Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Personal report of UNISON NEC meeting 18th February 2015

This is the link to the official report of this NEC meeting:  http://www.unison.org.uk/news/the-most-important-election
A number of obituaries were read out and condolences given including Jean Atkinson from Liverpool Community and Hospitals branch from the North West. The NEC held a minutes silence.

We first discussed National Delegate conference business. The motions considered included 2 from Development and Organisation subcommittee of the NEC – ‘Meeting the training needs of activists in challenging times’ and ‘Consolidating activist development planning for sustainable organising’.
There were also a number of motions that had been considered at the policy subcommittee of the NEC.

There was some comment that I thought was valid that the motions whilst worthy contained few action points – a cue for Branches to send in amendments.
Conference motions – 1. Fairer taxation and the future funding of our public services 2. The dangers of the New Pension choice and the urgent need for increasing employer contributions. 3. Tackling the pay trap: raising wages through bargaining and the living wage. 4. Tackling vulnerable employment and casualisation. 5. Promoting trade union and employment rights. 6. UNISON and devolution. 7. Time for a new direction for public procurement. 8. Campaigning for our public services and those that provide them. 9. Supporting the campaign for rights and democracy in Swaziland. 10. The rights of migrant workers in Qatar. 11. Planning initiatives to get more members active. 12. Meeting the training needs of UNISON activists in challenging times.

There was also a concern that the NEC has not currently got a motion on combatting racism (there is a rising tide of racism across Europe) and were we confident that this would be addressed? - The problem of the racist UKIP party is not going to go away in a hurry no matter who won the General election.
There were motions on Zero Hours Contracts and the Agency workers regulations. It was suggested that an activity plan goes with these like a lobby of parliament demanding legislation on Zero Hours Contracts. It was stated in response that ‘we don’t know who the Government will be in June so we can’t commit to any activity’.

We discussed guest speakers for national conference and I suggested given what had happened in Greece with the victory of the anti-austerity Syriza party we invite a speaker from either that party or a Greek trade unionist as an act of solidarity. Greece has been on the sharp end of austerity and the Greek left had seen their fight as one not only to challenge austerity in their country but in the rest of Europe.

The General Secretary’s report – Dave Prentis stated that UNISON was the union that had been most affected by austerity. Local Government was our power base and Local Government had been used as a whipping boy by the coalition. 800,000 jobs had gone in the areas where UNISON recruits. The Tories were only 40% the way through their austerity program – the price being paid for the failure of the banks in 2008. UNISON had balloted ten times the rest of the Trade Union movement together. Dave spoke of Tory proposals for fresh restrictions on balloting. If the Tories allowed workplace balloting the turnout would be 60-70% but they don’t. This was the most important General election in his 40 years in the union. Check off (DOCAS or Deductions of Contributions at source) was being ended in the Civil service as the Tories ideologically did not believe employers should collect money for Trade Unions.
UNISON NEC member John Jones (Water, Environment and Transport) referred to the developments in the Civil service and that the Environment Agency (where UNISON organises) had never been civil servants but all the curbs that affect PCS (Civil service union) are affecting us. E.g. refusal of paid time off to attend meetings. The union should take the issue seriously and stage a fight in the service group and wider union on this.

Roger Bannister, North West NEC member stated that the problems faced by PCS in terms of the loss of check off were unprecedented and that we should openly express solidarity with the PCS. This could happen to our members in the NHS for example – how could we survive the loss of check off?
The discussion about the PCS and ‘check off’ was lengthy and at times heated. Some NEC members were concerned that PCS might not feel supported by UNISON whilst others felt that some PCS officials were making unjustified criticisms of UNISON at meetings of PCS members. Dave took great exception to PCS comments that Francis Maude would rather deal with Dave Prentis than Mark Serwotka (General Secretary of PCS).  Dave said that he had not spoken to Francis Maude (the Tory grandee) for 18 months or more since the pensions dispute. ‘No-one in UNISON had done anything to undermine PCS’ and ‘we do not and have never poached PCS members’. We should put the blame on Francis Maude and the Tory government rather than fight amongst each other.

It is obviously correct that the main enemy is the Tory government and we should rally around PCS at this time.
There was discussion of TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership) and that since 2008 and the crisis of global capital, social gains were being attacked. With TTIP now democratic gains were being attacked as well. UNISON stands on the side of our people against the ruling class on this.

NHS Pay dispute – 2nd March was the closure date for consultation. If there was rejection there would be Industrial Action on 13th March to coincide with action in the Northern Ireland.
Local government have their special conference on 24th March in London to discuss the widespread concern about the handling of the pay dispute and how to move forward.

It was noted by some left NEC members including myself that our failure to sustain mobilisation over pay can in part be attributed to the retreat over pensions in 2011.
Bernie Gallagher, North West UNISON NEC member asked about the Alemo Herron judgement and members who were in the position of being TUPE transferred and that since that legal case had received neither an NHS pay award nor a Local Government one.

UNISON and the General election - We received a slide show presentation on this – there were 77 days to go to the General election to get rid of this vile and vicious government. There were ‘9 possible scenarios’ and ‘a 2 way battle had turned into a 6 horse race’.  Political disaffection was at an all-time high. We needed to appeal to every member and our aim was to get rid of the Coalition on 7th May. UNISON has selected 60 seats where UNISON membership is significant or exceeds the current Tory or LibDem majority. 69% of UNISON members are likely to turn out to vote and UNISON members are interested on hearing from UNISON on politics. We should not give the perception of an over claim of what to expect from Labour but our message should be that ‘the best party on this occasion on balance to get rid of the coalition is Labour’.

Tony Wilson

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