Link to this page: https://secure.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/716/14451
Unison leadership 'woefully inadequate' in face of cuts
Roger Davey, Unison health Service Group Executive (SGE), personal capacity
Unison's health conference could have been a golden opportunity to establish a national strategy and campaign to defeat the relentless attacks unleashed by the Con-Dem government. However, it is clear that the union leadership has no credible programme to resist, except that of waiting for a Labour government, the party who is partially responsible for the position we are in.
Much of the debate revolved around the privatisation of the NHS and the growing attacks on our pay and conditions. Delegate after delegate spoke passionately about the impact privatisation and the financial cuts would have - how the market and privatisation would destroy the principles of a comprehensive health service free at the point of delivery.
Care that was once provided free by the NHS would no longer be available without incurring a cost. In essence it would mean unnecessary pain, illness and death for the majority, while for the minority (private companies) it would mean profits and increased wealth.
It was also pointed out by, among others, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis, that Labour built the bridge over which the Con-Dems have travelled to destroy the NHS. It prompted one delegate to say we should therefore smash the bridge, in other words, break the link with Labour. Of course, this is never allowed to be debated at any Unison conference.
Delegates also spoke about the avalanche of attacks that were being prepared by the government on health workers' living standards. In fact, it seems likely that every reform we've ever gained is now under threat.
We need a clear commitment to national industrial action in order to safeguard our hard-won rights. But again we were left unclear what the strategy is.
Dave Prentis's speech, in which he talked about the success of the pensions strike on 30 November, was at best low key. Of course he failed to mention that since the strike the leadership have done everything in their power to end the dispute without winning any substantial gains.
It was also clear that Prentis had nothing to offer on the issues facing health workers and indeed the threat to the NHS. He and the leadership are coming under increasing pressure from the membership to be seen to do something to fight back against the government.
Although he didn't mention it in his speech, Prentis now seems to be supporting the idea of a national trade union demonstration against the cuts to be held in the autumn. This is welcome, but is woefully inadequate. A demo should be held earlier but more importantly it needs to be combined with a programme of industrial action and mass campaigning.
Shadow health secretary Andrew Burnham addressed the conference and answered carefully hand-picked questions. Although he stated that Labour would repeal the Health and Social Care Act it is clear that he did not reject the idea of private companies having a major role. He did not disown Labour's 'reforms' which did so much damage to the NHS.
During the debates it was noticeable that Socialist Party members led the opposition and put forward a clear strategy and programme.
We have entered a decisive period not just for the union but also for the NHS. It will determine whether we have an NHS providing comprehensive free healthcare or a US-style system. It will also decide whether we have a democratic, fighting trade union or one that is destined to suffer more attacks from the government.
In The Socialist 2 May 2012:
Fighting the government attacks
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party workplace news
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition feature
Socialist Party campaigns
International socialist news and analysis
Environment and socialism