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Posted on 23 February 2015 at 12:28 GMT

South east Unison activists challenge New Labour

Paul Couchman, branch secretary, Surrey County Unison

On Saturday 21 February, around 75 delegates from across south east England attended the Unison Regional Council AGM. These are trade union activists from local government, health, schools, colleges, universities and from the community and private sector.

Apart from the usual union business of elections and reports, there were three important motions up for discussion.

A motion (originally from my Unison branch but since adopted by the regional Local Government group) called for support for the 10 an hour minimum wage campaign. This was supported unanimously and enthusiastically by delegates and it was agreed to take the motion to the national delegate conference in June, to get Unison nationally to take up the campaign.

A motion from West Sussex branch condemning the attacks on trade union rights - in particular the Tories' proposals for new strike ballot thresholds - was also passed unanimously and will be taken to national conference.

Political representation

The most challenging motion was from my branch, entitled 'on political representation'. Although not as challenging as we would have liked, due to making sure it would be allowed for discussion, the motion caused quite a stir.

It condemned Labour councils that are making cuts, talks in detail about the disconnect between ordinary people and the mainstream parties and urges the trade unions to tackle the growth of Ukip by offering bold socialist policies in the forthcoming election.

When I moved the motion, I introduced myself as a proud Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) general election candidate. Four other TUSC candidates came into the discussion and did the same - to loud cheers. Some Labour Party members incorrectly said that no-cuts budgets are 'illegal'. I got a rousing cheer when I said I would rather vote for a representative who stands firm on principle than one who has already thrown in the towel.

A key part of the motion was calling on all Unison branches to organise election hustings meetings, inviting all local progressive, anti-cuts candidates - so that our members can decide for themselves. The motion also "calls on all prospective local council candidates to stand as real public champions against austerity and cuts. Refuse to make cuts in jobs and services or in the pay, terms and conditions of council staff".

Unison activists in the south east can use this decision to put pressure on local candidates to fight the cuts and to invite TUSC candidates (along with any other 'progressive' candidates) to Unison members' meetings.

Originally, one or two key Labour Link activists had said they would oppose the motion but in the end they chose to vote for it 'with reservations'. Only one delegate voted against. Nine copies of the socialist were bought.


This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 23 February 2015 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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