By a delegate
Delegates at the national conference of the public services union Unison, meeting in Glasgow from 21 June, have defeated the platform in two votes which show growing distrust of the Blair-Brown government.
A motion welcoming the “Warwick Agreement” was defeated. That is the agreement under which, in July 2004, the union leaders agreed to rally behind Blair for the run-up to the General Election, shelving their members’ demands on issues like privatisation and repeal of anti-union laws, in return for a few slight concessions, some of which the Government would have had to give anyway because of European Union legislation.
And a motion was carried calling on Unison Labour Link to publish the voting records of the Labour MPs sponsored by the union.
On the Government’s plans to cut back public sector pensions, however, the union leadership got its way. The policy adopted states firmly that the union will demand no detriment — no increase in the normal retirement age, no cut in pensions — and talks about action if the government tries to impose cuts. But it leaves the plans for action vague.
The Government has already stated unambiguously, in a letter explaining the offer of more talks which led Unison to call off its strike on pensions scheduled for 23 March, that those talks are on the premiss of no extra cost to employers or Government. Since there will surely be an increasing number of workers over 60, this statement means that the Government plans to negotiate only on how to cut pension provision, not whether to cut it.
Moreover, the Government has still not delivered on its promise, made before 23 March, to revoke its original version of cuts in the local government pension scheme, which came into effect on 1 April. Unison’s local government sector Executive issued a statement at the conference saying that it would move to industrial action if the Government did not revoke the cuts “within a short time”. Government spokespeople have promised revocation “within two weeks”, and many union activists have been pressing the Unison leadership to give that definite deadline.
An amendment from South Yorkshire ambulance branch to the national conference, calling for Unison initiative to force the issue of pensions with the government and move towards a definite timetable for action, and for rank and file control of the dispute, was ruled by the Standing Orders Committee to have fallen when a weaker amendment was carried. An amendment from Islington Unison, calling for a national demonstration on pensions, was carried when Unison general secretary Dave Prentis recommended support “with qualifications” — the qualification being that he does not want to organise a demonstration.
In general the left in the union was willing to go along with the union leadership’s vague promises of future action, with the subtext that the action is conditional on other public sector unions first agreeing to do it jointly.
In the local government conference the left lost heavily on a motion to withdraw from schools “remodelling”, the deal (opposed by the National Union of Teachers) under which teaching assistants take over large parts of teachers’ work, at much less than teachers’ pay.