Wednesday 4 February is the date in question.
All those who believe that our Union should be led by lay members who take their lead from the membership (rather than the office) must ensure that our branches turn out their full voting delegation on 4 February.
While you wait, here is my report to the Regional AGM;
In this report to the Regional Council Annual General Meeting I will deal with just a few of the main issues which have arisen in the past year.
Branches who want more information can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07957505571. I am happy to attend branch meetings as are my NEC colleagues.
The past year has seen a further fall in the living standards of UNISON members as our pay campaigns failed to deliver increases which match the rising cost of living. The National Executive Council (NEC) does not exercise real authority in our Union, and particularly not in relation to “service group” issues, where individual service groups have some autonomy and the (generally unaccountable) Service Group Liaison Committee holds sway.
General Secretary Dave Prentis began the year committed to a “sector by sector” approach to building the unity of public sector unions to fight on pay. However, in the light of the experience of the past year he has now agreed (in response to questions at the NEC) that this approach did not deliver the goods. Had we been able, at least, to unite those who took action on pay in April 2008 with those who took action in July we might have done better.
We struggled to mobilise members to take action over pay when they did not believe that the Union had a strategy to win. I hope that we will learn the lessons of the pay campaigns of 2008 in facing up to the threats to jobs and pensions in 2009. We need to build united action with those who are willing to take action and we need to accept the harsh reality that this Government is our enemy and not our friend.
The NEC has received regular updates in relation to the Local Government Pension Scheme. There seems to be little prospect that members in England will benefit from extended protection of the “Rule of 85”. Less satisfactory arrangements for medical retirement have also now been imposed. Tory attacks upon public sector pension provision indicate that we will need a united front to protect all public service pensions in the coming year.
Much of the time of the NEC (and of our senior national officials) has been taken up with equal pay litigation during 2008. There are serious limitations upon what can be reported because of the eagerness of “no win no fee” solicitors to encourage legal action against trade unions. Case law has developed in a fairly damaging way during the course of the year as a result of judgements in the Allen and Bainbridge cases among others.
2008 saw the election of a BNP representative to the Greater London Assembly. 2009 threatens us with the prospect of BNP members of the European Parliament. UNISON has been (and must remain) in the forefront of fighting the far right. I have received information which suggests the presence within UNISON (in another Region) of sympathisers with BNP politics. I have raised this with our General Secretary and have been assured that this is under investigation. It has been reported to the NEC that we now have legal advice which suggests that we can take action to exclude active supporters of far right organisations from our Union.
I was very pleased that Conference agreed last year that there should be a review of the democracy guidelines within our Union (and that Conference affirmed the right of branches to campaign for their own policies in national ballots!) This will continue to be a live issue in 2009 and members who believe that our Union must and will continue to be lay led will need to pay attention to developments.
Conference last year agreed a review of the operation of our political funds and the NEC has agreed that this will lead to a report to Conference in 2010. In the mean time branches may wish to prepare for the consultation on this review – it was very clear from the vote on reprioritisation of motions at last year’s Conference that there is widespread dissatisfaction with the manifest inadequacy of our political work at present.
I was very pleased that the NEC agreed a positive and progressive statement about the economic crisis at its meeting in October 2008. I was disappointed that the majority of members of the Regional Committee failed to understand UNISON’s policy when agreeing their position on motions to the (regrettably inquorate) Regional Council meeting in December. The failure of unregulated capitalism makes the case very dramatically for public provision of public services. 2009 could be the year in which socialist politics are adopted by the trade union movement – if we have the confidence to advance them.
I wish all Regional Council delegates a Happy New Year in spite of the problems which we know we will face in 2009. I realise that the Regional lay leadership and their supporters on the Regional Committee have supported the failed approach to pay campaigns in 2008 and are pleased with UNISON’s work in the Labour Party and that they will therefore disagree with the tone of this report. You, as a delegate to the Regional Council, have a choice about who will lead our Union in 2009. If you disagree with me you know what to do.