By Mike Fenwick
At Unison health conference in Brighton on 22-24 April, the main decision was to reject the 2.5% pay settlement and go for industrial action.
Motions were also passed on building for the long awaited national demonstration in defence of the NHS, now due to be held on 13 October.
However, motions calling for affiliation to and joint work with the Keep Our NHS Public campaign were ruled out of order on a very thin basis.
That was probably as much about attacking left wing candidates for the Unison Executive elections as any hostility to KONP; but the platform said little about the success of local community campaigns and instead highlighted the token efforts of the official NHS Together alliance.
A motion calling for Unison to withhold any further payments to the Labour Party whilst the cuts continue looked as if it had been passed. The chair ruled it defeated, and rejected calls for a card vote. Many delegates walked out in disgust.
Workers’ Liberty supporters focused on getting support for John Mc Donnell’s campaign for Labour leader. At the conference there was much talk of getting Unison to disaffiliate from Labour or to stop pay its affiliation fees — but no-one really believes that Unison, once disaffiliated, would take up the abstract calls for a new workers’ party promoted by the disaffiliaters.
The absolutely righteous frustration at New Labour’s vile policies would find better focus in turning Unison round so it uses its position inside the Labour structures really to fight for Unison policies, and to rally other unions to that cause.
One fringe meeting attracted over a hundred, over the case of Yunus Baksh, a leading SWP member and a health worker in Newcastle. He has been victimised by his bosses; the union has not offered him support and has instead used the occasion to start a parallel union investigation.
We have had considerable differences with Yunus over the years, but the daily Solidarity conference bulletin called for support for him against these attacks. The only negative reaction came from... SWP organisers who denounced us for not offering uncritical support!
The other big debate was on the future framework for negotiating pay in the NHS. The platform argued for all staff to move under the Pay Review Boards, which currently manage nursing and some other clinical staff; the left, for the return of all to free collective bargaining.
Despite some excellent speeches the left lost the vote on this issue, thanks to heavy floor organising by full time officers.