Saturday, September 08, 2012

Why UNISON should back the POA at the TUC

I blogged yesterday about Motion 5 to the forthcoming TUC, from the Prison Officers Association (POA) which calls for our movement to "lead from the front against this uncaring Government" with campaigns "including the consideration and practicalities of a General Strike."

Some commentators, with whom I share many views, are predicting that UNISON will decide to oppose this motion (http://l-r-c.org.uk/news/story/struggles-on-the-agenda-at-tuc/).

UNISON will decide its position on this Motion at our delegation meeting tomorrow. I am sure the delegation will be guided by advice, but we have no position from the Policy Committee of our National Executive Council (NEC) which deferred a decision.

I think that UNISON should support Motion 5 for both formal and pragmatic reasons.

Formally, our TUC delegation should vote at Congress in line with policies adopted by our National Delegate Conference - and it seems to me that Motion 5 breaches no UNISON Conference policy and is, in fact, consistent with UNISON policy.

Somewhat unhelpfully the online record of decisions of our most recent National Delegate Conference is, today, unavailable (http://cms.unison.co.uk/Decisions.asp?ConferenceID=277&OrderBy=AgendaID). (If any reader believes that any decision of that Conference would provide a basis for opposition to the POA this week please explain.)

It is, however, possible to refer online to a Conference decision from 2011 (http://cms.unison.co.uk/MotionText.asp?DocumentID=1001980) by which tomorrow's meeting of UNISON's TUC delegation should be guided;

"Conference believes that UNISON must play a leading role in challenging the Government's policies and in campaigning to defend public services. UNISON members are in the front line: not only is it our members' jobs and terms and conditions that are being cut, UNISON members will often be the ones who speak out most loudly in defence of those in receipt of the services they provide - the very young, the old, the sick, the most vulnerable in our society. However, Conference also recognises that UNISON will not be able to win such a campaign on its own. Success will depend upon forging strong alliances - with our members, with other unions, with users of services and their families, with communities and other stakeholders including the student movement."

The decision went on to call upon the Union to "prepare for co-ordinated lawful strike action in defence of public services across service groups and alongside other unions within UNISON rules and organise and build local action in defence of services, including, demonstrations and rallies; and supporting UNISON branches and other trades unions taking lawful industrial action and to promote and support co-ordinated action at local and regional and national level across service groups and between trade unions."

I think therefore that from a purely formal and constitutional point of view, our delegation should support the POA's Motion 5, since it seeks to urge, from the TUC, action consistent with UNISON Conference policy (and it will be for the TUC to interpret and apply the motion if it is passed).

There is also a less formal, pragmatic argument worthy of consideration. Congress is as much about the perception of its decisions as it is about their detail (or subsequent implementation).

Right at this moment, at the half way point of a Parliament in which the Government has done us more damage than ever before, and as the pressure of a pay freeze on the living standards of our members becomes intolerable, we need the TUC to be seen to take a strong position.

And with UNISON membership slipping as we run to stand still in the face of the gathering avalanche of redundancies and job losses, UNISON needs to be seen to be in the fore in taking this strong position.

From every point of view, UNISON should come out in support of Motion 5.

I hope we do.

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