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2014 National Delegate Conference
1 January 2014

Conference notes with concern the impact of a shift to a market centred model across Europe is resulting in an increasingly hostile debate around immigration. Parties such as the UK Independence Party (UKIP) on the immigration debate in the UK, are scapegoating some of the most vulnerable workers in the labour market for the economic failures of austerity. Public and political debate around jobs, housing and public services has been distorted by this type of political dialogue to the detriment of ordinary people. It has prompted a race to the bottom amongst mainstream politicians who believe that ‘talking tough’ on immigration will resonate with voters. Furthermore, UKIP, alongside some national newspapers have shifted general political debate to the right.

Conference is deeply concerned about the effect the Government’s new immigration measures will have on migrant workers and those who appear to be migrants. Plans for NHS charges will mean that workers who contribute in exactly the same way as UK citizens will have to pay for NHS services, including UNISON migrant worker members working in the NHS.

Conference believes that asking landlords to make checks on the immigration status of their tenants will in effect make it more difficult for anyone who appears to be of migrant status to access decent housing.

Conference believes that these policies are a distraction from what is needed to help all people in the UK. A lack of jobs is not caused by too many workers, but a lack of demand for the produce of labour. Inadequate housing is not caused by too many people for the housing stock, but a lack of affordable housing. Alleged health tourism is minimal and greatly exceeded by Britons who travel abroad for treatment, whilst 40% of nurses and 30% of doctors are born overseas. Whilst benefit cuts for the few migrants that claim will drive them into the illegal economy, undercutting all workers.These policies are unfit for purpose and should be exposed as such

Conference thefore believes that a rights-based approach to tackling the problem of exploitative work will be more effective than its punitive approach towards migrant workers, which leaves them at the mercy of employers who are all too aware of how precarious their position can be. Requiring document checks of workers and imposing penalties for their employment reminds all migrant workers of how vulnerable they are in the workplace. It puts employers in the position of immigration officers who can threaten to report undocumented workers to the authorities unless they accept low paid and dangerous working conditions. These threats are also used to discourage workers to join trade unions to collectively bargain for their rights, a vital protection against workplace exploitation and bad pay.

Conference believes that the debate around immigration and the resulting punitive measures are being used to advance further cuts and restrictions to public services. Conference notes that UKIP at the 2010 general election proposed to ‘freeze’ public sector pensions and end statutory maternity and paternity pay and leave, as well as ‘scrap’ most ‘equality and discrimination legislation’. Despite the UKIP leader’s claim to have excluded those with extremist views from the party, he continues to attack women’s role in the workplace, claiming that women who have children are worth less to employers; that they must sacrifice family life if they are to get ahead in the city; and that there is no discrimination against women in the financial sector. Such beliefs presumably extend to other women in senior positions in society, including those in the public sector and political life

Conference expresses its anger and horror at the savage murder of Bijan Ebrahimi in Bristol in July 2013. Before his murder, Mr Ebrahimi suffered months of abuse on grounds of his race and physical disability. Despite reporting these alleged hate crimes to police, little action was taken and his attempts to secure photographic evidence of the harassment led to his tragic death.

Conference believes that the climate of hostility in which Mr Ebrahimi lived is partly fostered and encouraged by those groups who seek to stigmatise immigrants and migrant workers and turn communities against them. The daily rhetoric of lies and hysteria helps to convince communities most damaged by austerity policies that their real enemies are those seeking asylum or seeking work in our country.

Rather than responding to public anger about lack of jobs and housing, blaming immigrants divides our communities, erodes solidarity amongst workers and prevents positive and sustainable solutions being found. However, Conference believes that anti-immigrant sentiment has become a proxy for anxiety about jobs and the futures of local communities and that simply “myth-busting” about immigration will not be effective on its own.

In some areas UKIP are campaigning locally against some cuts to local services. In the absence of a clear trade union and labour movement campaign they can pick up support from disenfranchised working class people. To fundamentally undermine the likes of UKIP requires a campaigning trade union and labour movement, offering a radical political programme that can unite all working people, young people, unemployed and retired people. It requires a manifesto that will genuinely address issues such as unemployment and underemployment, low wages, lack of housing, decent health and education services and a clear commitment to reverse this government’s cuts and austerity programme. Unfortunately it is clear that none of the major political parties are willing to offer such a solution and therefore the role of UNISON and other trade unions will be key in stemming the growth of UKIP and providing a progressive alternative.

Conference notes that with the help of the General Political Fund, UNISON’s activists have taken on this challenge before, when tackling the rise of the British National Party and other far right groups. Across the UK, local campaigns that have focussed on re-engaging overlooked local communities have been able to succeed in turning voters away from the far right. This is the challenge UNISON faces in the run up to the General Election in 2015.

Conference further notes that the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 requires individual registration (instead of household) for new voters and anyone voting by proxy or post this summer and will make individual registration compulsory for all voters from 2015 onwards. It is expected to drive down voter turnout, with the biggest impact being felt by students, low paid people and black people.

Conference believes that in the run-up to the 2015 General Election, UNISON must build and develop on the lessons learned in fighting the far-right, to tackle the rise of a newly respectable, xenophobic right-wing populism. Conference welcomes the success of the 22 March Stand Up to Racism demonstrations organised by Unite Against Fascism and the TUC in London, Cardiff and Glasgow. The day was a magnificent display of Britain’s diversity, multiculturalism and unity against racism and hatred in the face of a growing wave of anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Conference resolves to provide an alternative voice which refutes the hateful untruths, sets out the arguments against UKIP and others, and promotes a different society where communities work together to demand better lives for all working people rather than fight amongst each other.

Conference therefore calls upon the National Executive Council to:

1) Evaluate and learn from the campaigns around the 2014 European Parliament and local government elections to develop effective materials and resources for the 2015 General Election, modelled on the work done by UNISON activists in conjunction with groups such as Hope not Hate, UAF and Stand Up to Racism;

2) Develop long term campaigns in each region to combat the politics of hate and provide guidance to branches on how to challenge UKIP candidates and elected officials on what their policies really mean for working people;

3) Highlight to all members the importance of voter registration with a targeted campaign specific to UNISON’s self-organised groups;

4) Raise awareness of the archaic views held by UKIP in respect of women’s place in the workplace and the potential damage to hard-won women’s equality rights should UKIP be in a position of power;

5) Encourage every region to develop with their regional TUC customised versions of the hugely popular and re-printed guide “Myths about Immigration, published by South West TUC” and purchase, distribute and widely disseminate its contents;

6) Work with Hope not Hate to scrutinise and monitor UKIP’s new Councillors;

7) Continue to work with Unite Against Fascism, Hope Not Hate and appropriate local campaigns against the English Defence League (EDL) and British National Party (BNP) and other far right groups;

8) Challenge the toxic rhetoric around migration and place a renewed focus on organising and recruiting migrant workers in public services;

9) Continue to work with organisations such as Show Racism the Red Card to expose the myths of migrant workers to young people;

10) Highlight UKIP attacks on workers in general and public service workers in particular.

11) Ensure that UNISON publicity and education material, for both activists and members, exposes the flawed logic that workers in general are helped by battering the most vulnerable. On the contrary, we need a race to the top, not to the bottom.

12) Extend with LAOS existing programmes on good practice in anti-discrimination and ensure such programmes form a core part of UNISON’s regional education programmes;

13) Campaign for the comprehensive training by employers of all who deliver front line services and support to individuals and communities in the application of pro-equality, anti-discriminatory and anti-hatred practices in their work.

14) Send a message of solidarity to Unite Against Fascism (UAF) for organising the Stand up to Racism and Fascism demonstration on 22nd March 2014 and to sign up to the Stand Up to UKIP campaign.