Unison conferences met between 17-22 June in Brighton.
There was a Unison Action broad left meeting on Tuesday 19 June, which had about 400 people.
The organisation is relatively new and has little organisation so far, but the large meeting was a good start. We want a movement which can challenge the leadership for NEC positions and build a rank and file base. We don’t have it yet.
The only controversy in the National Delegate Conference so far, as I wrote on 20 June, has been on a motion from the union Executive Committee (NEC) marking the 25th anniversary of the Union which amounted to a power grab — centralising control within HQ from branches and moving the union away from being a lay-led union.
The motion contained little definite itself but would cause other motions to fall which gave guarantees or made changes to keep or redirect power to branches from HQ.
A review of UNISON’s structures and practices needs to be done in an own, transparent way by involving rank and file members rather than the leadership and their “preferred” people. The motion was vague and gave no specifics about how the review would be carried out, just the areas that it wanted to look at
The hand vote at conference appeared to be about 60% against the motion, but the chair ruled that the motion had been carried.
After about 10 minutes of confusion and with objections from the floor a card vote was called and the motion fell by 214,000 delegate votes.
The general feeling in the conference in general is pretty angry about Tory austerity, and optimistic about a Labour government. Many members are also angry about what they see as a failure of the leadership of the union to take action, or in blocking action sometimes, particularly in Further Education (a motion on this is due later on the agenda).
Local Government conference (on 17-18 June, before NDC on 19-22) was pretty dull. There were no real contentions motions. One motion from the Service Group Executive, which has moved left over the past year, was ruled out of order for mentioning of industrial action, but due to union rules we do not know what that motion was about.
The drift left by the SGE reflects the anger of rank and file activists and an awareness that Unison’s lack of fight that Unison has caused it to lose thousands of members.
The general opinion of the conference was that we can only retain and build membership by defending members more militantly in the workplace and fighting austerity. However motions contained few specifics.
A motion passed calling on the NEC to call a joint health and social care one-day conference to allow members in those areas to meet and coordinate work.
The areas currently sit in different “sectors” of the union.
The motion was then defeated at National Delegate Conference when the NEC argued that it was an ″unnecessary talking shop″.
General Secretary Dave Prentis talked left in his conference address — he claimed to be a Corbyn supporter from the start despite his and the Union leadership′s preferred candidate at the time being Yvette Cooper. He also talked about Unison as a left union, as a union which was a thorn in the side of New Labour which is blatantly not true.
That shows the union leadership are afraid of a resurgent union membership, so are talking left to please and placate members, but not carrying out anything radical.