This year’s Unison conference was far livelier than previous years. Unusually for a union conference, the rules revision session was one of the most lively debates, which showed a lack of trust in the union leadership by the union activists.
For the third year in a row, the leadership tried to amend the rule on disciplinary action. The amendment sought to allow the union to exclude or expel fascists from Unison but also included any individual who gives encouragement to or participates in the activities of a political party whose constitution, aims or objectives expressly or impliedly promote racism, or whose objectives are contrary to the objectives of Unison.
Socialist Party (SP) members dominated this debate, arguing that, while racism and fascism must be opposed, this amendment could be applied to socialists campaigning for the union to organise action. They pointed out that, despite socialists being witch-hunted out of the union, no member of the far-right anti-union British National Party has been kicked out!
SP members and others spoke of their activities against fascist groups, unlike those supporting the amendment, who gave no examples of being active against these groups.
Following rousing cheers from the conference to speeches by Socialist Party members, the amendment was defeated.
The leadership also lost an amendment which would have allowed a member to be debarred from holding union office for five years, if they were disciplined by the union. Delegates pointed out this was worse than the employers’ punishment for an offence!
The ‘Reclaim the Union’ meeting attracted a large turnout. Glenn Kelly, and other victimised Unison members outlined how far the leadership would go to get rid of socialists and activists.
Leaflets were given out containing a model motion to lift the ban on the four Socialist Party members witch-hunted by the Unison leadership.
An amendment to the finance arrangements for Unison branches said that funds surplus to the day-to-day needs of the branch should be invested in the national branch investment scheme.
SP member Tim Cutter pointed out that branch funds are needed more than ever as branches need to campaign and take strike action. He asked whose interests this proposal was in – the branches’ or the union leadership’s? He received a huge round of applause.
There was a supportive mood towards Socialist Party members at the conference. Delegates took and read copies of the Socialist Party Unison bulletin, while 200 copies of the Socialist were sold along with £30 worth of books and pamphlets.