By a UNISON member
Delegates arrived at UNISON's health conference in Plymouth (25-27 April) burdened by the impact of Agenda for Change, the new NHS pay system, and troubled by uncertainties about the NHS pension scheme. They left three days later with neither issue resolved.
That might partly be due to growing cynicism that no matter how good the resolutions on the conference agenda the union's leadership have no intention of carrying them out.
The UNISON Health Group leadership supported many motions which implied criticism of their current strategies - including one motion which committed the union to expressing "no confidence" in Health Minister John Reid. Clearly they intended it to sink without trace once the conference is over.
The strategy of soaking up pressure from the activists cannot last forever; there were signs that delegates were losing patience. The leadership wanted to limit conference's ability to have some control over this year's negotiations over shift enhancements. That led to a wrangle and conference almost unanimously supporting a motion which the leadership had asked us to oppose. What difference this will make to their strategy in the negotiations remains to be seen.
Around the conference there was a great deal of hostility to the mantra of "partnership" - the conference slogan was "UNISON and the NHS - partners in change"! Several delegates said if the changes in question was privatisation, cuts in services, poorer pensions and more PFI they'd happily do without partnership.
Around the country health workers are stepping up fights against private contractors, and possibly balloting for action against cuts and privatisation in the "Arms Length" bodies like the NHS University, NHS Logistics and Sterile Services. But these issues struggled to find expression on the conference floor.
There was a lot of support for the idea of greater rank and file co-ordination, and, although the UNISON United Left had a low profile, the rank and file paper Health Worker sold well to delegates. Many activists reported strong support for the left candidates in the ongoing UNISON National Executive elections (see last issue of Solidarity).
With both the pensions issue and the question of unsocial hour's enhancements coming to a head. UNISON's campaign on both issues needs to be far more lively than this conference!