Unison Leaders Seek To Gag Conference Over How To ‘Save Our Services’

UNISON members among the 5,000-strong march in Nottingham last September against NHS cuts
UNISON members among the 5,000-strong march in Nottingham last September against NHS cuts

THE AGENDA for UNISON’s 14th National Delegate Conference in Brighton from 19-22 June only palely reflects the exploding anger and determination of public sector workers to smash privatisation, keep out the Tories and bring down Blair and Brown.

But what it does most vividly reveal is the crisis of leadership in the trade union movement.

Over one million UNISON members are daily fighting the Blair/Brown government’s cuts and privatisation onslaught in the health service, education, council housing etc.

But their UNISON leadership has no policy to defend their jobs, or the services they provide, as this year’s conference agenda exposes only too graphically.

While the National Executive Committee (NEC) correctly prioritises Recruiting and Organising motions, what is most revealing is the list of Amendments to motions ruled out of order by the NEC, acting as the union conferences censor, printed at the back of the Conference Agenda.

Amendments to Motions 27, 28 and 29: ‘Save Our Services – Say No to Privatisation’ are described as ‘Amendments which could place the union in legal jeopardy’ and are ‘not printed on advice of the Legal Officer’.

Unamended, the three motions all state the following: ‘In the National Health Service (NHS), government appears committed to privatisation by stealth.

‘At the end of last year plans were announced to hand over the running of Lymington hospital in the New Forest to Partnership Health Group, making it the first NHS hospital to be run entirely by the private sector.

‘Private companies have been awarded contracts to provide one million diagnostic procedures.

‘This follows the privatisation of NHS Logistics and comes on top of the budget crisis facing hospitals and Primary Care Trusts across the country resulting directly from the leakage of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money out of the NHS by the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) projects and Independent Sector Treatment Centres (ISTC).

The motions continue: ‘In Education, the government is increasing the involvement of the private sector through city academies, PFI and the outsourcing of council education departments.’

These resolutions from the National Young Members’ Forum, from Swansea University and from Birmingham Branch, urge to ‘build on our work with the Trades Union Congress (TUC), other public sector trade unions and user groups to initiate a major national campaign against the privatisation of our services.’

Further, they resolve to ‘Call a national demonstration against privatisation in conjunction with the other public sector trade unions, the TUC and user groups.’

None of these commit the union to a date for a national demonstration or to any industrial action to stop the privatisation of the NHS.

We are left to speculate as to why the amendments were struck out and even kept out of the sight of the membership.

Presumably they called for UNISON to join up with other public sector unions in a powerful public sector alliance to implement a policy of strike actions to defeat privatisation, and may have condemned the refusal of the UNISON leaders to stop the privatisation of NHS Logistics.

They may also have called for the TUC to organise a general strike to bring down the Blair/Brown regime and to go forward to a workers government which will implement socialist policies.

If the UNISON censor has his/her way we will never know.

The NEC is trying to gag the conference.

It may well be that conference will refuse to be gagged, and will insist that the amendments are heard and that decisive action is organised to stop NHS privatisation.

Motion 49 from Bromley UNISON, is called: New Labour – What Do We Get For Our Money.

It opens: ‘Conference recognises that union members are increasingly angry at the continued onslaught on public services, their jobs, wages and conditions by the new Labour government and its policies.

‘It is clear the government has no intention of letting up and is pursuing further privatisation, an attack on pensions and a public sector pay freeze.

‘In light of this, increasing numbers of members are now questioning whether we should continue to fund the Labour Party or not’.

The motion calls for the NEC to ‘carry out a full review of the political fund arrangements’ and ‘bring a report back to the 2008 Conference with the results of the consultation with any appropriate changes.’

While ruling out an amendment from Dorset, the NEC puts forward its own amendment, by which it seeks to turn the motion into its opposite.

The Dorset amendment, which is not to be debated at Conference, is ruled out purportedly because it is ‘in breach of the agreement on the political fund’.

Printed at the back of the Agenda, it called for ‘consultation to be concluded by a national members ballot which will include an opportunity for the membership to express a view on whether they wish UNISON to continue with affiliation to the Labour Party’.

The NEC amendment, which will be debated, says that the Hayden Phillips report on the funding of Political Parties ‘poses a challenge to our current political arrangements’ and pledges to ‘continue to campaign to ensure that the voices and opinions of trade unionists are allowed to continue to make a valid and necessary contribution to political debate’.

NEC Motion 31 on Marketisation of Public Services opens with a paean to Blairism.

‘Conference believes that the marketisation of public services threatens the advances that have been made in the last 10 years, brought about as a result of a major investment and reform programme resulting in a dramatic cut in NHS waiting lists and waiting times, rising school standards, falling crime, safer communities and improvements in local services evidenced by across the board improvements in the performance of local councils.’

The NEC proposal to ‘engage with other unions, user and interest groups and local communities to offer government positive alternatives to crude market solutions’, would be laughable if the gulf between what it proposes and what is needed to defend public services wasn’t a matter of life and death for the working class.

UNISON members up and down the country are fighting against local authorities determined to privatise council housing.

Whilst there are motions on the Agenda condemning privatisation of council housing, there are no motions for action to defeat it, and the NEC’s call for ‘government measures to address housing market failure by building more affordable homes’ is trite and contemptuous of the effects that the housing crisis is having on the lives of millions of poor and young people.

Greenwich Local Government Branch Motion 78 NHS Crisis – Turn Anger into Action, opens: ‘New Labour Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt pledged not only to balance the National Health Service books this year, she also wants it to make a £250 million yearly surplus. New Labour’s priority is not about health of working people, it is about making a profit.’

The motion goes on to refer to the ‘crisis facing Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, South London’.

It states: ‘The hospital is facing the biggest deficit of any NHS trust in England.

‘The Queen Elizabeth Hospital was one of the first hospitals built using Private Finance Initiative.

‘It is now locked into a deal that costs it £9 million more a year to run each year than if it had been built using money borrowed from the government.

‘A deficit of £37 million is expected in 2006/07. Its accumulated deficit is expected to reach £65 millions by the end of the year.

‘In 2006, the Queen Elizabeth’s top brass pushed ahead with damaging cuts, £11 million was slashed from the budget and 153 posts were axed. Further cuts of over £6 million are planned.’

The motion continues ‘6) Campaigners around the country felt hugely let down at the decision by health trade union leaders not to call a national demonstration for 3 March. A national demonstration is the logical next step in the campaign to save the NHS.’

It goes on ‘c) call on the health trade union leaders to name the day for a national demonstration.’

The UNISON NEC amendment reads: ‘Delete point 6). Final paragraph, delete point c) and replace with new point c) “c) organise a national demonstration with the other health trade unions in October 2007.’

This NEC amendment is most revealing, removing criticism of its disgraceful inaction in the face of government attacks earlier this year and hoping to get away with just trying to let off a bit of steam in the autumn.

This year’s UNISON Annual Delegate Conference is undoubtedly the most important one ever.

While the members are locked in a life and death struggle with the government and the bosses, the Dave Prentis-led UNISON bureaucracy hopes to keep a lid on things and let off a bit of steam with the call for a demonstration in October.

UNISON members who want to defend the NHS, council housing and all public services, and defend jobs and defeat cuts and privatisation, with a policy of occupations and strike action to bring down the Blair/Brown regime to prevent the return of the Tories, should join and build the Workers Revolutionary Party.