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From The Socialist newspaper, 27 June 2018

Unison union conference: delegates can't be cowed

Unison pay strike, photo Paul Mattsson, photo Paul Mattsson

Unison pay strike, photo Paul Mattsson, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

Socialist Party reporters

At Unison conference in Brighton the leadership claimed that the union is "seen as the world's leading progressive union". However, among delegates there was a clear mood that the branches have to bear the weight of all the attacks on jobs and working conditions but with fewer activists, less facility time and so on, while the union leadership has no answers.

Despite general secretary Dave Prentis claiming "we are a left union, who never backed Blair and always backed Corbyn", and giving public support to strikes in Wigan and Birmingham, he suffered a personal defeat when he failed to get a major review of the union structures through conference. The conference didn't trust what the leadership was up to and saw it as a money and power grab of the branch funds and union democracy.

Delegates felt strongly that union resources need to be put on the front line where the fight is and not soaked up in the jobs and wages of increasing numbers of unelected full-time officials, who more often than not 'police' the membership.

Despite the vote clearly being lost, the vice-president called it carried and then tried to deny a card vote. The conference erupted and chanted "card vote, card vote" until he relented. Delegates overwhelmingly defeated the motion.

At the end of the conference it was announced the same person had just been elected by the national executive to be next year's president. Spontaneously a chant went up: "card vote, card vote"!

Once again, the conference was sanitised by the standing orders committee which managed to keep off the agenda any controversial issues, hiding behind the infamous "legal jeopardy" defence.

In the local government conference, the lay members' leadership's own motion to see how the union could trigger a national dispute over local government cuts was not allowed on the agenda.

However, the demand for a fightback by members couldn't be quelled and 300 attended the evening Unison Action fringe meeting, determined to win a new, fighting and democratic leadership. 300 delegates also attended a lunchtime meeting the same day with workers in dispute (see Mid Yorkshire NHS strike article) and to hear Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

An excellent Socialist Party public meeting had 50 in attendance and seven delegates gave their names to join the Socialist Party. Socialist Party members produced an eight-page conference bulletin, sold a magnificent 250 copies of the Socialist, and raised 1,600 towards the fighting fund.

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