UNISON must ‘lead the fightback’ against threats to democracy

Conference hears that plans for regional ‘devolution’ have nothing to do with improving the lives of the majority in those areas

This is a government that is “a genuine and serious threat to our society,” said Clare Williams of the Northern region, as she launched a debate on attacks on democracy as national delegate conference reconvened this afternoon.

Citing the government’s offensive against trade unions via the Trade Union Bill, she lauded the union, and general secretary Dave Prentis specifically, for leading the fight back against that planned legislation, as well as against the divisive racism of UKIP’s anti-EU campaigning.

Ms Williams said that, in her region, the union was also campaigning against so-called devolution, as this was simply being used as a new way of further cutting funding to the area.

“There is no economic strategy for our region – and we refer to it as the Northern Poorhouse, which is more accurate,” she told conference.

And urging them to fight back against the democratic deficit and the onslaught of global neo-liberalism, she finished by saying that “UNISON is democratic – we should lead that fight,” to loud cheers and applause.

Glenn Williams from the North West observed that there are “some things in life over which we have no control” and pointed out that the devolution plans for Manchester and Liverpool were created without any consultation with people in those cities.

Where such devolution is currently being pursued, he noted, the union has the opportunity to win commitments from the local politicians – commitments that they would be unlikely to win from central government.

Another delegate, a member of the disabled members self-organised group, emphasised how, “if you’re disabled, nobody wants to hear your voice”.

Jane Armitage from Surrey County stressed that “we’ve got to fight devolution – we’ve got to fight anything that takes away our democracy”.

Sean Sawer from Hastings, a hospital porter, stressed that many people don’t vote because they do not think it’s worth voting.

As a former peacekeeper in Bosnia, he cited his experiences there as illustrating what happens when people don’t vote.

“We have to stand up for democracy,” he urged delegates.

Joe Morris from North Tyneside highlighted the government’s attack on short money as “unprecedented” and he told conference that “we need to far more to politicise our members”.

Among a raft of actions on the issue, conference agreed to:

  • campaign against all anti-democratic changes introduced by the government;
  • ensure local alliances are built with other unions, constituency Labour parties, community and voluntary groups to campaign for decisions to be taken by local people;
  • to promote and encourage UNISON members and activists to willingly support the union’s policies on anti-austerity and local democracy by becoming more active in their communities – especially by standing for elected positions on local councils, hospital trust boards etc.