Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 25 June 2008

Unison conference 2008: Fighting to reclaim the union for its members

Unison conference 2008 anti-witchhunt protest, photo Paul Mattsson

Glenn Kelly at Unison conference 2008, photo Paul Mattsson

BY THE end of this year's Unison conference of public sector workers, the Socialist Party was seen as the most prominent party, as a result of its campaign against the union leaders' witch hunt of four of its members and for promoting discussion on why Unison should break its political link with Labour.

Jane James

At the local government section conference (which preceded the main one) Onay Kasab from Greenwich received much applause when he reminded the leadership that the union's "priority was not the New Labour government but our members. Let's reclaim this union".

Onay Kasab, Unison conference 2008 anti-witchhunt protest, photo Paul Mattsson

Onay Kasab, Unison conference 2008 anti-witchhunt protest, photo Paul Mattsson

Brian Blake from Ealing described how low paid workers in his council (who faced a 50% cut in their pay) had given 100% support for industrial action back in September 2007 but the request for a ballot was not met. This led to members leaving the union.

A number of delegates criticised union officials for not facilitating strike ballots but the chair ruled that delegates must stop referring to specific officials in their contributions.

Brian Debus, Hackney, spoke to Motion 4 - 'Pay campaign lessons of 2007' - which was carried. It argued that "a successful pay campaign needs to be conducted prior to the wage year rather than during it." In future members need to be ready to take action before 1 April instead of leaving a ballot until late in the year, as happened in 2007. Brian pointed out that "councils made millions of pounds by holding onto our money till the end of 2007."

Defend the 4

Unison conference 2008 anti-witchhunt protest, photo Paul Mattsson

Unison conference 2008 anti-witchhunt protest, photo Paul Mattsson

From the first day of the national conference the leadership was on the back foot. So worried was general secretary Dave Prentis that members from the branches of the four being witch-hunted would disrupt his speech with protests, that Socialist Party delegates reported it was the flattest, most non-controversial speech they had heard. Delegates pointed out that instead of fighting his own members Prentis should be fighting for decent pay and against privatisation.

Supporters of the four went ahead with a loud, determined protest outside the conference and were joined by delegates in a march to an anti-witch hunt meeting which was filled to overflowing by the hundreds who attended!

Unison conference 2008 anti-witchhunt protest, photo Paul Mattsson

Unison conference 2008 anti-witchhunt protest, photo Paul Mattsson

At the local government section conference, Socialist Party members expressed the mood of anger and frustration of workers against the Labour government. This in turn was carried over into the main conference, particularly in the last few hours of the conference when motion 63 was debated.

This motion - entitled 'New Labour: what do we get for our money?' - pointed out how New Labour are attacking public sector workers and services and proposed a review of the union's political fund. It only got onto the agenda because delegates had argued against their regional officials for it to be debated and it became the highest prioritised motion following a vote.

Unison's cosying up to New Labour is a barrier to fighting against the government's pay freeze, privatisation and public sector cuts.

This was a very sharp debate with Glenn Kelly, Bromley branch quoting Gordon Brown, who had said: "I feel your pain". Glenn warned him that he would "feel our wrath"! He asked what the NEC was afraid of: "I am happy to test the link [with Labour] with the members. Why aren't they?" He concluded by saying that "every penny of union members' money should be to defend our members."

The NEC argued that it would be a waste of resources to have a consultation on the Labour link and that the money would be better spent to fight pay, privatisation and the BNP.

Keith Sonnet, deputy general secretary, slanderously declared that "the Socialist Party wanted to get their grubby hands on our money !"

The NEC amendment which overturned (wrecked!) the motion was narrowly carried in a card vote. It should be noted however that the excellent votes that Socialist Party members achieved in the service group executive elections - where the demand for breaking from Labour was raised - shows that ordinary members, as well as a large number of delegates, are opposed to the Labour link.

Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary, addresses the Socialist Party fringe meeting at Unison conference 2008, photo Gary Freeman

Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary, addresses the Socialist Party fringe meeting at Unison conference 2008, photo Gary Freeman

A Socialist Party fringe meeting attracted 75 delegates who heard Peter Taaffe (Socialist Party general secretary) highlight the significance of this conference. Workers were angry at having to suffer the consequences of the failing economy and would demand fighting leaders for their unions.

Socialist Party members were the most prominent in calling for Unison to break from Labour and demanding that the union fight against pay cuts - which is the real reason behind the witch hunt.

  • Glenn Kelly spoke at an anti-witch hunt meeting on Thursday lunchtime where he called for a wider campaign to democratise and reclaim the union for the members. This would bring together all those who want an end to the witch hunts, to ensure the election of officials and build a union committed to fighting for its members.
  • Socialist Party members sold 200 copies of The Socialist and raised £750 for the party's Fighting Fund. A number of Unison members agreed to join the party in addition to those who wanted more information.

    Donate to the Socialist Party

    Finance appeal

    The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

    The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

    • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
    • We must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
    Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
    We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our Fighting Fund.

    Please donate here.

    All payments are made through a secure server.

    My donation


    Your message: 


    In The Socialist 25 June 2008:

    Prices up, Wages down...Summer of action needed!

    Workers' battles win results: Tankers drivers' success upsets bosses

    Council workers striking back

    Socialist Party editorial

    Editorial: Summer of discontent?

    PCS union sends letter of solidarity to Unison

    Campaign for a new workers' party: Conference - Sunday 29 June, 11am - 5pm

    Unison Conference 2008

    Unison conference 2008: Fighting to reclaim the union for its members

    Unison Service Group Executives - socialists elected

    National Shop Stewards Network Conference

    Fighting, democratic unions not witch hunts

    Socialist Party campaigns

    Thousands show their hatred for racism

    Student unions can be pushed into action

    Socialist Party Marxist analysis

    Review: False 'gods' of a failing system

    International socialist news and analysis

    Zimbabwe: Mugabe's militias crush his political opponents

    Afghanistan - paying the price of western occupation

    Summit fails to halt runaway oil prices

    Britain: No.1 arms dealer

    Socialist Party NHS campaign

    Cut throat competition threatens NHS

    "With polyclinics you're just a number"

    Stop this sell-off!

    Origins of the Labour Party

    'Old' Labour - born out of workers' struggles

    Socialist Party workplace news

    Brighton bus drivers match inflation

    Teachers fight academy plans in Bolton

    Union news in brief

    Usdaw election


    Home   |   The Socialist 25 June 2008   |   Join the Socialist Party

    Subscribe   |   Donate  

    Related links:


    triangleSocialist Party statement on Unison president Paul Holmes

    triangleHackney Unison to encourage anti-cuts candidates

    triangleNHS mandatory vaccination to be ditched

    triangleStrike action by Carmarthenshire winter gritters wins concessions from council

    triangleCarmarthenshire gritters take action as Plaid-led council reneges on agreement


    triangleCarlisle Socialist Party: What now for Ukraine and Russia?

    triangleThe Erdington byelection and the fight for a new mass workers' party

    triangle1 March: Socialist Party new website launch

    triangleLondon Socialist Party women's meeting

    Socialist Party:

    triangleHackney & Islington Socialist Party: Crisis in the Ukraine

    triangleRail workers strike in Sheffield

    triangleWaltham Forest Socialist Party: Perspectives for the fightback in England & Wales


    triangleBrighton Green and Labour cuts - workers and communities fight back

    trianglePrivatisation and crisis in the NHS

    Reports and campaigns

    Reports and campaigns



    Restore Cardiff's slashed services



    Just Eat couriers continue action to fight pay cut



    University workers continue strike against bosses' attacks



    Tube workers strike in defence of pay, pensions and conditions



    Workers and students unite and fight



    Fighting fees and marketisation after 2 March student walkout



    Brighton Green and Labour cuts - workers and communities fight back



    Surrey: Unions and campaigns say stand as an anti-cuts candidate



    Newham City Farm - closed with no consultation



    London Socialist Party women's meeting



    1 March: Socialist Party new website launch



    Coventry bin strikers lobby strike-breaking Labour council



    Scunny scaffs action forces bosses to the table



    Usdaw: 'Reinstate Max' week of action



    Trade union support for standing anti-cuts election candidates

    triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...

    Join the Socialist Party
    Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
    Donate to the Socialist Party
    Socialist Party Facebook page
    Socialist Party on Twitter
    Visit us on Youtube



    Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

    Email: [email protected]

    Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

    Regional Socialist Party organisers:

    Eastern: 079 8202 1969

    East Mids: 077 3797 8057

    London: 020 8988 8786

    North East: 078 4114 4890

    North West 079 5437 6096

    South West: 077 5979 6478

    Southern: 078 3368 1910

    Wales: 077 7221 5281

    West Mids: 024 7655 5620

    Yorkshire: 078 0983 9793



    Alphabetical listing

    June 2022

    May 2022

    April 2022

    March 2022

    February 2022

    January 2022