Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Housing - and the invisibility of local government at Congress

Congress has just voted unanimously to campaign to oppose coalition housing policy, for security of tenure and for the building of more social and Council housing.

This is an area in which the previous New Labour Government let us down very badly both by failing to build new homes and by launching a series of attacks upon Council Housing. New Labour was a disaster for tenants and housing workers.

However, in keeping with the observation that the worst day under a Labour Government is generally better than the best day under a Tory Government, things now do look even worse.

Attacks on housing benefit (and mortgage payments) will increase homelessness whilst attacks on security of tenure are a direct assault upon low income households from a Cabinet of millionaires.

Today's Congress decision is positive, but I think that the structure of the debate shows some aspects of how Congress works which may be of interest to regular readers, Sid and Doris Union-Blogger.

First, although there are experienced and articulate housing workers in our delegation, it was a health worker (NEC member James Anthony) who was asked to move the Composite.

Obviously this has nothing to do with the political views of delegates like Mandy Berger, Vice-Chair of UNISON's National Housing Forum, or NEC member Bernie Gallagher. It must just be that we want to celebrate the breadth and diversity of our union and break away from the stale tradition of Congress that we are here to share the expertise and experience of workers across all sectors of the economy.

However, UNISON's internal intolerance of dissent only augments a problem arising from the structure of our movement about which I have whinged on this blog in previous years.

Local Government workers - the largest bargaining group in the entire economy - get far too little attention from the structure of the Congress agenda because we are - by and large - in membership of the three largest unions.

Health workers in contrast are in membership of a large number of unions, as are education workers. Therefore both health and education have their own sections of the Congress agenda.

If an international visitor were to rely upon Congress documents for their knowledge of our movement they could easily remain ignorant that a million local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland haven't had a pay rise since April last year or that our employers are encouraging their constituent bodies to attack and undermine elements of the largest (by coverage) national agreement in the entire economy.

At least there are now Emergency Motions coming up about the collapse of Connaught and the redundancies announced in Birmingham Council, and though these are moved by UCATT and the GMB respectively they are supported by UNISON.

However, the TUC really should pay more attention to local government workers - and the local government unions need to sort this out.

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