Friday, June 15, 2007

Conference time again!

Well, it is that fabulous (nay magical) time of year – UNISON Conference is upon us. With a reactionary New Labour Government attacking our jobs, our public services and our pay at the same time as our Labour Party is changing its leadership in an election in which we could have a massive voice the coming week could be a brilliant opportunity to build and to raise the profile of what could so easily be the best trade union in the country (if not the world…)

Could be…

Unfortunately Conference will not get to debate a choice between different strategies.

There is a coherent strategy in the movement. It is based upon an acceptance that the Government’s attacks upon our members’ jobs and pay are part and parcel of the attack upon public services which is central to New Labour politics. Not only are these attacks united in their origins, our members experience them at the same time, and they all contribute to the anger which does exist, and from which we could mobilise the action necessary to turn the tide.

However, UNISON’s structures and strategies do not encourage us to make these links. We fight on pay, sector by sector. We don’t link the fight on pay to the fight against privatisation, which is hampered by illusions that Gordon Brown will listen to us. The structure of employment itself in our two largest service groups, together with our acquiescence in the anti-union laws, makes it almost impossible for us to even conceive of a national fight against job cuts.

Therefore those of us who want a realistic and effective response to a hostile reactionary Government will have our work cut out in the coming week. Attempts to even debate UNISON support for an effective joint union response to privatisation have been stifled and you could bet the expenses of the entire National Executive Council that valiant efforts by branches to get our main National Delegate Conference to discuss the Government’s public sector pay cut policy will face obstruction.

There is a glaring contradiction between the interests of our members – in fair pay, secure jobs and public services – and support for Gordon Brown and Alan Johnson. However, whilst the CWU were able to overturn the decision of their Executive in relation to the Labour Party elections, UNISON Conference has no such power.

Our Union needs to change direction. Our Conference will demonstrate that need, but we will be lucky if it does more than that. Beyond Conference, activists need to build unity with other public service unions in particular in order to build the coming fight against the Brown Government.

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