Friday, April 08, 2011

UNISON National Housing Seminar 2011: "We Ain’t Seen Nothin' Yet"

Keynote speaker, Heather Wakefield, Head of UNISON Local Government. (Usual health warning about the accuracy of my hurriedly typed notes) "It seems to have been a very long year. So much destruction has taken place. We now know that Nick Clegg “cries”. Bless his heart. His cabinet of millionaires that wreaks our welfare state. £80 billion in cuts. With no mandate to do so. Before the election Nick Clegg said not a single front line worker would be affected.  Check out Richard Murphy’s excellent blog on taxation. The Tory minister who boasted that these are cuts that “Mrs. Thatcher could only have dreamed about”.

This financial crisis was caused by banks and financial services. Who caused a massive reduction from 60% to 35% in the share of wealth. This led to the debt crisis. They lent mortgages to those who could never pay for them. It was not us, not you, that caused this crisis - but the friends of this Cabinet. They are proposing massive cuts in housing and people’s rights. Pay cuts, even though Local government pay is the lowest in all public services. The new White paper that will propose that all public services in England will have to be put out to tender. Also the review of “public duties”. We ain’t seen nothing yet - I am very sorry to say. We all know someone who has been made redundant. Many Tory and coalition councils don’t have to cut as much as they need to - they are not necessary. Thanks to Pete Challis for his work on educating branches and regional organisers on Council finances and show it is possible to not make such cuts. There are 3 things to do

1. Get technical – get on top of budgets.
2. Get political. There has been a lot of disengagement by branches in politics - especially in England. Nowadays a lot of branches do not think they should engage politically but I think we should be doing this. We have to use the local elections to give the coalition a “bloody nose” if we can. This is essential. Certainly not everything was rosy under a Labour government and Labour councils, we all know that, but just think of the difference between now and then. We have to undermine them.
3.Massively increase density. It is around 50% in local government but below this in some branches. We cannot allow our industrial bargaining position to fall in line with lower density. There is no excuse for any reduction in density. We must build organisation and strength. We have got to use our industrial muscle only when we can and when it will achieve what we want it to do. Industrial action is an important weapon. I’ve been told off in the past as being too keen than some about strikes but if we have industrial action that does not deliver – this does not improve things. If we have industrial action over pay or pensions we need to get our records updated. We cannot afford to take action that is not successful. That is what the government wants us to do – to get egg on our face. Take precipitate industrial action.  

UNISON branches are doing an amazing job day in and day out. We may not stop every redundancy. But we have seen success by taking councils on over finance, equality impact statements and campaigning. We have had successful industrial action and I am sure we will continue to have more. This is a government who despite being hard nose bastards can be forced to backtrack and do a “U turn”. Have seen this over Forests but also plans to cut housing benefit for those who are unemployed. There was a partial victory over EMA and the “break” over plans to privatise our NHS. It can be done. Got to be very canny about the way we do it.

Our primary job is to defend our members - we are a trade union but we must also win the argument with the public against privatisation. We cannot afford it. Public money goes down the drain; millions spent on drawing up processes and increased money for senior management. Don’t forget the shareholders premium. Privatisation only delivers cheaper services on the backs of cuts in our member’s wages and conditions. They have got rid of the 2 tier code so new starters will not be paid decent pay and terms. Decent Pensions will also soon go. Privatisation is the biggest threat face the union.  

So what to do? March 26th was a great day. In itself it may have affected the NHS proposals. They, the government, would love us to wear ourselves out by constant marching and industrial action. How do we build on March 26th? How to keep the pressure up on the government and coalition councils? Develop a massive movement against this government from the bottom up. There is no other alternative. We can have another March 26 and this would not change the governments mind. We in housing have to work with tenant and resident groups, voluntary organisations and others and not just fight for pay and pensions. The groups who are taking action against tax corruption such as London Citizens and UK uncut. Important social movements that are born of the same feelings as us. They are different from us. We in the unions are big organisations and are use to leading, but we have to work with others. There are problems with the politics. But by working with other unions and peoples who feel like us - we can derail this government"
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