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From The Socialist newspaper, 26 November 2008

Activists discuss how to reclaim Unison

Demonstration outside Unison HQ against witchhunt of four unison members, photo Paul Mattsson

Demonstration outside Unison HQ against witchhunt of four unison members, photo Paul Mattsson

On 22 November, over 100 angry Unison activists gathered in Birmingham to discuss how to re-claim their union. This was against the backdrop of witch-hunts against socialists in the union, failed disputes over pay, single status, and pensions, and a Labour link that has given 10 million to a government that continues to attack our wages and conditions.

A Unison member

The Socialist Party (SP) has long believed that a serious battle needs to be waged to reclaim our union and it was for that reason that SP members in Unison proposed this initiative of launching a campaign to reclaim and democratise the union.

The meeting took place at a crucial time for Unison, and the labour movement in general. As the recession has now hit hard, the public sector will eventually have to pay the price for the economic crisis as jobs and pensions will come under attack.

What confidence can Unison members have in the current leadership? We've heard hollow rhetoric on action, pay, and pensions, from a leadership with no intention of leading any genuine fights.

Demonstration at Unison HQ against witchhunt of four unison members: protest letters handed in , photo Paul Mattsson

Demonstration at Unison HQ against witchhunt of four unison members: protest letters handed in , photo Paul Mattsson

The successful local government two-day strike over pay in July resulted in the union leadership wasting the members' struggle by going into talks with the employers, who had made no new pay offer, and then refusing to call further action.

Unison is still one of the biggest unions in the country and has one of the biggest pay bargaining machines but the bureaucracy seems unable to use that to get the best results for its members. This is due to its link to the Labour Party which means that the bureaucracy is more interested in propping up the Labour Party than defending its own members.

The lack of democracy inside Unison is going from bad to worse, with 50% of resolutions to this year's conference being ruled out of order. Unelected union bureaucrats have now clearly got "hit lists" of individuals and branches that need to be brought into line or silenced.

Regular readers of The Socialist will be aware of the Defend the Four campaign, where four Socialist Party members are facing disciplinary action for challenging the standing orders committee's rejection of a number of motions at conference. The action taken against these members is part of a full-scale witch-hunt aimed at clearing any dissenting voice from the union. There are now a total of 12 socialists being witch-hunted, of which seven are SP members, one of whom, Pat Lawlor, has just been expelled from the union.

The meeting brought home the task facing the left, and all those members who want Unison to be a fighting, democratic union. If the current leadership remains in place then the union will become increasingly ineffective in defending its members. The only alternative is for us to reclaim it.

The meeting agreed to put forward a joint list to stand candidates in the national executive (NEC) elections next year and for regional campaign committees to maximise the votes. Anyone standing on this list must stand for a democratic union that will fight for its members and not against socialists. It is also important that the campaign draws in a wider layer of activists other than those already in existing left organisations, to campaign for a fighting, democratic NEC.

Demonstration outside Unison HQ against witchhunt of four unison members, photo Paul Mattsson

Demonstration outside Unison HQ against witchhunt of four unison members, photo Paul Mattsson

In the main, the meeting consisted of members of left parties and groups but with other activists also attending. Although the SP, with three current NEC members, is not part of the United Left grouping in Unison, SP members explained that it was essential to unite on this crucial issue. SP speakers made it clear that the question of a permanent left organisation will depend on how this campaign is taken forward.

The SP does not accept that any one group should dominate a broad left organisation, as has unfortunately been the case with the United Left, but could participate in a genuine democratic broad left within Unison which would involve a wider layer of activists and fighters in the union.

The disciplinary hearings of the four SP members under attack were due to recommence on 24 November but were postponed. However 80 supporters gathered outside the Unison HQ in London where angry chants and messages of support were heard.

The four went into the union building to hand in hundreds of protest letters and also to serve notice of legal action against the union for attacking these members.

  • See SP website to read the leaflet given out at the Democracy meeting and website for more information on the Defend the Four campaign.

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    In The Socialist 26 November 2008:

    Socialist Party NHS campaign

    Darling's prescription... It's spend, spend, spend on the banks... but cuts, cuts, cuts for the NHS

    Top-up payments for private health care another step towards two-tier National Health

    Environment and socialism

    Socialist 'deal' for environment needed

    Campaign Against Climate Change march

    Socialist Party editorial

    Alistair Darling's pre Budget Report: Pain now, pay later

    Unison witchhunt

    Activists discuss how to reclaim Unison

    Meeting pledges to fight witch-hunt

    Unison leadership takeover Newham branch

    Socialist Party workplace news

    Manchester: No redundancies at IMI!

    Strike saves jobs at Fiddlers Ferry

    Organise to save jobs


    BNP membership list: A weak divided party exposed

    New Labour hypocrisy on racism

    Youth Against Racism gig

    Socialist Party campaigns

    Campaigning to save post offices

    Rover's ex-workers wage cut scandal

    Socialist Party feature

    China's food contamination crisis deepens

    Socialist Party women

    Defend abortion rights


    Art and revolution

    International socialist news and analysis

    Somalia piracy - a consequence of western powers' intervention

    France: Education strikes on the agenda


    Home   |   The Socialist 26 November 2008   |   Join the Socialist Party

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