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27 June 2012

Unison conference Delegates call for effective battle on pay

Jane James

Having declared that Unison has got the best public sector pension deal it could get, the union's general secretary, Dave Prentis, is now moving on to the next campaign on "fair pay".

Members will ask how serious the Unison leadership is about breaking the pay freeze, especially after the pensions 'deal' that means they have to work longer and pay more to get less pensions. Threats of strike action alone are not enough.

Prentis announced plans to organise action across the public sector, which would include strikes if the government does not stop the long term pay freeze. But a one-day strike was not enough to defeat the attack on pensions. Unison health members voted for further action but were denied it by the leadership.

Workers in the public sector have suffered two or even three years of a pay freeze, now to be followed by a 1% cap on pay rises.

A Unison survey has shown that 93% of members are struggling to keep up financially. Now the Con-Dems want to replace national pay bargaining with regional or local pay, with the aim of cutting wages further.

Prentis also criticised Labour leader Ed Miliband and shadow chancellor Ed Balls for supporting pay restraint, but would not support severing the union's links to the Labour Party.

Socialist Party members speaking in the debates received support when they attacked Labour councils for making Tory cuts.

Hundreds of delegates and visitors attended a "Reclaim the Union" fringe meeting where Glenn Kelly, one of the four Socialist Party members witch-hunted and banned from office by the union leadership, addressed the meeting along with others under attack.

Those present marched back to the conference venue chanting against the leadership, determined to make sure Unison is accountable to its members.

The following day saw the debate on key rule changes, especially Rule I. The leadership insisted that new wording to that rule would ensure that members of the far-right, racist British National Party would be expelled from the union.

But delegates asked why 250 BNP members inside Unison had not been expelled already, while 60,000 had been spent on taking Socialist Party members to court!

In past years, delegates had voted down similar rule changes convinced they could be used by the leadership to attack socialists. But this year there was a mood to ensure the BNP members were kicked out. At the same time, many attendees gave support to Socialist Party delegates.

Over 60 delegates attended the Socialist Party fringe meeting, where the party's general secretary Peter Taaffe and Kazakhstan trade union leader Esenbek Ukteshbaev spoke.