Unison: We need a fighting, democratic, member-led union to stop the austerity attacks
Paula Mitchell, Socialist Party executive committee
Unison union members want change. After over a decade of vicious government austerity cuts - during which hundreds of thousands of jobs have been cut from local authorities and pay frozen, and with Labour councils willingly wielding the axe on behalf of the Tories - Unison members have again been in the frontline during the Covid pandemic.
Despite being hailed as 'heroes' for their exceptional work in the NHS, or in care homes, or in looking after vulnerable households that were shielding, and so forth, their reward from the Johnson government has been a slap in the face, with another public sector pay freeze and a meagre 1% pay offer in the NHS.
Last year, in Labour-run Tower Hamlets, 4,000 workers were sacked and rehired on worse terms of employment as part of the council's cuts.
Throughout austerity and the Covid crisis, Unison's leadership has failed to mobilise a coordinated fightback. Instead, branches have been left to fight alone with no national campaign. Moreover, Unison's leaders excused Labour councils passing on Tory cuts, claiming 'there was no alternative', while continuing to fill Labour's coffers with Unison members' money.
Former Unison general secretary Dave Prentis only supported Jeremy Corbyn's leadership campaign under pressure from the membership, and now his successor Christine McAnea applauds Keir Starmer, who has ruthlessly defeated Corbybnism inside the Labour Party, as doing a good job.
During the Covid crisis Unison's leadership effectively shut down the union, refusing to call meetings, threatening disciplinary action against activists who tried to organise, and refusing to support the NHS workers' pay campaign for 15%. And McAnea's response to the NHS insult? A slow handclap!
Boris Johnson's Tories are mired in crisis. But why isn't Unison's leadership taking advantage of the Tories' problems to press forward on members' interests? Where is the national fight on pay? Unison should be taking a lead, calling protests and action and appealing to other public sector unions to prepare together for coordinated action.
By way of an alternative to this inaction, Socialist Party members are standing in the national executive (NEC) elections - including sitting NEC members Hugo Pierre and April Ashley - to put forward the fighting programme necessary to defend jobs, pay and services.
Increased nominations for Hugo, April, and the candidates standing on that programme, show the desire for change. Socialist Party Scotland member Jim McFarlane has already been re-elected unopposed to the Scottish male seat. The Socialist Party also calls for support for other candidates who are genuinely standing on a fighting platform.
In last autumn's general secretary election, Hugo Pierre attempted to get discussion and a consensus for a single left candidate on a fighting programme. But other candidates who stood against the status quo - Paul Holmes (supported by John McDonnell) and Roger McKenzie (supported by Jeremy Corbyn) - refused.
For the NEC elections, we argued that there needed to be a coordinated left challenge in order to unseat the right-wing incumbents. Again, unfortunately, the 'members' team' grouping around Paul Holmes has not been prepared to discuss, and supporters of Roger McKenzie are supporting right-wing candidates.
What change do Unison members need? We argue for a campaigning, socialist leadership - prepared to lead not just in words but in action. If the members do elect a majority on the NEC for those who argue for 'change', those NEC members will be tested.
Socialist Party members put forward a clear programme to fight the public sector pay freeze, for national action to fight austerity and end privatisation, and for democratisation of our union.
Socialist Party candidates stand clearly on a no-cuts platform, calling on Labour councils to refuse to pass on the cuts and instead to mount mass trade union and community campaigns to win the necessary funding.
They demand no more members' money should be handed over to cutting and privatising Labour councillors, and argue for a debate in Unison and the trade union movement about how to achieve genuine working-class political representation.
Socialist Party members are campaigning on the following socialist manifesto for Unison:
Fight for pay, jobs and services
- National action to defeat cuts and privatisation - don't leave branches to fight alone
- Fight to break the public sector pay freeze and end low pay. Fight for a 15% pay rise in the NHS - build the fight for public sector-wide action
- Labour and SNP councils should refuse to make cuts and set no-cuts needs budgets
- A national campaign to return the billions stolen from councils by government since 2010
- For nationally-coordinated action to defeat the 'alternative care' providers, 'wholly owned subsidiaries' and 'STP' cuts plans
- End privatisation; bring services back in-house - including energy companies and probation
- Cancel PFI contracts, write off the debts and bring services back in-house - no compensation for the big corporations
- Renationalise the NHS
- Scrap academies and bring back all schools under democratic control of councils with governing bodies to be democratically elected
- For genuine democratic control of the union by the members and elected representatives
- Put the union's money where the fight is - more resources to the branches not at the centre.
- For the right of the union's national conference to debate any issue or rule change it chooses, including the political funds
- No to political witch-hunts and for full genuine lay control over the union by the members
- Defend the rule book right of branches to campaign to change, modify or replace union policy, including opposing pay claims, free from interference of unelected union officials
- For the election of full-time union officials on a worker's wage - an end to unelected full-time officials calling the shots
For genuine workers' political representation
- Not a penny of members' money to those MPs/councillors who fail to defend our members
- For genuine democratic control of the union's political funds by all members. Open up political funds to allow the union to support candidates who defend union members even if outside of the Labour Party
- For a full review of union political funds to ensure that we can secure a genuine political voice that represents our members
- For trade unions to lead an anti-racist, anti-austerity campaign for jobs, homes and services not racism
- Defend the right to protest, strike and picket. Trade unions must take the lead in a campaign to defeat the Tories 'police bill'
- Zero-tolerance of sexual harassment in the workplace
- Let Scotland decide. For a new independence referendum determined by the Scottish people
Rules introduced by Unison to clamp down on democratic debate in the union mean that candidates for union elections cannot 'invite or accept' support 'in money or kind' from any entity which 'is not provided for in Unison rules'. This article is produced without the authorisation of the candidates, in order to comply with these requirements.
Socialist Party members contesting the forthcoming national executive council elections
Hugo Pierre - standing for national black members' male seat
Hugo is the current holder of the seat and in his material he says that in that time he has "fought to improve democracy in our union and to win policies that will help our members to fight to defend their jobs, pay and conditions."
Hugo is Unison education convenor in Camden, London.
April Ashley - standing for national black members' female seat
April has held one of the three female black members seat on the NEC for over ten years, and is also branch secretary for Southwark Local Government Branch. In her address to members, April says: "Black Lives Matters mass demonstrations swept across the world last year. When this was linked to the Covid crisis, which saw the worst impact on black workers, it galvanised the fight against racism across the UK, with young people at the forefront. We need action and policies to fight for jobs, homes and services not racism."
Adrian O'Malley - standing for national health service general seat
Adrian is secretary of Mid Yorkshire Health Unison Branch which has a proud tradition of fighting privatisation, PFI, cuts and 'downbandings'. He says: "In 2018 we successfully fought off the introduction of a wholly owned subsidiary company in our trust and in 2020 succeeded in bringing Soft FM within our PFI hospitals back in-house."
Naomi Byron - standing for Greater London region low-paid reserve seat
Naomi is a catering worker in the NHS, and a joint Unison branch secretary for ISS workers at Homerton Hospital, east London. Naomi says: "Unison should be leading the fight against the public sector pay freeze and insulting 1% (pay cut) offered to NHS staff. I led the campaign which won NHS sick pay and the London Living Wage for ISS staff at Homerton in the middle of Covid."
David Maples - standing for national disabled members' general seat
David is chair of Merton Council Unison branch. He argues that disabled workers need strong workplace organisation and cannot rely on lobbying a hostile government. David campaigns for trade union control over health and safety, the 'access to work' service and the benefit system to make it supportive rather than punitive.
Tom Hunt - standing for East Midlands region male seat
Tom started working for the NHS 41 years ago as a student nurse and says he has watched the service being dismantled piecemeal. Tom initiated the #weareallchatsworth campaign, leading the successful fight to save Chatsworth Ward in Mansfield Community Hospital. He says: "Unison needs to change direction. The leadership has been found wanting on pay, pensions and fighting cuts. Unison should co-ordinate action across the union - not leave branches and service groups to fight alone."
John Malcolm - standing for Northern region male seat
John is a Unison branch secretary representing over 3,000 health workers and has been a Unison activist for over 30 years working in the NHS.
John says: "In 2018 my branch defeated the employer's proposal to set up a wholly owned subsidiary that would have seen hundreds of ancillary and support workers transferred out of the NHS with no guarantee of their terms and conditions. Unison needs to step up the campaign on NHS pay. The 1% recommendation from the government is an insult. We need determined action to win a decent pay rise - we have had a real term pay cut of 20% across all public services."
In The Socialist 5 May 2021:
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