Day 2 of the National UNISON Labour Link Forum in Manchester started this morning with a "Parliamentary Panel" of MPs and MEPS (see picture). It was inspiring to see 3 new MPs who come from our movement sitting for the first time alongside longer serving panel members. Former UNISON NEC member, Dave Anderson MP, spoke first about the risk to the union from indiscipline and how we must remain loyal and united to fight off Tory attacks on the union and the cuts.
Next was the first "Newbie" MP (as she described herself) former UNISON branch secretary and regional convener, Angela Rayner MP. Angela described her first few weeks in Parliament as getting "constantly lost" and grappling with the often arcane practices and procedures. Especially when it comes to what she can and cannot say about her political opponents during debates. In her first speech to the House of Commons she spoke about her life experiences as a single Mum at age 16 and working as a home carer.
In a question from the floor about the proposed new trade treaty with Europe and America (TTIP) MEP Jude Kirton-Darling, promised to oppose it if it threatens any form of public services.
2nd Newbie was former UNISON regional officer, Melanie Onn MP, who told us about her joy at winning her seat (and defeating UKIP) and her sadness about resigning as a union official since she worries about her members, especially those facing the Tory cuts onslaught. She recalled how she was nervous about her first speech to the Commons but she had carefully prepared a short timed speech only to be told immediately beforehand by the Whips that she had to pad it out to 20 minutes!
Not a newbie but always good to see and hear was Lilian Greenwood MP who told us how awful opposition is and how we need to go and speak and listen to the general public before we decide what to do next. We cannot just say to them that we were right and you were wrong.
Final "Newbie" was Daniel Zeichner who is a new MP but has worked for UNISON Labour Link for many years and has helped run this National Forum. Daniel thought we had 3 things to do. First, defend public services. Second, defend the union since the Tories are coming for us. Thirdly, we had to build an alternative political narrative for the public. He also described how unpleasant it was to be sitting for 7 hours a day in front of 350 Tories.
Final speaker was MEP Theresa Griffin, who defeated BNP leader Nick Griffin last year. She put down one reason for her success was ordinary UNISON members passing messages to other UNISON members.
After the panel we had a discussion and vote on the UNION Labour Link annual report followed by motions. First debate was on Local Government Finance. The mover brought alongside a jar of pickles to compare the value of former Minister Eric. There were other motions on Employment tribunals; engagement of young people; encouraging Black Labour Link officers; BME representation and equalities. Husband of Angela, Mark Rayner gave a passionate speech about the importance of doing every things we can to get more unison candidates to stand as Labour candidates in 2020. There was also motions on TTIP, "Fit to Work" Scheme, affordable housing and Union busting by UK Public Service providers and final one on human rights.
Chair Eleanor Smith closed the conference by hoping at next year's Forum following successful results in the elections in London, Scotland and local councils we will be in better spirits than this year.