Unison Local Government conference: Leadership faces delegates’ anger

A Unison delegate

The local government Unison conference met on 16-17 June. Although the agenda was largely uncontroversial, it couldn’t stop the concern and anger of delegates surfacing.

Most noticeably this came during the debate on pay. In a consultation ballot of members Unison’s England and Wales leadership said the derisory 1% ‘offer’ was the best that could be achieved by negotiation.

In Scotland, where there were parallel but separate negotiations, the Scottish local government union leadership was pressured into recommending that members reject the offer, and indeed it was rejected. They are now preparing for a strike ballot.

Consequently, we have the crazy situation where a pay offer has been accepted in England and Wales but is being contested – with the strong possibility of strike action – in Scotland.

Delegate Amanda Lane from Bristol received a standing ovation when she demanded action and articulated delegates’ frustration, given that Unison general secretary Dave Prentis had last year promised to ‘smash the pay freeze’.

Delegates rejected attempts to curtail the debate. The example of the north west region was given which campaigned against the offer and, most significantly, took a position against the national leadership.

There, the ballot result was 71% in favour of rejecting the offer and balloting for sustained industrial action.

Fighting leads get results

Where there has been a clear and fighting lead, members had responded positively. Had a national lead of that nature been provided then it would be very likely to have resulted in a national dispute and a fight to get a decent pay award.

The union leadership was extremely uncomfortable during the debate as delegates attacked them over their handling of the situation. Socialist Party members played a prominent role in the debate.

On the second day conference debated ‘motion 47’ on affiliation to the councillors against cuts organisation.

The leadership was ‘supporting’ it but had put in a ‘wrecking amendment’ that referred to advice previously given to branches which reflected Unison’s national opposition to councils setting no-cuts ‘needs budgets’.

So, the union leadership were effectively saying ‘affiliate to councillors against cuts but on the basis of not supporting action along the lines of socialist-led Liverpool council in the mid-1980s (see page 10)’.

After a debate, in which Socialist Party members argued effectively, the position of the leadership was defeated.

Against the background of that debate, there was standing room only at the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) lunchtime fringe meeting, with former Liverpool Labour councillor and Socialist Party member Tony Mulhearn speaking. Over 80 people attended to hear an alternative anti-cuts fighting council strategy.