Last week (June 18-21) I attended UNISON ’s national delegate conference in Liverpool. I also attended the Local Government Conference on 16th and 17th June.
The highlight was Ricky Tomlinson’s brilliant address on the first day calling for support for the Shrewsbury 24
campaign, which is seeking to overturn the convictions of union activists
involved in the builders’ strike of 1972.
Much of conference was uneventful.
Dave Prentis, General Secretary stated:
“For too long we’ve built the careers of Labour politicians, only to be let down
when we needed them most. I don’t want to hear Labour apologising for past
mistakes, I want to see a clear agenda from Labour for the future. We must not
support a Labour government that does not put an end to privatisation and market
madness or restore our NHS, invest in our public services, restore the facility
time taken away from our activists, restore workers’ rights and remove the
shackles on trade unions.”
Prentis called on the TUC, Unite and GMB to work with Unison to organise a
demonstration in defence of the NHS at the Tory party conference in Manchester
on September 29.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, also speaking at the
conference, confirmed that the TUC would support the rally.
It was disappointing, however, that both O’Grady and Prentis indulged in
clichéd attacks on political opponents’ physical appearance - specifically the
communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles’ weight - which
undermined the good points they made and alienated many delegates. Their jibes
about overweight politicians were raised by delegates tweeting live from the
conference and criticised by a number of speakers during a debate on disability hate crime
later the same day.
The conference seemed largely uncontroversial apart from a major discussion on an amendment from Havering LG Branch. This amendment called on the trade unions to organise safe spaces for women members.
It also said:
"Our trade union should start from a position of believing women (who are victims of male violence). We believe that all women who complain of male violence have the right to be listened to and supported."
The amendment fell after a series of "supportive speeches" were made that actually were against it.
Jane made a quite excellent speech defending the amendment and was one of only three speakers who addressed the amendment.
A major victory at LG Conference was on supporting the Councillors Against the Cuts group. Many of us have been arguing that the union should support Councillor willing to lead a fight against austerity. So, the success of the lambeth motion was very welcome.
Finally, both Jane and I were struck by some of the remarks made by some delegates in their speeches which seemed a bit "near the knuckle". Our mouths fell open on more than one occassion.
Given that neither Jane nor I have been to NDC as delegates for a number of years it was an intereting experience and we will present a fuller report in the next couple of weeks. But the defeat of the Havering amendment does seem to indicate that the union has taken several step back in relation to the subject of women's oppression.