Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/666/11757
Unison health conference
Roger Davey, Unison health service group executive, personal capacity
This year's Unison health conference, held in Liverpool, was the first major union gathering since the magnificent demonstration on 26 March. It also came at a time when both the NHS and the pay and conditions of health workers are coming under ruthless attack from the coalition government.
These two huge factors should have made this an historical conference, one that established a clear strategy, programme, and commitment to defeat the government. Instead the conference illustrated the unwillingness of the union bureaucracy to build upon the momentum of the 26th and delegates returned to their branches disappointed.
The whole conference was tightly controlled, which ensured that any resolution that called for industrial action over pensions or privatisation was ruled out of order. It meant that the service group executive did not oppose any of the motions, none of which, of course, committed the union to do anything.
However, there is huge pressure building up from health workers for the union to take action over pensions, the pay freeze, and the destruction of the NHS. Delegate after delegate told of the reality of working in the NHS today as it is being prepared for privatisation.
They spoke movingly about the likely impact of marketisation, and the effect that the unprecedented financial cuts will have on patient care. They also repeatedly expressed anger that health workers and patients are expected to bail out this rotten capitalist system.
In fact when delegates, in the main Socialist Party members, called for a one-day public sector strike to defend the NHS and our living standards they received an enthusiastic response from the conference. Not even the bureaucracy could completely smother this overwhelming desire for action, emanating from the rank and file.
In one of the conference workshops, delegates were asked to decide how to react if management proposed cuts in order to save jobs and services. There was uproar when those participating in the workshop unanimously refused to accept any cuts either in the service or in pay and conditions.
The pressure and mood even forced general secretary Dave Prentis to talk of strike action over pensions. He made the startling claim that he had fought all his life for the downfall of capitalism! But the stark fact is that we've heard all this before, without national action following. Unison needs a new leadership to ensure that it becomes a fighting democratic union.
During the next period, tens of thousands of health workers will be demanding action from the union. This would be a step towards transforming Unison into a fighting organisation, one that will join with other unions in national strike action to defend living standards and to campaign against all cuts.
The Socialist Party made a significant impact on the conference, with a record number of delegates, and an inspiring fringe meeting addressed by Tony Mulhearn, one of the heroic Liverpool councillors who fought the Tories in the 1980s. Socialist paper sales were encouraging and over £300 was collected for the fighting fund.
In The Socialist 13 April 2011:
Socialist Party editorial
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis
Youth Fight for Jobs
Socialist Party news and analysis