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Unison is gearing up for a change of government

As well as sharing the lessons of our successful adoption of the organising model, our conference aims to secure commitments from Labour to a national care service and justice for Palestine, writes ANDY CHAFFER

ACTIVISTS from Unison, the largest union in the country, are gathering in Brighton two weeks before the general election.

Unison members are predominantly in local government and the NHS but also work in the voluntary sector, higher education, police, transport and utilities.
 
Most members have seen inadequate pay settlements and cuts to the funding of their services. In local government, an employer’s flat rate consolidated offer of £1,290 is out to consultation with a leadership recommendation to reject. No 2024 pay offer has been made in the NHS three months after the April settlement date.
 
From today the union will be debating a number of key issues, including the climate emergency, challenging the exploitation of migrant workers through organising and LGBT+ rights.
 
The union will also celebrate 2024 as the year of LGBT+ workers in debates this afternoon. The battle for full equality is ongoing and employers can adopt policies that ensure all staff are treated properly in the workplace. In the wider community issues such as banning “conversion therapy” have still to be implemented.
 
A leading debate for the union tomorrow is the need for the incoming government to implement a national care service.

Unison is leading the campaign for social care to become a nationally recognised institution which can respond to the needs of older people and disabled people. Care is currently being delivered by private companies, with national standards not being enforced, care workers facing poverty wages, a staffing crisis and difficult working conditions.
 
Unison is campaigning for a fully funded national care service which provides quality care for service users and national pay, terms and conditions for care workers focusing on good quality care instead of profits for shareholders and private companies. With any change of government, it is key that the union holds the incoming government’s feet to the fire on this issue.

The other prioritised motions on the agenda include cuts to our public services and the need for better services for domestic abuse survivors as well as an address from our general secretary, Christina McAnea.
 
On Thursday, Dr Husam Zomlot, Palestinian ambassador to Britain, will be welcomed, and will address the conference on the ongoing genocide in Gaza and the struggle for Palestinian liberation.

Unison has been clear in its call for a ceasefire in Gaza and has a strong existing policy on Palestine — being one of the first trade unions in Europe to respond to Palestinian civil society on its support for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). With the defeat of the Tory anti-boycott Bill, the issue of BDS campaigns, particularly in the local government pension fund, must be a priority for Unison activists.
 
As well as reiterating our support for BDS, the motion that is being debated on Thursday calls on any incoming government to suspend arms sales with Israel, ban trade with the illegal settlements and support the persecution of violations of international law by the ICC and ICJ.

It will also call to secure a commitment from the next Labour government to recognise Palestine as an independent, sovereign state. As Britain, the US and Israel’s allies have been denying Palestinians their inalienable right to sovereignty for so long, it will be critical that the union is united against the Israeli genocide and apartheid.
 
Also on Thursday, we will see a debate on a motion titled Solidarity with Ukraine and its labour movement take place. While under the guise of solidarity with the Ukrainian labour movement, the motion itself calls for affiliation with the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign.

Given that the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign actively fundraises and calls for the increase of arms to Ukraine, the motion itself is hardly in solidarity with the labour movement — as only a diplomatic and political solution in Ukraine can bring about the peace for the country’s working class, not further funding Nato’s war machine.
 
There is an important amendment to Motion 31, which is titled Time to invest now — don’t make public service workers pay the price of austerity! which covers this issue of increases in military expenditure and how as a union we must oppose it. These increases are always at the expense of investment in much-needed public services and infrastructure.
 
Over the last year, the union has adopted the organising model of trade unionism and this will be the major debate on Friday morning. This work of training branches and activists to work in a methodical manner is essential to winning ballots and disputes.

This has had particular success in the England-wide campaign for proper pay grading for NHS healthcare assistants. There have been many strikes across the country, some of which are continuing, as this campaign gains momentum. Thousands of members have won better pay and backpay — they have shown that standing up in an organised manner can and does win.

Andy Chaffer is a Unison activist in the West Midlands.

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