Unite policy conference

Significant breakthroughs in policy and workplace organising

Unite the Union, photo Paul Mattsson, photo Paul Mattsson

Unite the Union, photo Paul Mattsson, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Kevin Parslow, Unite union conference delegate (personal capacity)

There was an emotional farewell to Len McCluskey at the recent Unite policy conference, which recorded the progress of the union in the ten years under his leadership. His was an overwhelmingly positive tenure. But the general feeling in the conference was that the election of Sharon Graham as Len’s replacement heralds a new beginning.

Significant throughout the conference was the emphasis on workplace organising and the development of ‘combines’ in different sectors of the economy. This would mean bringing the reps in an industry to discuss common issues and negotiating for better pay and conditions.

The mood of the conference allowed significant breakthroughs in policy. Particularly in local government, where Unite is now committed to “adopt a policy calling on Labour councils to set legal, balanced no-cuts needs-based budgets”, in passing a motion from the Local Authorities National Industrial Sector Committee.

And on public services, a motion was passed opposing privatisation and calling for workers’ control, which was amended by the LE1228 branch to read: “Publicly owned industries and services should be run with full workers’ control and management, involving the participation of trade unions in conjunction with service users.”

Significantly, at a fringe entitled ‘Time for a Deeper Industrial Strategy’, Dave Ward, CWU general secretary, called former militant RMT leader Bob Crow “the greatest trade unionist of our generation”, to which Sharon Graham nodded in agreement. If it was to follow a similar path to the RMT under Crow, Unite’s million members across most sectors of the economy would prove a powerful challenge to the bosses, and give confidence to millions of workers to fight back against attacks.

Action was also discussed in the fringe meetings, for example with HGV drivers preparing for action at a meeting by ‘taking their break’ on 1 November at 11am. This could show the potential strength that lorry drivers have in the battle for better pay and conditions in the road haulage industry.

Unite’s conference presented the first opportunity for those who campaigned for Sharon’s victory to come together and discuss building a new left in Unite. In a pre-conference meeting there was a lot of enthusiasm for a proposal made by Socialist Party members for a public meeting during conference, even offering our own public meeting to facilitate a discussion. However, despite no meeting being called, Zoom meetings are being planned, which should be used as the basis for ensuring Unite’s new fighting strategy and policies are implemented by building a new left organisation in the union.

The Socialist Party meeting was nevertheless a success, with 30 delegates, visitors and local workers present. The meeting was addressed by victimised St Mungo’s rep Vicko Plevnik, who came to conference to build support for the end of his victimisation (he also addressed the blacklisting meeting called by construction workers in Unite).

Rob Williams from the Socialist Party executive committee, spelt out the fighting programme and tasks needed to build Unite, and there was a discussion on how a new left could be built. £300 was raised for the Socialist Party fighting fund, and three delegates over the week expressed an interest in finding out more about our party.