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National Delegate Conference 2016 Report    

UNISON’s 2016 National Delegate Conference took place in Brighton from Tuesday 21 to Friday 24 June. Branch delegates were Alex Harris and Louise Ashworth / Sharon Guest (Sharer).  David George attended as a visitor.

Dave Prentis, General Secretary, opened his keynote speech to conference on Tuesday paying tribute to murdered MP and UNISON member Jo Cox saying the tragic event made it even more important to speak out about the way the debate about being part of the EU had developed. “Farage and his ilk have been nothing short of a disgrace”, lifting the lid on a “dark and ugly politics”, and UNISON had reported Farage to the Metropolitan police for his racist campaign poster “which looked for all the world like the Nazi propaganda of yesteryear”.  Dave also spoke about UNISON’s support for the previous week’s convoy to Calais, extended solidarity to Orlando as conference took place just a week after the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in which 49 lgbt people were killed, and UNISON’s support for the EU Remain campaign.   

Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn addressed conference and was given a standing ovation as he came into the conference hall and another at the end of his speech. Jeremy said he was proud to be a UNISON memb and praised union reps, branch secretaries and lay officials “who work day-in, day-out, representing people in the workplace who otherwise would not get it.”  “Public services only operate because of the efficiency and effectiveness of our members and their generosity to go beyond the call of duty, day-in and day-out.”  He said that a Labour government would repeal the Trade Union Act, and strengthen trade union and employment rights.

He urged delegates to vote to remain in tomorrow’s EU referendum, stressing the future of the NHS, the threat of the TTIP trade deal, environmental standards and climate change as key reasons. “A vote to leave would put our NHS in jeopardy,” he said.

He condemned the government’s record, which has left six million people earning less than the living wage, crippling unemployment, job insecurity and a “redistribution of wealth in absolutely the wrong direction. “Austerity is a political choice not an economic necessity,” he said. “The government freezes pay and cuts jobs, but doesn’t seem to understand the consequences.”

He said that a Labour government would introduce a “a real living wage for workers of all ages” and work to further close the gender pay gap.  He noted the success of the opposition, unions and others in forcing the government back on tax credits and academy schools.

“The message that comes from that is whenever we do things together, we achieve victories. And we can achieve much more. We can defeat austerity and build a better society.  To win a general election, we need to be mobilised as a movement as never before, with one agenda that’s different on the economy, and is about bringing equality to our society.”

Decent work needs to be recognised everywhere, and the race to the bottom that is affecting public services all around the world because multinationals need to make a profit has to stop was the message from Rosa Pavanelli, the general secretary of Public Services International (PSI), when she addressed UNISON’s annual conference in Brighton on Thursday morning.

As the UK went to the polls in the EU referendum, she said that it was “not easy to speak on a day like today”.  But the key issue of the referendum “has to do with our living conditions and democracy”.

“We must take democracy very seriously,” she told conference, and warned against the sort of rhetoric that culminates in violence.

Noting the Trade Union Bill and the fight against it, Ms Pavanelli said that “democracy is under attack” – not just in the UK or the European Union, but around the world”.  She cited a number of issues – including that anti-union bill – that are not occurring in the UK because of the EU.

The 2008 financial crisis has given some on the Right the opportunity to launch a “global attack” on workers’ rights, on welfare – and on democracy itself, as it is not just about the rich becoming richer, but a massive grab for power.

Trade deals such as CETA and TTIP “allow global corporates to define the rules,” said Ms Pavanelli.

PSI is fighting against the privatisation of public services around the world.

And she reminded delegates that the money for properly funded public services is available – trillions of dollars are known to be hidden in tax havens.

“We need to consider that tax evasion is a crime,” she said, to applause, adding that the UK government’s attack on the NHS is part of the global attack on public service provision that is part and parcel of the multinational corporates’ agenda.

But PSI is continuing to fight – and UNISON will continue to fight with it – against such an “unacceptable way to deal with common goods and the wellbeing of our society”, concluded Ms Pavanelli.

EU Referendum Result Statement

On Friday morning, most delegates arrived in conference visibly shocked and disheartened. In a statement to conference, Dave Prentis said that UNISON would be working over the coming weeks and months to hold the leave campaigners to the promises they have made of more money for the NHS and that our rights at work would remain intact. He also said that this also has to “be a time for our country to heal”, and that ‘at its worst, the campaign has been typified by hatred, vitriol and misinformation that have done a huge disservice to our democracy and values”.

Interesting conference debates

Attacks on the Human Rights Act (HRA) which highlighted the significant obstacles the Government will have to overcome in order to scrap the HRA, including the HRA being part of the Good Friday agreement and the opposition of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Also outlined was that it was Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to life and is enshrined in the HRA, which got the wide-ranging second Hillsborough inquest that had returned the verdict of unlawful killing in respect of the 96 people who died.

There was a composite on EU trade agreements which referenced TTIP, TiSA and CETA with speakers saying it must be a priority for trade unions to campaign against them noting that some of the leading campaigners for Brexit were also some of the strongest supporters of TTIP.

The NEC submitted a motion on Public Service campaigning repeating its call for fair funding of public services, through a fair system of taxation noting that UK-based companies make multi-million pound profits each year, while often paying nothing in corporation tax.

UNISON’s aims include encouraging a Labour government to introduce a “Robin Hood Tax” on financial transactions, reverse the Tory cuts in corporation tax and scrap Trident, freeing up billions of pounds that could be better invested in public services.

The motion called on the NEC to work with the trade union councils across the UK, civil society groups and others to establish a model for a fairer and more stable systems of taxation, “specifically to fund public services.”

Additional points highlighted in this debate were encouraging people to contribute to the NatCen research into the impact of public sector cuts on LGBT people and services, and highlighting the serious implications that parts of the new Children and Social Work Bill have for both children’s services and social workers.

There was also a debate on” Don’t Silence the Occupation of Palestine” which called for resistance to the increasing efforts being made to clamp down on the BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions) campaign, including the UK government’s attempts to prevent public bodies from considering boycotts and disinvestment.  An amendment made clear that the BDS campaign is Palestinian-led, and called for further work on ending pension fund investment in companies associated with the illegal occupation.

Concerns were expressed by speakers at attempts to silence those who campaign for Palestinian rights, in an emotional debate including contributions from members who have visited Palestine.

A speaker for the national LGBT committee warned  against ‘pinkwashing’ – the attempt to portray Israel as a bastion of LGBT rights in order to nullify criticism.  “There can be no pride in Israeli apartheid,” she told the union’s national delegate conference in Brighton.

One delegate told how she met a young Israeli Jew, who was so traumatised by what he was forced to do during his national military service that he and others bravely formed a group called Breaking the Silence, to let people know what was being done to the Palestinian people.

Another speaker said that attempts by the UK government to stop boycott Israel campaigns was indicative of how powerful such campaigns are.

And a speaker for the NEC stressed that the union’s work on Palestine has always been based on international law.

Of the campaign for a boycott and disvestment the speaker said: “It’s making a huge difference. Public pressure is forcing companies to withdraw from the occupied territories,” something that is problematic for the Israeli government.

A motion on women, the refugee crisis and trafficking was moved by the national women’s committee with the speaker noting, “the poison in this debate is coming from the top in our society.” Media coverage “boosts the lie that it’s not the Tories that are threatening our National Health Service, but migrants.” The reality was that without migrant workers, there would be no National Health Service. A NEC speaker  reminded delegates that the plight of the refugees is bound up in the “neoliberal world agenda” and we need to address such things, as well as offering practical solidarity.

Among a raft of actions, conference voted to instruct the executive to strengthen the union’s work advocating for evidence-based, human rights-centred policies around migration, which take account of the specific needs of women migrants and refugees.

Conference Rule Changes

Reserved Seats on NEC for Disabled Members

The National Disabled Members Committee had submitted a rule amendment to create 2 reserved seats for disabled members on the NEC. There are reserved seats for Black members which were introduced at a time when the NEC was all white.  The introduction of reserved seats for disabled members is not without controversy as over a third of the NEC identify as disabled.  The reserved seats are elected by the whole membership and not just disabled members.  Although the person must identify as disabled they do not have to be active in disabled members self organisation and they would be accountable to the NEC not disabled members.

The National LGBT Committee’s position on this was that this was a matter for the NDMC, but did not wish there to be reserved seats for LGBT members, it should not be seen as a precedent. The NEC had deferred a decision on its policy on the rule amendment until the beginning of conference, and first announced that it would oppose, and then changed this to ‘leave to conference’.  The rule amendment was carried.

Private Sector Forum

Conference agreed on the setting up of a new private sector forum

Activity Based Budgeting and Funding

Despite opposition this was agreed.  It is likely that this will not have a substantial impact on our branch due being a national branch.  More details of the review can be found here

Fringes and other events

Your branch delegates attended:

•    Equalities fringe on Thursday lunchtime, which focussed on how branches can build capacity to support members and the bargaining agenda around equality in the workplace.

•    Palestine Solidarity fringe where the report from UNISON’s recent delegation to Palestine was launched.  

•    Greater London regional meeting.
•    Caucus meetings.

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