Consensus rules ok….
Consensus and a common purpose was the theme of this year's
Conference. A good thing when we have huge fights ahead of us on
pensions and defending public services.
Mary Walker, Kate Ramsden
and Bob Revie
Disappointingly, this branch’s motion on asylum seeker children,
although prioritised, was not heard, as conference ran out of time.
On a positive note, however, it was supported by the National Executive
of UNISON, so will hopefully be taken forward.
For information about motion see UNISON Matters Spring 2006 (pdf)
There was some lively debate, mainly on the public services, pensions
and international issues. However the defining point in the week
was the moving and inspirational speech by Thabitha Khumalo of the
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
Contributions like that put so many things into perspective. We
often struggle to organise in the workplace. We can face victimisation
and we do support and represent members who have experienced injustice
at the hands of their employers.
But we face nothing like Thabitha. We don't usually face arrest,
beatings or torture for being a trade unionist. If we did, would
we be able to manage it with Thabitha's strength of purpose and
humbling dignity? How would we stand up to the murder and torture
faced by our other trade union comrades in Colombia?
We may not face the same adversity but this week demonstrated we
do have a role in supporting colleagues who do face that adversity.
Significantly, we have a huge role in facilitating dialogue between
Palestinian and Israeli trade unionists. We saw that at the STUC
and we saw it again this Conference. The current conflict in the
middle east only goes to show how important that is.
Conference started with a key debate on the underfunding of social
care and a demand for the investment to ensure high quality and
free personal care in the 21st century, provided by well trained
and well rewarded staff.
The union then set out its wide-ranging agenda for defending and
building world class public services.
The government has missed opportunities to implement truly radical
reforms and is reverting to the failed outsourcing and privatisation
of the past. General Secretary Dave Prentis warned Labour that it
could not take union support for granted and would lose the next
election if kept to that agenda.
The failed policies of the 'market' are destroying the principles
of our NHS. Marketisation was roundly condemned. Scotland pointed
to the successes of bringing staff back 'in-house'.
But Conference recognised that none of this can be achieved acting
just on our own. The pensions debate highlighted the need for unions
to work together and the union also set out a strategy for more
co-operation between public service unions in the future.
Protecting migrant workers and the continuing fight against racism
was also high on the agenda. The hard work of UNISON activists on
the ground in combating the poison of the BNP was recognised by
The energy debate reminded us of the range of services our members
work in but also the key issues for safe and sustainable energy
for all of us.
Conference also called for a higher profile for Health and Safety
and recognised and valued the work of our 20,000 Health and Safety
The continued fight to defend council housing was the last debate
of Conference with a special mention for Edinburgh where tenants
voted to reject stock transfer.
There were few fundamental differences in the debates and the enormity
of the challenges we faced perhaps drove forward the consensus.
Where there was debate, a recurrent theme was the need to leave
the past behind and concentrate on new strategies for the future.