Defending Our Memebers, Our Public Services and Our Trade Union Rights Against the Austerity Agenda

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2010 National Delegate Conference
17 June 2010

Conference notes the first report of the new Office for Budget Responsibility, released on 14 June, which downgrades UK growth forecasts for 2011 and 2012, highlighting in particular the weak recovery and uncertain prospects of our major trading partners in Europe. Conference also notes the statements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, designed to prepare the ground for deeper and faster cuts to public spending in the Emergency Budget on 22 June.

Conference believes that the fiscal costs of the 2008 financial meltdown are being used as the pretext for a concerted onslaught on public provision and welfare entitlements, in the UK, across Europe and around the world. This will further depress our economies and compound the hardship, insecurity and injustice already suffered by working people and vulnerable groups.

Conference notes that the UK economy shrank by 6% during the course of the recession, growth has barely restarted in 2010. The slump in private sector investment shows little sign of lifting, with official unemployment now standing at 2.5 million, and inactivity rates far higher. Meanwhile the European economy is teetering on the edge of another downward spiral. The stock market may have recovered, buoyed in part by resurgent bubbles in international asset and commodity markets, but this conceals an underlying stagnation in the real economy that many analysts expect to stretch several years into the future.

Conference believes that public investment and expenditure has been essential to preventing an even steeper decline in employment and demand, as well as providing vital help and support to all those struggling to cope with redundancies, reduced incomes, repossessions, and rising joblessness. Conference regrets that the beneficial effect of this stimulus was blunted by the determination of Tory local authorities to cut pay and services to fund irresponsible council tax freezes.

Conference notes that the new coalition government in Westminster plans to force through an unprecedented programme of cuts that will withdraw support at a critical time and will result in hundreds of thousands more people being thrown out of work. Combined with austerity packages now being imposed throughout Europe, the danger of dragging the continent and even the world economy as a whole into a second downward spiral is now very real.

Conference believes there is no popular democratic mandate for this poisonous prescription. In the Eurozone it is being dictated by the monetarist and wholly unaccountable European Central Bank, following targeted attacks on troubled economies from predatory speculators. In the UK none of the major political parties were honest with the public about the human and social consequences of drastic spending cuts during the recent general election campaign. UNISON can take pride in the work it has done in providing an independent voice speaking out for public services and alerting the public to the threats now looming. But Labour’s failure to set out a clear and compelling alternative resulted in the loss of its majority, and despite the inconclusive result Cameron and Clegg seized their chance to take office and drive through their shared neo-liberal agenda.

Already they are rewriting the constitution to tighten their grip on power, while their early announcements make clear that they intend nothing less than the end of public services and the welfare state as we have known them, with unprecedented real reductions in funding combined with steps that will weaken accountability, accelerate privatisation, and increase exposure to commercial and market forces. Meanwhile big business and the already wealthy will benefit from enhanced tax breaks and the private “public services industry” will be granted new opportunities to profit at the taxpayer’s expense.

Conference believes that these developments place UNISON, as the UK’s leading public service union and one of the largest public service unions in the world, in a unique position with historic responsibilities.

UNISON’s Million Voices initiative has already laid the groundwork for the organising and campaigning we will have to do over the coming period – raising our profile in workplaces and communities, and engaging members and the wider public in our agenda. This now needs to be broadened and deepened. The review of our political fund’s effectiveness conducted by UNISON over the past two years has highlighted the urgency of engaging regions, branches and members in campaigning and lobbying for UNISON’s objectives as an intrinsic dimension of the union’s activity, and the work undertaken by Labour Link and the GPF will ensure that in these two sections we have a fighting fund for the whole union, promoting and protecting its members, the services they deliver, and the values we uphold.

Conference therefore calls on the NEC to work closely with regions, branches, service groups and self-organised groups, the GPF and Labour Link, to:

1)Ensure that all our members – and all who join our union in the coming period, as unprecedented numbers have done in recent months – receive the full protection and support of the union, by:

a)building our density and organisational strength in workplaces to negotiate, bargain, and advance our agenda for better working lives, and real improvement and efficiency, through staff and trade union involvement, investment in learning and development, promotion of equalities, health and wellbeing, and work-life balance;

b)working with employers who share our aspirations, and being ready to take industrial action where necessary to defend our members’ jobs, pay, pensions and working conditions.

2)Ensure that the value of our members work is widely understood and appreciated and that we are at the heart of alliances to defend the services they deliver, and in the context of the plurality of politics across the UK, by:

a)Working with the TUC at national level, continuing the alliance with all other public sector unions who have already committed to a joint programme under the leadership of our General Secretary, and through similar alliances within our regional TUCs, the STUC, the WTUC and the ICTU;

b)Campaigning in our communities, with all of the broad alliance of groups and organisations threatened by cuts and privatisation, and working closely with those who depend on the services our members deliver to develop worker-user plans to defend and develop them;

c)Use our influence in the Labour Party to make it a political vehicle for the social and economic aspirations of working people as it seeks to renew its mission and rebuild its position; without precluding UNISON taking an independent lead in campaigning for public services and a fairer society.

3)Continue to develop, promote and organise around an alternative national, European and global economic architecture that reconnects a strong, dynamic economy to the living standards of all, not just the residents of the penthouse. More income equality, not less; a strong, innovative public sector delivering equality of opportunity and outcome, funded through progressive taxation of high incomes, corporate profits and financial transactions; defending jobs now through governm