Saturday, September 05, 2009

UNISON's amendments to the TUC

The Final Agenda for the TUC Congress next week is online (and has finally arrived in the post!)

I’ll blog later about UNISON’s position on the various motions on the agenda but will now comment on our amendments.

UNISON has an amendment to UNITE’s motion on the Posted Workers Directive (Motion 1) which could be a very high profile debate at Congress in view of the recent ballot results and the prospect of further strike action in the refineries and power stations.

In Section 3 on Economic and Industrial Affairs, is UNISON’s amendment to the GMB motion on “Quality Pensions for All” (Motion 23), which enables our TUC delegation to come close to implementing the clear 2009 Conference decision that we should have put this issue on the agenda as a motion ourselves (about which I have whinged before). If there’s a composite with our name on then we will in the end almost have complied with our own policy.

UNISON also has an amendment in to a motion from UCATT on Housing (Motion 37) which makes a couple of positive additions but then deletes a clause which calls on the General Council to campaign for “to ensure local authorities are the primary deliverers of social housing” with a call for the campaign to be “for an expanded programme of affordable social housing based on a level playing field between local authorities, housing associations and ALMOs.'

Since the UNISON TUC delegation no longer has a meeting to agree amendments to TUC motions, this amendment has been submitted on UNISON’s behalf by the Policy Committee of the NEC, but I’m not sure my colleagues on the Policy Committee have got it quite right.

UNISON’s policy on Housing states that “council housing should be a central component” in addressing housing need and “welcomes the government's more positive message on the key role of council housing over the last year but believes it is essential that the issue be given the highest possible priority to ensure that all councils are required to take full advantage of public money available to invest in council housing.” UNISON Conference 2009 also called for “a significantly expanded role for local authorities as providers of decent homes” and reiterated support for the Fourth Option (which is increasingly relevant following today’s launch at the DCH National Meeting of the latest report from the Council Housing group of MPs).

This built on the policy of our Local Government Conference in 2008 which was to “campaign for the widest possible measures that enable local authorities to build new council homes where they would be contributing to meeting housing need in their locality.” Our policy of support for a “level playing field” between different housing providers is not based upon equal support for different providers, but upon UNISON’s opposition to the bias against Council housing built into Government policy.

National Delegate Conference put it well in 2006; “Conference reaffirms its opposition to any of the forms of privatisation of council housing whether through stock transfer, Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMOs) or Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and that council housing has been repeatedly shown to be cheaper to build and has lower maintenance costs than all the other options and would make a major contribution to meeting the housing needs of today as well as improving health and well being in the longer term”.

Since the word limit on TUC amendments applies equally to additional or replacement text I don’t quite see why we couldn’t simply have added our sensible “level playing field” demand to UCATT’s correct proposition that, ideally, local authorities should be the primary providers.

Having to deal on an almost daily basis with the failure of ALMOs as a policy initiative, and having seen how third sector providers of social housing can treat their staff, I think UCATT are right – and that what they say is consistent with UNISON policy – when they express the aspiration that local authorities (democratically accountable to local communities) should be the primary providers of social housing.

UNISON has to be committed to representing all our housing members regardless of their employer – but that doesn’t mean that we should agree, as a matter of policy, that we are neutral as between different forms of social housing provision (after all, we manage to represent workers in private contractors whilst continuing to oppose privatisation).

I hope that compositing enables the addition of UNISON’s “level playing field” demand without the deletion of UCATT’s support for council housing.

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