By a conference delegate
Unison conference, meeting in Bournemouth between 17 and 23 June, posed both problems and possibilities for serious class-struggle activists in the union.
At the Local Government sector conference, there was a defeat for the left when the conference voted not to restart industrial action over pensions. By just over 350,000 to just over 330,000, delegates voted against a motion rejecting the leadership’s strategy of relying on a judicial review of the government’s pension plans.
Speaking on the Tuesday of conference, general secretary Dave Prentice promised that if judicial review fails then it will reballot for further strike action. This fundamentally misses the point. We should not leave the future of our pensions in the hands of the Law Lords! In addition, we have already lost much and will now lose a great deal more of the momentum gained by our 28 March strike, when the union gained almost 50,000 new members.
Most delegates were probably unconvinced by the leadership, but equally unpersuaded by the left that any serious alternative is on offer. That is something we need to remedy in the weeks ahead.
Prentice made lots of left-wing noises during the course of the conference, emphasising in his address to delegates that trade unionism is all about “solidarity”. Absolutely. But what a lot of activists wanted to know was why, under Prentice, the union nationally has so far failed to show any solidarity with the 1,000-odd NHS Logistics workers being handed over to profiteers DHL and Novation.
The privatisation of NHS Logistics is the thin end of the wedge for privatisation in the health service as a whole - but it could also act as the thin end of the wedge for a counter-attack by Unison. Strike action by logistics staff would bring every hospital to a stand still and provide a focus for a national campaign against privatisation. It is essential that we keep up the pressure for members in NHS Logistics to be balloted as soon as possible.
On the Wednesday, a branch-based fringe meeting on fighting NHS cuts attracted 75 delegates from across the country, with many reports of local actions. There will be high profile rallies, called either Unison health branches or local Keep Our NHS Public groups, in Manchester, Maidstone, Leicester and Birmingham over the coming month. We need to pursue such action independently, but also use it as a lever to force the union to act.
• For more see www.workersliberty/unison