Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 25 June 2008

Unison conference 2008: Fighting to reclaim the union for its members

Unison conference 2008 anti-witchhunt protest, photo Paul Mattsson

Glenn Kelly at Unison conference 2008, photo Paul Mattsson

BY THE end of this year's Unison conference of public sector workers, the Socialist Party was seen as the most prominent party, as a result of its campaign against the union leaders' witch hunt of four of its members and for promoting discussion on why Unison should break its political link with Labour.

Jane James

At the local government section conference (which preceded the main one) Onay Kasab from Greenwich received much applause when he reminded the leadership that the union's "priority was not the New Labour government but our members. Let's reclaim this union".

Onay Kasab, Unison conference 2008 anti-witchhunt protest, photo Paul Mattsson

Onay Kasab, Unison conference 2008 anti-witchhunt protest, photo Paul Mattsson

Brian Blake from Ealing described how low paid workers in his council (who faced a 50% cut in their pay) had given 100% support for industrial action back in September 2007 but the request for a ballot was not met. This led to members leaving the union.

A number of delegates criticised union officials for not facilitating strike ballots but the chair ruled that delegates must stop referring to specific officials in their contributions.

Brian Debus, Hackney, spoke to Motion 4 - 'Pay campaign lessons of 2007' - which was carried. It argued that "a successful pay campaign needs to be conducted prior to the wage year rather than during it." In future members need to be ready to take action before 1 April instead of leaving a ballot until late in the year, as happened in 2007. Brian pointed out that "councils made millions of pounds by holding onto our money till the end of 2007."

Defend the 4

Unison conference 2008 anti-witchhunt protest, photo Paul Mattsson

Unison conference 2008 anti-witchhunt protest, photo Paul Mattsson

From the first day of the national conference the leadership was on the back foot. So worried was general secretary Dave Prentis that members from the branches of the four being witch-hunted would disrupt his speech with protests, that Socialist Party delegates reported it was the flattest, most non-controversial speech they had heard. Delegates pointed out that instead of fighting his own members Prentis should be fighting for decent pay and against privatisation.

Supporters of the four went ahead with a loud, determined protest outside the conference and were joined by delegates in a march to an anti-witch hunt meeting which was filled to overflowing by the hundreds who attended!

Unison conference 2008 anti-witchhunt protest, photo Paul Mattsson

Unison conference 2008 anti-witchhunt protest, photo Paul Mattsson

At the local government section conference, Socialist Party members expressed the mood of anger and frustration of workers against the Labour government. This in turn was carried over into the main conference, particularly in the last few hours of the conference when motion 63 was debated.

This motion - entitled 'New Labour: what do we get for our money?' - pointed out how New Labour are attacking public sector workers and services and proposed a review of the union's political fund. It only got onto the agenda because delegates had argued against their regional officials for it to be debated and it became the highest prioritised motion following a vote.

Unison's cosying up to New Labour is a barrier to fighting against the government's pay freeze, privatisation and public sector cuts.

This was a very sharp debate with Glenn Kelly, Bromley branch quoting Gordon Brown, who had said: "I feel your pain". Glenn warned him that he would "feel our wrath"! He asked what the NEC was afraid of: "I am happy to test the link [with Labour] with the members. Why aren't they?" He concluded by saying that "every penny of union members' money should be to defend our members."

The NEC argued that it would be a waste of resources to have a consultation on the Labour link and that the money would be better spent to fight pay, privatisation and the BNP.

Keith Sonnet, deputy general secretary, slanderously declared that "the Socialist Party wanted to get their grubby hands on our money !"

The NEC amendment which overturned (wrecked!) the motion was narrowly carried in a card vote. It should be noted however that the excellent votes that Socialist Party members achieved in the service group executive elections - where the demand for breaking from Labour was raised - shows that ordinary members, as well as a large number of delegates, are opposed to the Labour link.

Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary, addresses the Socialist Party fringe meeting at Unison conference 2008, photo Gary Freeman

Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary, addresses the Socialist Party fringe meeting at Unison conference 2008, photo Gary Freeman

A Socialist Party fringe meeting attracted 75 delegates who heard Peter Taaffe (Socialist Party general secretary) highlight the significance of this conference. Workers were angry at having to suffer the consequences of the failing economy and would demand fighting leaders for their unions.

Socialist Party members were the most prominent in calling for Unison to break from Labour and demanding that the union fight against pay cuts - which is the real reason behind the witch hunt.

  • Glenn Kelly spoke at an anti-witch hunt meeting on Thursday lunchtime where he called for a wider campaign to democratise and reclaim the union for the members. This would bring together all those who want an end to the witch hunts, to ensure the election of officials and build a union committed to fighting for its members.
  • Socialist Party members sold 200 copies of The Socialist and raised 750 for the party's Fighting Fund. A number of Unison members agreed to join the party in addition to those who wanted more information.

    Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

    In The Socialist 25 June 2008:

    Prices up, Wages down...Summer of action needed!

    Workers' battles win results: Tankers drivers' success upsets bosses

    Council workers striking back

    Socialist Party editorial

    Editorial: Summer of discontent?

    PCS union sends letter of solidarity to Unison

    Campaign for a new workers' party: Conference - Sunday 29 June, 11am - 5pm

    Unison Conference 2008

    Unison conference 2008: Fighting to reclaim the union for its members

    Unison Service Group Executives - socialists elected

    National Shop Stewards Network Conference

    Fighting, democratic unions not witch hunts

    Socialist Party campaigns

    Thousands show their hatred for racism

    Student unions can be pushed into action

    Socialist Party Marxist analysis

    Review: False 'gods' of a failing system

    International socialist news and analysis

    Zimbabwe: Mugabe's militias crush his political opponents

    Afghanistan - paying the price of western occupation

    Summit fails to halt runaway oil prices

    Britain: No.1 arms dealer

    Socialist Party NHS campaign

    Cut throat competition threatens NHS

    "With polyclinics you're just a number"

    Stop this sell-off!

    Origins of the Labour Party

    'Old' Labour - born out of workers' struggles

    Socialist Party workplace news

    Brighton bus drivers match inflation

    Teachers fight academy plans in Bolton

    Union news in brief

    Usdaw election


    Home   |   The Socialist 25 June 2008   |   Join the Socialist Party

    Subscribe   |   Donate  

    Related links:


    triangleLeicester: Blairites block Labour Party democracy

    triangleLeaked pay deal: fight for a genuine pay rise

    triangleFCC Environment strike solid

    triangleThreat of action defeats pay cut at Surrey council

    triangleUnison national women's conference


    triangleBirmingham Central Socialist Party: France in May 1968

    triangleBirmingham Central Socialist Party: Japan - Stagnation and Military Tensions

    triangleSalford Socialist Party: The history of the Labour movement in Ireland

    triangleBristol South Socialist Party: How can socialists take the fight against the Tories to the people of Bristol?

    Socialist Party:

    triangleYork Socialist Party: Building and financing a revolutionary party

    triangleHackney Socialist Party: The Left Opposition's fight against the rise of Stalinism in Russia

    triangleHackney Socialist Party: Refugee rights


    triangleRussia, spies and nerve agents

    triangleSwansea Labour council votes for cuts

    Reports and campaigns

    Reports and campaigns



    Refugee Rights campaigners on the 17.3.18 anti-racism demo - pics


    Socialist Party

    Socialist Party congress 2018



    Strike continues: set dates for next national action


    Socialist Party

    Members dig deep into their pockets to support the party


    North West

    Campaigners continue to demand Chorley A&E is fully reopened



    Swansea Labour council votes for cuts



    Derby public meeting: Women's Lives Matter



    Seeing-off the bigoted, billionaire toff!



    Continuing the fighting tradition of working class women



    Workplace news in brief



    Leicester: Blairites block Labour Party democracy



    Leaked pay deal: fight for a genuine pay rise



    We feel that we will win - a striker speaks



    Woolwich ferry workers win automation campaign



    UCU strike: bosses on the run

    triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...

    Join the Socialist Party
    Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
    Donate to the Socialist Party
    Socialist Party Facebook page
    Socialist Party on Twitter
    Visit us on Youtube



    Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


    Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

    Regional Socialist Party organisers:

    Eastern: 0798 202 1969

    East Mids: 0773 797 8057

    London: 020 8988 8786

    North East: 0191 421 6230

    North West 07769 611 320

    South East: 020 8988 8777

    South West: 07759 796 478

    Southern: 07833 681910

    Wales: 07935 391 947

    West Mids: 02476 555 620

    Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551



    Alphabetical listing

    March 2018

    February 2018

    January 2018