformly in opposition to her policies. Health visitors, speech therapists and others explained the truly shocking cuts going ahead in primary care.
She expressed 'concern' and promised to 'investigate' the particular situation in Lincolnshire, South Tyneside, Somerset or wherever the questioner was from.
Next, delegates listened to the head of health's report on the Agenda for Change aftermath, the prospects for a new unsocial hours scheme, this year's pay rise and the fight against continuing privatisation.
We then heard a very moving speech from Tabitha Khumalo, a female trade union organiser from Zimbabwe who has been arrested, beaten and abused for her union activities.
Time pressures then meant that every motion went through either unanimously or with one or two against. Most had no speakers against and therefore no debate. The left motion on the NHS, which condemns New Labour's NHS policies, was one of these, and so will find its way to the full Amicus Conference in 2007.
Most delegates were left with the feeling that a one-day conference is just not sufficient. A two-day conference would have allowed more time to discuss common problems and identify a way forward. If we are to have a one-day conference it should be annual. Who knows what will happen in the NHS between now and 2008?
An article examining the strategy for fighting job losses being proposed by Derek Simpson and other trade union leaders will appear in next week's paper.
In The Socialist 22 June 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party review
Socialist Party LGBT
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news