Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Public Services Debate at UNISON Conference

The first day of UNISON Conference commenced with the usual opening formalities, an address from the President, a report from the Standing Orders Committee (which attracted a variety of challenges) and presentation of the Annual Report and Financial Reports.

As I am playing catch up at the moment (Wednesday afternoon) I shan’t dwell on every detail here. The main debate on Tuesday afternoon was on public services.

This was preceded by the annual speech of the General Secretary, Dave Prentis, who warned that the Labour Government were drinking in the last chance saloon. (Some delegates are of the view that the last chance saloon kicked them out a while ago and they are now in the bar of the Hotel Metropole where, providing you know someone staying there, you can go on drinking until dawn…)

For the first time in a number of years this speech also saw a pointed attack on some leftwingers in the Union – a minor feature of the speech but nevertheless a regrettable diversion from the main theme upon which we need to concentrate, which is how to apply more and better pressure upon the Labour Government.

The subsequent debate saw a high degree of unity around calls for the defence of public services – and also around support in particular for a campaign to defend the National Health Service, including a demonstration which will take place on 13 October.

There was a tactical difference between the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority branch and Deputy General Secretary, Keith Sonnet, about whether or not we should call for a national demonstration in defence of public services. This went to a card vote, and (against my somewhat pessimistic expectations) was carried.

I was very pleased with this result for two reasons.

First, I was very pleased to be at a Public Services Not Private Profit fringe meeting on Tuesday evening, where almost 250 delegates heard John McDonnell MP talk about the successes of this vital joint union campaign, which organised the largest and most vibrant of last year’s trade union lobbies of Parliament.

At that meeting we heard from speakers officially representing other trade unions who encouraged us to take confidence in the willingness of trade union members to fight to defend public services – and when we got the result of the card vote we found that the majority of delegates at UNISON Conference agreed with the perspective of the Public Services Not Private Profit Campaign.

The second reason why I was happy with the result of the card vote, is that it gives hope that UNISON will shift our position at the TUC. When compositing motions for debate at the Annual Congress of the TUC it has been PCS who have been pushing for a national demonstration, and UNISON has been resisting this. Now that UNISON Conference has arrived at the same view as that taken some time ago by PCS, I hope that our TUC delegation, of which I hope to be a member, will stand by our Conference policy and step up our campaign in defence of public services.

I also hope that UNISON will join with the many trade unions already organising under the banner of Public Services Not Private Profit.

No comments: