‘WE WILL STRIKE TO DEFEND PENSIONS’ – UNISON leader Prentis pledges

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‘WE will take strike action, across all our sectors, to defend our pensions,’ UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis pledged at the union’s National Delegate Conference in Glasgow yesterday.

In his keynote speech to the conference, he said: ‘We will fight proposals to increase the retirement age and cut benefits. We will fight for pensions that give dignity and security to all our members in retirement.’

Prentis went on to warn, in relation to public sector pay: ‘It’s also about time we took on the constant attacks on local government, on further education, and higher education.

‘If the extra cash to end the equal pay scandal is not forthcoming, if our members in local government continue to be treated as the poor relations, there will be a backlash.

‘It’s coming, and conference, this union will be leading it and I will be leading it.’

Referring to the planned joint action by nine unions over pensions that was called off last March 23rd, Prentis added: ‘Let me say this to government, loud and clear . . . if you think the anger has subsided, think again.’

At the same time Prentis announced ‘a message of support and solidarity to our sister unions in France and the Netherlands – especially the CGT who campaigned so magnificently against the European Constitution.

‘Their fight is our fight, and on the back of their victory we must intensify our campaign.’

Immediately afterwards, however, conference delegates only narrowly supported a call by UNISON leaders to include in NEC-backed Motion 62, Beyond the General Election – UNISON’s Vision, an amendment which included a call to ‘welcome’ last year’s Warwick Agreement between union leaders and the Labour government ‘as a significant step in taking progressive workplace policies forward’.

Motion 62 was proposed on behalf of the NEC by Deputy General Secretary Keith Sonnett, but attacked by Bromley UNISON delegate Glenn Kelly who called the Warwick Agreement ‘empty words to buy the union leaders at the expense of our money’.

He warned that it had accelerated privatisation, insisting ‘now, alongside our hospitals, our schools are up for sale.

‘If this is a government that no longer speaks for thousands and thousands of working people in Britain, then it is time to speak for ourselves.’

Amendment 62.2, to include the Warwick Agreement, was added to Motion 62 and supported by the NEC after being proposed by Yorkshire and Humberside Region.

The addition was carried on a card vote by 540,284 votes to 516,165, while the vote on the full motion 62 was delayed.

Amendment 62.6 to Motion 62, an amendment proposed by St Mary’s Paddington Health Branch, was overwhelmingly carried. It called for ‘public services which are publicly owned, with services currently contracted out, to be speedily brought back in house’.

Moving amendment 62.6, Francis Prideaux, of Paddington Health Branch, said: ‘The whole business of privatisation is flawed from the outset. Privatisation is frequently unsafe and privatisation is totally undemocratic.

‘Government ministers like to tell us that we have to be objective, that what we must look at is what works. Privatisation doesn’t work.’