JUST as every volcanic eruption is preceded by a slight swelling in the earth, so the UNISON annual delegate conference, whose preliminary agenda has recently been announced, sits uncomfortably on the rage of its members in the public sector.
However, there are already signs of the class explosion that is on the way in Britain, even in this agenda.
The big issues for Unison’s one million plus members are Labour’s privatisation drive, the meltdown in the NHS, which has in a few weeks announced 7,000 job cuts in clinical staff, pensions and the White Paper on Education which plans an end to comprehensive education.
Internationally, Iraq and Palestine are the hot potatoes.
These all make an appearance, as well as the major question of public housing.
However taking the Blair government by the horns, and even bringing it down, which lots of Unison members are thinking about, to go forward to a workers government, does not figure on this agenda at all, meaning that the ‘lefts’ in UNISON are way behind what the ‘ordinary worker’ is thinking of doing.
Gordon Brown’s declaration that there will be no inspections without justification has been picked up by Waltham Forest. (Motion 16)
‘Conference condemns the government for going backwards over workplace health and safety. . . In one speech, Blair said the only way to compete with China was on the same terms, their terms.’
Waltham Forest calls for a TUC campaign for improved rights.
Privatisation as an issue in itself has produced four motions, 18 to 21, none of which calls for more than a vague campaign of disapproval.
Globalisation mythology has overwhelmed the motion writers at the point of action.
A very long motion (22) on the public services, from the NEC, begins with a mission statement of the bureaucratic outlook: ‘Conference records that the last Spending Review by the Chancellor committed an extra £60 billion to public services up to 2008, with £40 billion going to the National Health Service (NHS).
‘Despite this growth, and accompanying increases in public sector jobs, there has been a misguided efficiency drive and marketisation strategy that is leading to destabilisation, cuts and privatisation.’
Misguided? The government just hasn’t understood its privatisation policy? They can be persuaded? This has not been the experience of the working class.
So what is to be done?
A variety of measures to re-build public services funded through progressive taxation is proposed‚ and a list of eleven worthy policy aims followed by a to-do list of seven items that make little difference to anybody.
The fact that the Labour government is disintegrating, as Blair insists on speeding up privatisation is ignored.
The issue of how to prevent this Labour government with its Tory policies preparing the way for the return of the Tories is ignored.
This resolution needs scrapping and needs replacing by an emergency resolution calling for the trade unions to bring down the Blair government and to go forward to a workers government that will scrap the privatisation programme.
Motion 24 on the Public Services from the Northern Region correctly describes what Labour is doing to health, education and other services but calls that conference ‘recognises a commitment to action including lobbies, rallies, demonstrations and lawful industrial action to defend jobs and services and oppose privatisation is essential. . . without pinning the NEC down to any specific action.
Conference desperately needs to take into account the French experience where the masses of youth and the trade unions took to the streets to get an unjust law scrapped. There is no grovelling in front of the law, and anti-union laws by the French workers!
This position is definitely needed in this resolution and at this conference.
On Council Housing there are five motions, complaining at its disappearance and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister’s refusal to honour the Labour Conference decision to allow the ‘fourth option’ – that government money be used to build new housing.
This is again a question of taking the Blair government on, something which the masses want to do, but the Unison conference shivers in front of.
On pensions, the number one action point of the moment, there is a stirring in the motions. (35 to 44)
The NEC, true to their propaganda in the ongoing strike action, treat it as a purely administrative and technical question.
The penny seems to have dropped for Cambridge Health, London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, York City Local Government and Greenwich Local Government.
The latter ‘condemns the Turner Report as an affront to human dignity’.
All three motions call for a national demonstration to be organised by the TUC. (It was a decision at September’s TUC Conference.)
Now, after the disgraceful cancellation of all the strike actions on pensions by the local government workers, the motion needs amending to demand that these leaders resign and that the trade unions take general strike action on the issue of pensions.
On Education, even the NEC has noticed that there is something to be ‘deeply concerned’ over.
The government’s White Paper is a plan to end comprehensive education, but the NEC want their conference to ‘uphold the comprehensive ideal throughout the United Kingdom’. (Motion 78)
They will achieve this through debate, they think.
Newcastle City is rightly agitated about it and wants to challenge the whole ‘neo-liberal agenda’, but does not get as far as calling decisive action.
York City Local Government have grasped the nettle: ‘Lastly we call on the NEC to organise, together with Trades Union Congress affiliates. . . a national demonstration against the privatisation of public services as soon as possible.‚ (Motion 82) City of Plymouth make a similar call. (Motion 85).
Such a national demonstration must be the prelude to the calling of an indefinite general strike since the privatisation of education must be defeated.
Government pledges to rebuild schools on an unprecedented scale using PFI schemes and calling it Building Schools for the Future (BSF) are correctly damned by Greenwich, which ‘condemns the daylight robbery of funds earmarked for schools’.
The NEC returns to its slumbers for the ‘debate over the future of the NHS. In the real world, what is demanded to save the NHS in nothing less than the overthrow of the government, and the bringing in of a workers’ government pledged to socialist policies.
The best the NEC can manage is to ‘campaign against service cuts and closures’ (Motion 86). Anything more would obviously put at risk their nice offices and expenses.
However, Greenwich along with North of Tyne Health demand the conference ‘call a national demonstration on the issue of Save Our NHS, Stop Privatisation’. (Motion 90)
Other motions point out that ‘the NHS is facing the most serious threat in its history’‚ and condemn ‘the unprecedented process of privatisation of the NHS’.
It is definitely Time for Action!
On international questions the regions are clearly more alive to the real situation than the NEC ever intends to be.
A motion from the NEC on Palestine and Israel (both, note) remarks that ‘the political situation in Palestine and Israel is extremely fluid‚ (this is what the UNISON leaders call starving out the masses in Gaza, missile raids and the ending of aid to the new Hamas government by the US, Canada and the EU).
Hence, they say, the trade unions have an important role to play in ‘the peace process and a just resolution to the conflict’.
Even with such a limp analysis, the NEC are obliged to call for ‘an immediate end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the creation of a viable, independent and sovereign Palestinian state’ alongside a secure Israel.
The UNISON leadership nowhere speaks about Zionism or the illegitimacy of the Zionist state.
Even the much sharper motion 127, which follows, from Wolverhampton General, says that ‘a just solution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict must be based upon international law’.
It does, however, make the following point: ‘Conference notes Hamas’ remarkable victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections of 25 January 2006. Conference regrets the defeat of the secular parties but it finds Hamas’ victory hardly surprising and it recognises it was the outcome of a legitimate and well-conducted election and as such demands respect.’
The motion calls on UNISON to ‘direct itself, principally, to ending the occupation not ameliorating its effects’‚ and urges the Labour Link to end the supply of British arms and promote an Israeli goods boycott.
Imperialism’s graveyard in Iraq commands only four quite short resolutions, just two of which (136 and 137) from York City Local Government and Ealing call for the immediate withdrawal of British troops.
(Motion 135 even approves of legal, UN-backed invasions!)
What is clear throughout the agenda is that picking off single issues with weak, indecisive campaigns of protest and information gathering is not going to stop anything.
On health, education, pensions, privatisation and war, UNISON, if it is to win its battles, has to defeat the government.
The sheer number of resolutions that refuse to address this issue shows how backward trade union consciousness is and how desperately Unison needs a revolutionary leadership to drive to success.
The crisis of the world is there in the agenda, but there are no reforms left.
The only way forward is revolution and that means building the Workers Revolutionary Party in the trade unions and amongst the youth to mobilise and organise the struggle for socialism.