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2009 National Delegate Conference
29 May 2009

Conference welcomes the figures on membership growth in 2008. This growth reflects continuing regional and branch commitment to organising and recruitment. Conference congratulates those branches that have engaged in successful organising campaigns and notes that organising must remain central to the work of UNISON.

Conference believes that strong trade union membership is even more important than ever for workers in the public sector in the current economic problems. It faces increased pressure on resources and jobs as a result of those economic problems, at the very time when the demands on the public sector are greatest because of the crisis. As we move into a new era of economic recession and increasing attacks on public services and public service workers jobs, unions are needed more than ever. Specifically, UNISON is needed more than ever.

Amongst those who suffer the most in a recession are vulnerable workers, such as migrant workers working in the outsourced and privatised parts of the public sector and agency workers. Conference believes that any attempt to scapegoat migrants or other vulnerable groups for unemployment plays into the hands of the far right political parties whose very existence depends upon peddling hatred for minorities.

Conference notes that among the organising and recruitment issues now being addressed, major challenges still have to be faced among those workers employed through agencies. Many of these employees, because of the insecurity of their working lives and financial position, remain to be convinced that trade union membership can improve their immediate or long-term situation. Conference calls on the National Executive Committee to explore how best regions and branches can recruit these workers.

Conference welcomes the success of campaigns like the Living Wage campaign, which have provided an organising model for improving pay and conditions especially among migrant workers in contracted out sectors. A growing number of employers, from banks to hospitals and universities have signed up to the Living Wage and a number of local authorities have adopted a Living Wage policy. The Living Wage campaign has provided a model for trade unions of working with community organisations, particularly organisations like London Citizens who initiated the campaign. UNISON has played a key role in providing research and support from a national level and encouraging branches to participate. Conference recognised that the Living Wage campaign offers an opportunity to organise, particularly in contracted out areas where many workers are on the minimum wage.

This conference calls on the National Executive Council to reinforce all the work already done in meeting the organising challenge, the branch assessment framework and the proposals for better, more relevant bargaining structures to ensure that every UNISON branch prioritises recruitment and building the stewards base.

Conference recognises that improving workplace organisation and membership crucially depends on our ability to attract, recruit and train union reps in the workplace. Conference also notes with concern the investigation of the Information Commissioners Office into blacklisting activities of trade union activists by agencies linked to employers. The 1999 Employment Act included regulations to prohibit blacklisting activities by employers but regrettably the regulations were not introduced despite consultation in 2003. Conference therefore:

1)Welcomes the new steward recruitment module and urges branches to make use of it;

2)Calls on branches and regions to encourage migrant workers to become active, ensuring that migrant’s have a voice through their union;

3)Urges regions and branches to ensure that they actively organise and recruit workers in the privatised sector where there are some of the most vulnerable workers;

4)Agrees to continue to support the Living Wage campaign to encourage regions and branches to take it up and to work with and as appropriate become members of affiliates of the Citizens Organisation Federation, and to call on the GPF to positively consider support for branches and regions in these affiliations

5)Urges regions and branches to utilise retired members as a resource that can provide valuable assistance with regard to organising and recruitment;

6)Instruct the National Executive Council to make urgent representation to the government for the implementation of regulations to ban the blacklisting activities of trade union activists by employers.

Conference further welcomes evidence that even more members are joining as the result of a recommendation from a work colleague. This represents a more active approach to recruitment by activists and members as well as a widening recognition of the effectiveness of UNISON at a workplace level. In view of this development, Conference calls on the National Executive Council to conduct research into the attitudes towards trade unionism and UNISON among both existing and potential members in the public services as a step towards developing, with support from appropriate external agencies, a coherent and co-ordinated plan to promote and advocate the benefits of trade unionism and UNISON to non-members, while ensuring that the needs and expectations of current members are fully met.

In addition, Conference believes that successful organising is strengthened by campaigns that speak to the people we want to organise and UNISON must take a leading role in campaign both amongst public sector workers and in wider society to:

a)Dispel the myths and counter the lies about migrant workers being a drain on public services;

b)Emphasise the positive contribution migrants make to our society; and

c)Counter the false argument that migrants are taking ‘our’ jobs.

The priority for every branch must be the most vulnerable workers and the campaign needs to be specifically relevant to their occupational groups, the value of the service they provide and the threats facing them. This will require priority resources in every branch and region being targeted at the workforce most at risk.