Getting the public on our side – public service campaigning

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2017 National Delegate Conference
20 February 2017
Carried as Amended

Close to a decade since the beginning of the global financial crisis, the pressure on public services and those that provide them remains unrelenting. Despite the unprecedented cuts that our members and the communities that they serve have already experienced, a raft of further measures now threaten to push services to breaking point. These include but are not limited to:

1)The £3bn of ‘savings’ being imposed on schools in England by 2019/20;

2)A growing social care funding crisis across the UK;

3)The funding crisis in the NHS, which the Red Cross have described as a humanitarian crisis;

4)Continuing cuts and redundancies in local government and police.

The backdrop for the increased pressure on public services is the continued fallout from the EU referendum result, in terms of both economic uncertainty and political turbulence, in the UK and internationally.

In this context UNISON, as the largest public services trade union, carries a heavy responsibility. Not only must the union counter the strong headwinds and continue to make the arguments for an alternative to the cuts and underinvestment that have characterised the austerity decade. We must also use our member’s experiences, campaign resources, evidence and expertise to win over wider public opinion for an alternative that properly recognises the value of properly funded public services to all of our lives.

Conference should acknowledge that winning over public opinion is a huge challenge. Although polls show strong support for the NHS, recent indications suggest that the Tories, responsible for austerity in the first place, enjoy high levels of trust as the party best suited to manage the challenges it faces. Added to this, all too often we see a dispiriting low level of concern about the pressures facing local government and public services more widely.

The UNISON public service champions campaign, launched following support for motion 26 at National Delegate Conference 2016, seeks to help address the challenge of winning over public opinion. Motion 27 passed also set out a strong anti-privatisation agenda to follow too. This campaign, supported by the General Political Fund, has sought to reignite the sense of pride we should all feel in public services, and create the conditions in which our more political messages about the need for an alternative to austerity are better received – including those already being pursued regionally, locally or related to service specific demands. The philosophy behind the campaign is that people will only fight for it if they are reminded why they should care about it.

Conference now calls on the National Executive Council to continue to pursue the champions campaign in the period ahead. This should involve:

a)Further communications and advertising to the public that highlights the valuable work that our members undertake and the pressures that they face;

b)Harnessing members voices from the frontline in their own words;

c)Working with branches, regions and self-organised groups to ensure appropriate co-ordination with on the ground campaigns;

d)Working with service groups on their cuts and pay campaigns;

e)Developing further campaign tools and materials (including digital social media) that can be used across the union to contribute to the campaign;

f)Lobbying politicians at all levels to stand up for public services and those that provide them;

g)Building to the 2020 general election so that there is mass accumulation of voters ready to vote for public services;

h)Evaluating the effectiveness of the campaign.