Dave Prentis today called on the TUC to organise a mass rally and lobby of this year’s Tory party conference, in defence of the NHS.
“And if they don’t, we will,” he told UNISON delegates, “because we are the folk to fight for it.”
To cheers from the conference hall, Mr Prentis also demanded that a future Labour government repeal the Health Act and fully the restore the NHS, as it was before it was “chopped up and sold off to the highest bidder” by the coalition and subjected to “a massive top-down reorganisation that was never mentioned in any manifesto.”
In a pragmatic and forceful conference performance, Mr Prentis had criticisms for both the coalition and Labour, insisting that the latter had to earn the union’s support.
“We need Labour on our side. But for too long we’ve built the careers of Labour politicians, only to be let down when we’ve needed them most.”
The general secretary welcomed the union’s call for a national campaign on local government pay, urging GMB and Unite to join in that campaign – while adding that he stood by his prediction at last year’s conference that the unions would break the pay freeze. “Whether that was premature or not, we must break the pay policy and we must build our members resolve.”
To local government members in Scotland, who are currently balloting over industrial action over pay, he said “this union salutes you and will rally behind you.”
Mr Prentis praised delegates for the success of this year’s recruitment campaign, which resulted in a “staggering” 44% increase in membership over seven weeks.
But he added: “To those who did not get involved, you missed something special. And we need you to be there for us next time. Recruitment is not a spectator sport. We need every activist and every branch to be involved.”
Recruitment was not just about numbers or income, he said, it was part of the union’s organising agenda and political strategy, as well as strength in the workplace.
As promised, UNISON had delivered 325 more organisers, “and we’ll keep them coming, at grass roots where you need them most.
“And for every activist you find, we’ll train them within the week.”
Condemning the government’s introduction of a £1,000 charge to take a case to employment tribunal, “punitive charges to access justice”, he promised – to applause – that the union would pay members’ tribunal charges up front.
His speech acknowledged the many detrimental deeds of the coalition – from the “scorched earth policy” on welfare payments to the bedroom tax, from attacks on facility time – which drew the biggest cheer of the afternoon – to Michael Gove’s suggestion that teaching assistants were unnecessary in schools.
“We have mountains to climb,” he said, while asserting a UNISON alternative agenda that included a massive house-building programme, the reform of the banking system, the full repeal of the health act, and return of the railways to public ownership, and an end to “privatisation madness.”
His final words were a rallying cry for the activists, the “lifeblood” of the union.
“I’m told solidarity is old fashioned, that it’s had its day. But for me solidarity’s day has come. We have solidarity but the coalition is split. They speak for the millionaires, but we speak up for the millions.”