UNISON Conference 2006
By Gray Allan, Secretary,
Falkirk Council Branch 07340 (personal capacity)
The final agenda for UNISON Annual Conference and for the Annual Local
Government, Water, Energy and Transport service group conferences is
the usual glossy broadsheet containing some 147 motions, not to mention
all the amendments. Many of these motions and amendments will not be
debated due to lack of time. Even more will be swallowed up in the
It is difficult for delegates and members to identify the motions that
will be debated but it is easier to get a feel for the issues that
Conference will focus on.
In Local Government it is clear that a debate on pensions and on the
current dispute will take place. With strike action knocked into the
long grass by the national committee it is obvious that they will try
to avoid any criticism. Two motions are, however, on the agenda, and
are certain to be debated, not least because the national local
government committee has not put a motion in its own name on the
agenda. The conduct of the dispute aside, a key issue to be resolved is
the two-tier pension scheme. At the moment it looks as though the Union
leadership are prepared to concede a much poorer pension scheme for
new, young employees as long as existing pension scheme members are
protected. There are powerful arguments against this line, not least of
which is the basic unfairness of it.
From a Scottish standpoint it is interesting to see motions on the
agenda calling for a national campaign to win decent pay for nursery
nurses. A strike battle was fought for nursery nurses in Scotland 2
years ago. While not a conclusive victory important increases in pay
levels were won.
The Turner Report on Pensions features on the main agenda. Motions
point out the implications of forcing people to work longer before
retiring. None, however, say that this is a class question. Poor
working class people have a much shorter life expectancy. The Turner
proposals are a death sentence for many workers – work till you drop
will be the brutal reality for many.
A motion from Cymru/Wales deals with the scandal of ill-health
dismissals where Council employees with decades of service are sacked
without access to their pension because they are too ill to work but
not sick enough for the bosses' medical "advisers" to certify them
permanently unfit. You need that certificate before you can get your
14 motions and amendments on global warming, the energy crisis, and the
environment make it certain that this issue will be debated. Most deal
with the issue from a liberal-environmentalist standpoint and do not
address the needs of workers presently employed in the nuclear
industry. As a result we see amendments from the Nuclear Generation
Branch calling for a mixed solution to the energy gap that includes
The most dramatic change in the agenda this year is the increase in
number of motions on Venezuela. It is clear that events in that country
have electrified layers of the Union. 13 motions and amendments make it
certain that Venezuela will be debated. This will allow not only
support for Hands off Venezuela to be decided but also the lessons the
Bolivarian Revolution has for workers in Britain.
Perhaps this is the source of the Glasgow City motion 77 calling for an
end to capitalism and the building of democratic socialism!
Unfortunately not likely to be debated.
“We Waited Years For Labour To Be Elected :
Nine Years Later, We Cannot Wait Any Longer”
by Pam Woods, shop steward, Islington UNISON (personal capacity)
This year's Unison conference will be the tenth since the election of the Labour Government.
Who can forget the morning of May 2nd 1997? At last, the hated Tory
government had been brought down. We had watched in despair as they
wreaked havoc on British manufacturing industry, pauperised the valleys
of South Wales, the mining villages of Scotland and the north of
England, turned inner city council estates into slums, and destroyed
the greatest trade union in British history – the National Union of
At last, we had our revenge. How we rejoiced as we sat up through the
night watching one, and then another, constituency swing to Labour. On
an uncharacteristically sunny, warm spring morning we reflected that
even the weather seemed to be on our side.
Of course, few of us had any illusions in Tony Blair. He was not one of
us. He was an ex-public schoolboy, the son of a Tory, and had expressed
his admiration for the odious Thatcher.
But we had a Labour government, and surely now things would change.
This is what the union leaders had been telling us for years. Nothing
could be done, we were told, about privatisation, the Tory anti-union
laws, the lack of public housing, the crisis in the NHS. We would have
to wait for a Labour government. And so they made us wait. And so they
Another Tory 'brainwave' loomed on the horizon: the Private Finance
Initiative. In our department of Islington Council, the refuse
collection and street sweeping department, we were told that we were to
be the first to experience PFI – although this time it would be a new
form of privatisation: a 'joint venture'. Joint in the sense that both
parties, public and private, would co-operate in a partnership – that
is, the public sector would hand over its assets free of charge, and
the private sector would gratefully accept them.
Islington was then a Labour council, run in the main by Blair
supporters serving their apprenticeships in local government in
preparation for better careers ahead. Why now, we argued. Surely we'll
have a Labour government in six months' time and PFI will be ditched?
How wrong we were, it turned out. We struck for five days, rubbish
piled up in the streets and dustmen mounted a 24-hour picket. There was
huge public support. Workers understand that private companies will
never act in their interests. If the national leadership of the GMB had
fully backed the strike instead of attempting to undermine it at every
turn, I have no doubt it could have been won.
The result was that those workers whose terms and conditions were
guaranteed under TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings, Protection of
Employment) found themselves subjected to bullying, petty scrutiny and
disciplinary action for the most minor misdemeanour. Some were sacked,
and many left because they could not stand the new regime. In the
meantime, vacancies were filled by new workers on much worse terms and
conditions, unprotected by TUPE legislation.
And, of course, Labour soon lost control of the council, it goes without saying.
This is a salutary lesson. When Labour acts against the interests of working people it invariably loses votes.
The media are full of stories of a 'handover' from Blair to Brown.
Since when, precisely, has the Labour Party been the private
property of any individual, to be 'handed over' as and when they see
fit? Blair must go, that is clear. But we all know Brown offers no
alternative. He has supported all Blair's loathsome measures: the
brutal and rapacious bombing and occupation of Iraq, PFI, tuition fees,
NHS 'reforms' and so on.
Yes, Blair must go, and the sooner the better. But his departure must
be the beginning of a serious and vigorous policy discussion at all
levels of the Party. It must also signal the start of a democratic
leadership election. We must encourage and support the emergence of a
left contender prepared to lead the Party in a reversal of the
Tory/Blairite policies we have endured for the past 27 years and act in
favour of working people and for socialist policies.
The Labour Link …
A Vital Weapon
Terry McPartlan, Sunderland Local Government Branch (personal capacity)
After three years of war, attacks on local government pensions, the
continuing financial crisis in the health service, and the threats to
its long term future, it is no surprise that some UNISON members
question the current relationship between the union and the Labour
Following the local election results the crisis and divisions within
the Blair Project are plain to see. It is understandable why some
members might feel that New Labour offers them very little or nothing
The question of disaffiliation from the party or the use of the
affiliated section of the political fund to fund other organisations
has been raised in the past. Socialist Appeal supporters in UNISON have
consistently argued against these positions.
Disaffiliation from the party is essentially a short cut to nowhere.
The APF Labour link structure within UNISON potentially represents a
very important weapon in the hands of the union, in the fight to defend
workers pay and conditions. On a local basis it allows UNISON members
to put pressure on local councillors and elected mayors, and also to
campaign through the local general committees and local government
committees. At the same time the Labour Link operates through national
campaigns and the party conference where UNISON commands a large
proportion of the Trade Union Block Vote. The importance of this was
illustrated last year where the platform was defeated on a number of
Outside of the Party UNISON would have far less influence, and could
easily be bypassed. This would no doubt please Tony Blair as well as
the Tories (who of course have been trying to break the Trade Union
Link for decades).
And to which groups would the union affiliate? Even at the high point
of Blair's unpopularity the various sects and alliances, phantom mass
parties and coalitions on the fringes of the labour movement are little
more than shadows. A shift to the left in the Labour Party would see
At present the national bureaucracy of the union has an extremely cosy
relationship with the Labour leadership. This has certainly had a
negative effect in terms of issues around Agenda for Change, Pay and
most recently the Cumbria Equal Pay victory. However, any serious left
tendency in the union must regard the struggle to democratise the
UNISON labour link and to deliver UNISON's programme within the party
as a vital part of the struggle for a Democratic Fighting Union.
· Reclaim the Party
· Don't Break the Links
· For a Labour Government with a Socialist Programme
“You cannot manage healthcare like a business”
by Pablo Sanchez
Socialist Appeal spoke recently to Michael Swinbourne, Joint branch secretary North Tees and Hartlepool Branch of Unison.
SA: Could you tell us a little about what you do?
MS: I have been 25 years in the Trust in the operational
department, mine is a clinical role. I am the joint branch secretary of
the North Tees and Hartlepool branch of UNISON.
SA: I believe that you are in a dispute over redundancies, could you give us some background?
MS: There is a hospital with a deficit of £13.5 million and we
have been told to start off with 70 redundancies. This should never
have happened. It is not a local issue, it is an NHS issue. There has
been a steady decline in the morale of the workforce and a
deterioration of the services. In recent times there was a proposal to
merge the two hospitals (North Tees and Hartlepool) and the Save Our
Hospital Campaign stopped the possibility of a PFI Hospital. So that is
what they have come up with. There was an evaluation about 4 months ago
and then a job freeze. With the increased capacity in an important
working class area with huge needs this means a dire threat to
SA: Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt was here at the UNISON conference yesterday, what did you make of her speech?
MS: Patricia Hewitt’s speech appalled me. I was shocked and
scared. They are trying to manage health like a business and it cannot
be done. You cannot manage the health system like a business. There are
too many pressures.
As soon as it is privatised we all lose, staff and public. When the
service is private they will only care about making profits. The
private system works with a programme of cost/effect. Who is going to
train good doctors? A private hospital has to be cheap and maximise
profit. In public hands research chooses the best option, in the
private sector money decides, they choose the cheapest option,
regardless of the lives of people, that is why private health cannot be
cost-effective. Why don't we have politicians that can accept when they
are wrong? It is all spin. I am not a political steward, I am for the
workers I want to represent the members, I want them to be treated
There has been a substantial increase in investment in the NHS, it is
true. The problem is that this money is not going where it should.
Everything that is given is ‘filtered’ before it gets to the shop floor
where the money is really needed. The money is wasted in red tape and
bureaucracy. Hence, the workforce has to work harder. For instance, we
are told that it is necessary to make seventy workers redundant, but
the managers are employing someone to coordinate the task!
SA: Do you think that Agenda for Change has solved, or is going to solve, the problem?
MS: People have had minor improvements, but nowhere near meeting
their expectations. Because we were told that Agenda for Change would
solve equal pay deficits and disparity with public sector employees and
that just has not happened.
There is a lack of vision in this situation, they have to save money
because of the huge debt that the hospital has amassed, but, at the
same time, money is being skimmed from the public (via car park fees at
our hospital, for example) and the workers. These may seem to be two
separate issues, but they are closely linked. They did not negotiate
the implementation of Agenda for Change and now financial pressures are
PFI means that you throw money into a capitalist company. There is no
forward thinking, instead of investing thinking about the future, they
have resorted to a quick fix. In the long run PFI will be more
expensive and less efficient. They do not have any vision for the
SA: The Government has announced 13,000 will go, do you believe that there is overstaffing in the NHS?
MS: The workforce say we are not overstaffed. The National
Evaluation system says that we are (at least in our hospital). The
problem is that that evaluation system is based on information fed to
it by precisely those people who are proposing the cuts. It is very
easy to feed manipulated information into this system.
The evaluation system itself lacks clarity and transparency. In any
case, if there were overstaffing it is not the workers fault. This is
supposed to be the managers' responsibility, yet it will be the
public’s services and the workforce who will be made to pay the price.
It is always the lowest paid sector that pays the price.
Save Lanarkshire Casualty Units!
By Kenny McGuigan
Comrades will know from previous articles, Lanarkshire Health Board
Trust propose to close the Accident and Emergency unit at either
Monklands Hospital, Airdrie, or Hairmyres, East Kilbride. Locals are
furious. The 12 "consultation meetings" (all packed) saw angry
condemnation of the plans. With the consultations over, local
campaigners, led by North Lanarkshire Trades Council (Lanarkshire
Health United) arranged a march from Coatbridge centre to Airdrie for
Saturday, 22nd April. They demanded the 3 casualty units in the area
remain open, services be expanded and an independent investigation into
the Trust who were savaged in last year's audit for financial
mismanagement. The Trust are over £20million in debt, spending £50,000
of public money hiring a PR firm during the 6 week consultation period.
At the 11th hour, the Labour politicians for the constituencies, MP's
John Reid and Tom Clarke, and MSP's Karen Whitfield and Elaine Smith
organised an alternative demonstration for the same day. Their campaign
was heavily backed by the media while LHU were ignored. On the day
reports put New Labour's figures at 1,000 in attendance, while LHU drew
The Trust were wilting early in the process with condemnation from all
sides. Monklands is one of the busiest casualty departments in
Scotland. Then, at the Airdrie meeting, John Reid told the Trust, "If
one of the hospitals closes, it must not be Monklands". Thus the lead
was given to his colleagues who instigated and ran a parochial campaign
to save Monklands and their political hides, with indifference to the
plight of Hairmyres. The Trust will report to Lewis MacDonald, Deputy
Health Minister in June. Socialist Appeal supporters handed out
hundreds of leaflets and sold 30 journals on the day.