I’m just back from Brighton, where I went to bring UNISON’s demands on public services and social care into the Labour Party at its annual conference.
As I’ve said in many of my recent speeches, we are at a major crossroads. The head of our delegation, Linda Hobson, moved our motion on public services that was unanimously supported. She said: “We are calling time on business as usual’’, and that’s because we need a new deal for public services and public service workers.
We also heard from vice president Andrea Egan on decent housing and secure homes, while Liz Cameron seconded a motion on mental health, Tracey Wainwright proposed the Labour women’s conference motion, Women’s equality after the coronavirus pandemic, Graeme Ellis spoke in the Department for Work and Pension debate, and Davena Rankin spoke about the challenges facing members in higher education.
In line with UNISON’s successful motion calling for a national social care service, Labour promised they would deliver one. But we need to see more on what their vision of a national social care service is. When I moved our motion – my first time speaking at Labour Party conference – I sent a message to Boris Johnson.
I warned him that the British people would never forget he cared more about giving contracts to his cronies than he did about people in care homes.
The conference ended yesterday with a speech from Keir Starmer. In his first live conference address as leader of the Labour Party, he set out a new vision for the party and for our country, and from that we can start to see some steps in the right direction.
Right when we find ourselves in the middle of a fuel crisis, with working people also facing a hike in National Insurance, a cut in universal credit, a crisis in our NHS and social care, and after a shambolic handling of the pandemic by the Westminster government, we need hope and a plan.
Keir’s new vision was backed up by speeches throughout conference from Labour’s shadow frontbench team. They stepped up their ambitions to tackle the climate crisis by changing our economy and society.
They promised to invest in a green new deal that will irreversibly shift income, power and wealth to working people, with good secure, unionised jobs.
But clearer commitments need to be made on how public services can be the drivers of a just transition to a low carbon economy.
The frontbench thanked our NHS and public service heroes – and our UNISON delegation – for their work throughout the pandemic. We got a recognition that good, sustainable, public services must be paid for and a commitment to a revolution in insourcing. We, in UNISON, will be looking out for more details on exactly how they think this will be done.
And on workers’ rights and the economy, we were offered a new deal for working people – something UNISON has been calling for. Banning zero hours contracts, outlawing fire and rehire, increasing sick pay, maternity pay, parental leave, flexible working from day one and fair pay agreements negotiated by unions.
Conference is not just confined to big speeches inside the hall, as there were hundreds of fringe events from morning until night. I joined two panels to discuss social care and the Labour Women’s Network panel on smashing structural sexism.
I made sure UNISON’s international views were made clear on Palestine, on the refugee crisis and on the Tories’ appalling Nationality and Borders Bill.
This week, the Labour Party outlined how they want to take this country forward, with everything underpinned by the principles of work, care, equality, and security, and by the values of dignity, fairness, and respect.
We will make sure they stay true to those words, because they have a long way to go to earn the trust of all our members.
The fact that Labour could finally change its rules, to address the serious failings that Jewish communities were victims of, showed us signs that Labour wants to be responsible.
But we are a critical friend of the Labour Party and I will not hesitate to hold them to account and to push for the issues that most affect UNISON members. We will make sure it delivers a manifesto that supports public services and public service workers.