It was when Steve Gillan, General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA) showed himself a worthy successor to the likes of Brian Caton and Colin Moses in moving Motion 5 yesterday.
This was the motion which, by putting the words "General Strike" on to the Congress Agenda, also transposed them from the headlines of the left press to the national media (http://m.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/sep/11/tuc-to-consider-general-strike?cat=politics&type=article)(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9536880/TUC-Congress-roaring-lion-trade-unionists-call-for-general-strike.html).
Although Congress House will do all it can to bury this decision it won't be able to. Far from being a "distraction" from Monday's unanimously supported Composite 1 (supporting the 20 October demonstration and co-ordinated industrial action thereafter), the timely and forthright POA motion is it's essential complement.
In moving Composite 1 our General Secretary, Dave Prentis, said that we are never stronger than when we coordinate action (http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=8066). The POA, with the enthusiastic backing of many other unions, offer our movement an opportunity to apply the wisdom of our General Secretary in practice.
Thanks to John Hendy and Keith Ewing of the Institute of Employment Rights (http://www.ier.org.uk/blog/days-action) we know that there is a sound legal argument that we do have the right to organise a General Strike. Those who oppose this course can no longer simply cite the anti-union laws as an excuse for inaction.
There are, of course, many other practicalities to be considered. The opponents of Motion 5 were not wrong to emphasise the great challenge of persuading workers to take such action (although action taken simultaneously by many, if not all, unions will be easier to argue for in the workplace than isolated sectoral or union-by-union action).
However, at its best (in the run up to the 30 November strike) our leadership acknowledged that the mass strike is never ever really only about the particular trade dispute. 30 November was about pensions, but it was also about every other attack on working people from the Tory Coalition Government.
Motion 5, informed and supported by the analysis of the legal position by Ewing and Hendy, suggests that we can afford to be more honest next time. We know the Tories are attacking our people. We know it's our job to lead a fight. We need to do so.
UNISON's delegation voted for Motion 5, but not all UNISON delegates were necessarily its most committed or enthusiastic supporters. UNISON activists should read up on the work of Ewing and Hendy (http://www.ier.org.uk/blog/days-action) and press our leaders to push for swift consideration by the TUC of all the "practicalities" which we must now consider.
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