Over 600 delegates attended the Unison local government conference (19-20 June) to plan the strategy for fighting the cuts on public services, jobs and pensions.
Just 24 hours before conference started, General Secretary Dave Prentis announced that if the government refused to reverse pension reforms we would unite with others to see “biggest strike since 1926” and “unlike the miners' strike, this time we'll win”.
Prentis also talked tough on the Labour Party, threatening to stop union payments until the party shifted left. We’ve seen such posturing before; what was more significant, however, was his statement that “none of our enemies are in this hall”; hopefully a signal that his Stalinoid repression against the far-left within the union may be softening.
Activists should use that softening to pile on the pressure for action.
Prentis's strong talk and the decision by the Executive to combine motions on pensions including a commitment to an “early ballot” on action meant that the debate was uncontentious. But we still may not begin a ballot of members until September.
We need to pressure our National Executive members to begin the ballot before the end of July; this way we could strike alongside other workers during the summer or in September.
Unsurprisingly, motions demanding that local councils set needs budgets, or demanding councillors follow the lead of the Poplar Labour rebels in refusing to tax the poor or cut services, were not allowed on the agenda.
A motion on “parallel budgets” (propaganda budgets where you say what you would have spent if you didn't “have” to make cuts) was debated; but the idea that jobs and services were as important as councillors' careers was noticeably absent.
If Unison takes this call seriously and uses activists in local Labour Parties to demand they draw up a parallel budget then our members will not just want to read about this ideal budget but fight to see it implemented.
We can’t stop demanding that councillors refuse to implement cuts, but a parallel budget could be a first step in fighting for this.