UNISON local government and national delegate conferences takes place in Brighton this week. Conference will be dominated by a general election result which clearly adds further instability into the equation. UNISON and other big unions must now take the lead in the fight to kick out the Tories, bring Corbyn’s Labour to power, and end austerity.
UNISON local government and national delegate conferences takes place in Brighton this week. Conference will be dominated by a general election result which clearly adds further instability into the equation. However, the motions, composites and amendments that will be discussed were written well in advance and reflect years of austerity cuts and the increasing crisis in social care, schools, the NHS and across the public services.
To cap it all, after seven years of austerity, there is huge uncertainty over the impact of Brexit. The war of attrition in the public sector could be about to get worse. Tens of thousands of UNISON members from the EU and from further afield face additional anxieties. No wonder then that thousands of UNISON members greeted Labour’s manifesto pledges with enthusiasm and that many have been active in fighting for a Corbyn victory.
UNISON members are looking for a lead from the national union, particularly with a weak Tory government. The outcome of the NEC election, which saw the new pro-leadership faction “Stronger UNISON” fail to win a majority, represents a swing to the Left and will be welcomed by members – provided of course that this is reflected in a change in outlook at the top of the union. The new UNISON Action Broad Left must take the lead in this.
The outcome of the “UNISONgate” case into the conduct of the 2015 general secretary election fell short of demanding a rerun of the election. However, it is evident that the Assistant Certification Officer’s 114 page report makes damning criticisms of the conduct of senior full time officers. Not least that nothing has been done since 2015 to put the union’s house in order. This has to be a priority for the new NEC. After all, UNISON is proud to call itself a member-led union. If that is to be taken seriously by members and activists alike, there must be no cover-up.
Likewise, the role of UNISON’s representatives on the Labour Party NEC has come under significant scrutiny this year. The new NEC must ensure that UNISON’s delegates to Labour’s NEC reflect the support for Jeremy Corbyn within the Labour Link. That means electing left delegates onto the National Labour Link Committee. And it means making UNISON’s Labour NEC reps accountable to the union.
This year there’ll be no big argument over pay at local government conference, as the last deal that was done was for two years. But that doesn’t mean that the issue of low pay and cuts to wages has gone away. It’s merely been postponed. For our low-paid members in particular – most of whom are women – it is a dire necessity.
The prospect of another Tory government will have a dramatic impact on our members. The NHS faces ruin and large-scale privatisation. Local government would be devastated. The Tories have no answer to the crisis in social care – other than their “dementia tax”, which has gone down like a lead balloon with their elderly voters. UNISON needs to back up its local branches whenever they enter into struggle. We also need to up the ante in the Labour Party and demand that councillors fight austerity, refuse to implement the cuts and not just weep over them. The weakness of the Tory position means that a fighting lead from the Labour Party and the trade unions could stop the Tories in their tracks.
Labour’s surge in the general election, based on an anti-austerity programme, demonstrates the potential that exists. It is possible that we may face a new general election in just a few months. The best defence for all public sector workers has to be a majority Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn.
Socialist Appeal supporters in UNISON will continue to fight for that. But that’s only the beginning of a struggle to reverse Tory cuts and transform the public sector. Ultimately only a fundamental transformation of society along socialist lines can guarantee a dignified future for the people who depend on the hard work of our members.