Extracts from Dave Prentis’ speech to UNISON national delegate conference.
Conference, this is our week to show our unity, our solidarity. To set out our battle plans. To show the most right wing government in our history that we will stand in their way. 2012, the year of Leveson, reality TV – at its worst.
The Tories – with no mandate - realising their dream. The privatisation of the NHS. Shirley Williams and the liberals complicit in a shameful act of betrayal. You will never be forgiven - we will never forget!
It was a year that saw Virgin and Serco handed contracts to run NHS services. Capita, BMI, HCA. Smash and grab for our NHS. Circle, the first private company to run an NHS hospital. Already in trouble as losses mount and its share price plummets.
It was a year that saw more attacks on our members. Employers sprinkling redundancy notices like a shower of confetti. 625 public service jobs gone every day of this coalition. A year that saw elderly and disabled care budgets slashed by £900 million. A care system in crisis. Disability hate crimes fuelled by the Sun’s shop a scrounger campaign vilifying anyone on disability benefit.
A surge in primetime advertising by a payday loan industry as more and more struggle to keep their heads above water. Attacks on workers rights. Already the easiest to sack in Europe. Turning the clock back.
But conference, also the year the public turned with a vengeance against Osborne’s austerity plan – as people felt the pain but saw no gain. Hammering the Coalition at the polls in may in councils across the land – fantastic results in Wales with UNISON playing our part.
The year the public finally saw through the excuses. Rumbled them. A shambolic budget. A budget for millionaires. No road to recovery, but they still drive on. Blaming everyone but themselves. And for them the financial crisis couldn’t be more welcome. It’s the smokescreen they need to destroy our public services. To destroy our welfare state. Without it they couldn’t privatise our NHS. Privatise policing, close libraries, Remove the hard won rights of people at work. And make no mistake - they are every bit as determined as Thatcher to destroy us too. Because we stand in their way.
They are the party of privilege and big business. The enemies of working people and their trade unions. They hate the welfare state. They despise the public sector. But I say this to Cameron and Osborne; you may have fluffed your lines at Leveson. You may have forgotten who said what, to who, and when. But this union will wage a fight against you you’ll never forget - Our fight to save the NHS hasn’t been lost ........ Its only just started. And we will lead that fight. Our fight against privatisation. More important than ever. We will lead that fight too. We will fight to preserve the welfare state, for better care for the elderly, for disabled people, our libraries, parks and open spaces, decent schools, and so much more. And I say to the Tory posh boys. They are not yours to sell off, or give away. They represent the fair society that those who went before fought for. They are the legacy we leave to future generations. And I say we will not give up.
And to Labour, despite all the good. It was Labour that built that bridges the Tories now march over. That laid the foundations for the privatisation of the NHS. That invented PFI, gave us academy schools. The collapse in support for the coalition should not be interpreted by Labour as a ringing endorsement. Andy Burnham’s promise to repeal the health act - great news. But to win back our trust Labour has to do much more, not being as bad as the Tories is not good enough.
Labour - we want your support in tough times not your lectures. Your comments supporting pay restraints were provocative. And if they continue, there is no way Labour will get the support of our members and this union. And the sooner you open their eyes to that fact the better.
And to whoever dug up Lord Mandelson at the weekend, I say, you must be desperate. Mandelson’s defence of “progress” – ironic. A secretive organisation operating outside the Labour party. It is intolerable that they should be acting in that way in our Labour Party.
As we struggle to defend our public services here, we know that we are not alone. Today I have sent a message of solidarity to our sister unions in Greece – paying the price for the corruption and incompetence of those in power, and to our sister unions in Spain as they fight soaring unemployment. And to CGIL, in Italy, as they battle against attacks on their trade union. In Palestine, In Iraq, in Syria. For all those that seek peace and justice. This union will be with you.
Conference, our links across the world are stronger than ever. We’re proud of our projects and proud today to launch two new initiatives. A peace project in Columbia, seeking an end to conflict, Which has claimed the lives of over three thousand trade unionists. A major project in Swaziland, Fighting for basic trade union rights – With our sister union. And conference, On your behalf, I would like to welcome our international guests – United in our opposition to world wide attacks on our members, our public services, our world.
And I know that things are tough, but I also know that our union is tougher than the times we are in. I see what this union does. What it delivers, day after day, week after week.
At our black members’ conference, at our women’s conference, I’ve seen the passion – the dedication of our activists. Our women – strong, defiant, an outpouring of experiences: women talking of their lives, their families, the devastation of communities. Our women, a million of them, Standing up and fighting back. Our black members – brimming with commitment – real unity. Our guest speaker there, Neville Lawrence – who will be with us on Friday. Neville and Doreen - true courage through their horrific ordeal. So many inspired through their humility and dignity.
And we are proud to have played our part. As Neville said, it was UNISON who stood with his family at the very start of their campaign, and I promise you this – UNISON will stand with Neville and Doreen until the day – that hoped for day – when all those who killed Stephen are brought to justice, and he can truly rest in peace.
Conference, never forget what this union achieved in our anti BNP campaign. And despite all the pressures, our campaign to tackle the poison and fear spread by the far right and the surge of the EDL will continue. And I want to congratulate our LGBT members fighting the vitriolic campaign against gay marriage. And a message to the bigots – this union will keep on fighting until we get true equality for all.
And our disability work. The only union truly active. Pushing the boundaries. Challenging the coalitions’ vicious attacks. Never say we don’t make a difference.
And in September last year, it was UNISON who moved to ballot 1.1 million members across 22,000 employers. It was UNISON who called the strike. UNISON who named the day - 30 November. UNISON who made history. The biggest ballot of the biggest union. With the biggest strike this country has ever seen. This is our union.
Our battle for the NHS. A lonely voice at first, but building a mass campaign. This is our union. Our work on the living wage – A campaign we’ve never stopped, now in higher education. For dignity, for respect. This is our union.
Our campaign in police. To fight the madness of police privatisation. The brave battles fought by our members in private companies and in the utilities. This is our union.
And I’ve seen what our branches are doing. Day in day out. Out there campaigning and fighting back. I pay tribute to our members in Edinburgh, defeating “the biggest privatisation of council services in Scottish history” Our union. Our members in Barnet, battered by a vicious Tory council. An epic battle for four years. A remarkable campaign – not over yet. UNISON leading the way. Our members in Southampton - A council refusing to talk, to negotiate. We took industrial action – over many months a massive campaign, a bill board blitz of the city – leaflets, emails, texting. And on 3rd of may we kicked the Tories out. Every branch has its story to tell. Swindon.
Birmingham, Kirklees. In Downhills primary in Haringey today our members out on strike, In Birmingham university hundreds more. Let them hear our support. More action in this union than all the others put together… In every one of our branches – people like you are making a difference. I never underestimate what you do. And this year, more than any, I thank you, For the jobs you’ve saved, for the advice you’ve given, for the helping hand – via unison welfare or for our education and training work… You are what makes this union great.
The biggest campaign this union’s ever seen. The October 20th demo will be massive, but will be just the beginning as we campaign and battle through the autumn and winter to a unison spring.
And of one thing I’m sure, the issue of pay, will be our battle ground. It will explode. They think our members are afraid, afraid of losing their jobs, afraid to ask for better pay, but it’s our job as leaders, as trade unionists, to raise them up. And to show our members what they’re really worth.
To give them the courage to fight because they are struggling. Their plight laid bare in our survey today. A depressing glimpse of bread-line Britain. Three quarters forced to cut spending on food. One in four say they are struggling to survive. 20% with a child no longer entitled to the EMA. A miserable £30 a week snatched away.
These are our kids. So it’s up to us, the pressure is there and it’s simmering. So we must be out there; campaiging, organising, recruiting, building a movement, an unstoppable momentum. Always at our best in alliance. With our sister unions, making our case and yes, delivering strike action across our whole union. It’s the only way. This union leading, fighting, bigger, bolder than ever before. Breaking the pay freeze. It has to be done. Leading from the front. Our flags and banners in every town and city. In every workplace. Our voices heard. Our heads held high. We’ve seen what we can do when there’s unity. We’ve seen what we can do when we’re strong. So conference, let’s be bold, let’s be strong. Let’s be proud. Let’s be UNISON. And together we’ll smash this pay freeze.