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Delegates challenge leadership
THE MOST important point about UNISON conference was that the mood of anger and dissatisfaction reflected in the recent elections for the national executive council (NEC) also surfaced at conference. In those elections several prominent right-wingers lost their seats.
A conference delegate
Those NEC elections weren't just a blip, they show the processes developing in the union. Delegates from areas which have never before voted with the left or had militant positions are becoming increasingly militant.
This reflects the dissatisfaction with the union leadership as a whole. They've seen disasters like single status and they've seen the schools remodelling agreement resulting in a demand to take school members out of local government collective bargaining and set them up on their own.
They've seen 'agenda for change' in the NHS not delivering the kind of pay that health workers need. They're beginning to question what kind of leadership we've got.
The national leadership are extremely worried about these developments. That's why they launched the witch hunt against the Socialist Party - for handing out a leaflet which complained about the manipulation of the agenda by the standing orders committee. [See last week's issue.]
On one day, conference rejected in its entirety a standing orders committee report for the day's business. The leadership had to significantly shift ground to capture the mood of conference, in particular debating cross-group and cross-union activity over pay, privatisation, cuts etc.
Some of the decisions taken on policy items were also important. For example against the advice of the NEC an amendment was carried which called for a national demonstration against public-sector privatisation.
The NEC have been setting their face against demonstrations for several years now. They have just, after 18 months' delay, agreed to call a demo in October against New Labour's attacks on the NHS. And they've now been committed by conference to call a further demo against privatisation and in defence of public services.
A resolution on a boycott of Israeli goods was debated. There was substantial support for a boycott, which Socialist Party members are opposed to in the blanket manner that it was proposed.
The support reflects the anger that delegates were feeling about the mistreatment of Palestinians by the Israeli state - the fact that they face daily humiliation, are subject to strip searches when they move about and the bombardment of Palestinian areas.
Throughout the week any criticism of the Labour link got cheers. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to debate that directly.
Conference debated the question of united action over pay and most delegates will have gone back to the branches feeling that the union has been pushed into a better stand.
Up to now united action has been just that, talk.
Now the leadership have been pushed towards action. They know they have to seriously get together the service groups and other public-sector unions to co-ordinate action on pay and in defence of the public sector.
In The Socialist 5 July 2007:
National Shop Stewards Network
Campaign for a New Workers Party
What we think
Postal workers strike
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Tales from the council chamber
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party events
Socialist Party review