Fab guest post by top Branch activists Mitsy Harmon-Russell & Doreen Davies.
The chair reminded conference that the collection for his charity, Mind the Blue Light Programme was still continuing and encouraged individuals to support it. This charity helps men and women working in the emergency service with mental health problems, helping workers stay well for work. Additionally it was announcement that T shirts in remembrance of Eric were on sale at the cost of £10.00 each. Conference delegates were encouraged to visit the stand and purchase these in support of his charity.
Yvonne Green, Regional Convenor informed all in the "London Calling" regional newsletter how Eric would ‘have been chairing our conference with a smile, joke and great professionalism’.
There were no words in hearing the pain and suffering of those who lost their lives in the Manchester arcana, London Bridge/Borough Market and the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower furnace and the Finsbury Park attack. Thoughts and prayers to all those affected, with mention of how the bravery of the emergency services, public services and local community worked together and supported many victims and their families.
Sending a message of solidarity to all, where branches and regions were encouraged to consider making donations to the Grenfell Tower "just giving"
– there was a minute’s silence.
This was followed by the First and Second Report of Standing orders committee (SOC) being presented to delegates. Three branches asked for their motion to be returned to the SOC as they wanted it to be returned to the agenda. Delegates voted with these branches for the motions to be reconsidered.
The Annual Report of Unison Accounts which focused: Developing an organising branch, Organising and growing our membership in private contractors etc., was them put forward to conference and individuals were able to ask questions which were answers before being accepted. As a result of this the first day seemed to go slowly only allowing a few motions on the agenda to be debated.
The first Motion 18 ‘Stepping up the campaign against bullying and harassment’ had many supporters who shared their horrific stories of how many workers on low pay were facing harassment and bullying. Additionally the successful cases won by the help of UNISON have prevented unscrupulous Managers getting away with such behaviour. Discussion was then started on the remaining order of business which was Motion 20 and it first amendment before breaking for lunch.
Afternoon session started with the continuation of debate on Motion 20 Amendment 20.2 ‘Tackling Work Poverty’ hearing the horrific stories of how delegates and members are struggling to pay rents and using food banks to eat.
The second discussion was on Motion 55 ‘UNISON and the WASPI campaign’ was shocking leaving Doreen interested in attending the Fringe Meeting on Thursday. SOC report 3 was given verbally to conference.
The first speaker to conference was Dave Prentis, General Secretary who paid tribute to Eric Roberts reporting on the work Eric had done for UNISON and how he was missed encouraging others to fight for what is right in life. Dave thanked everyone who played their part in campaigning for the Labour Party, helping shift the debate onto public services. Dave also stated he was proud the part UNISON made on working closely with the Labour government, stating that this work has helped many Labour MP’s be elected. He promised that UNISON will continue to support the Labour government to be in power and stand up for the public services of this country and how he would continue to fight the Tories and support UNISON members who are suffering under the hands of the Conservative Party, who Doreen call the CON party, Conned Liberals and will CON the DUP in their coalition, with Teresa Mayhem.
Conference began with housekeeping (fire notices etc.). SOC Report 4 was then discussed. This includes the report that 21Emergency Motions had been submitted, of which 9 were accepted. The questions and answers session followed, with responses and voting as questions on the Same Emergency Motions which were not accepted. This was followed by votes, this meant the Order of Business for the day contained more discussion on bring motions back to the list which had not been accepted.
Conference started with the Young Members Awards being awarded by Carol Sewell, Senior Vice President, followed with a short film showing the works and support of the Young Members, delegates stood in UNISON for the young Members. Our Scottish young members won this year’s UNISON young members award, they also won the TUC campaign award. Their work focused on bullying and harassment of young workers.
Discussion on motion commenced with motion 103 ‘Activity-Based Budgeting, motion 1 ‘Developing An Organising Branch’, motion 2 ‘Organising and growing our membership and private contractors then motion 3, ‘An Organising Strategy for the Social Care Workforce’.
At the start of the afternoon session an oral SOC report 5 was given. Conference then returned to motions discussion with Motion 30 ‘Getting the public on our side – public services campaigning’ and it’s amendment was the first on the list. There were not many opportunities for speaking and sharing stories because many got up to ask that ‘The question be put’. However those who spoke talked about the General Election achievements of Jeremy Corbyn on 8 June, with 45 seats being gained in 4 Tory strong areas including Kensington.
Mention of Brighton Green Party Caroline Lucas held Brighton Pavilion and Lloyd Russell-Moyle won Brighton Kempton from the Tories with a majority of more than 10,000. Additionally that the Tory government were being forced into a doing a deal with DUP at any cost – let us see what the future brings!!
Motions on the remaining order of business continued with motion 87 ‘Challenging Racism and Xenophobia’ and the 2 amendments being discussed and voted. Motion 87 and the first amendment past whilst the second amendment fell. Other motion debated were motion 86 ‘Race Inequality in the workplace’ where pieces of the MacGragor Smith report was given and delegates voted to accept. Only two other motions were debated motion 19 ‘Tackling stress’ which also informed conference about the upcoming workshop on Stress in November – Birmingham and encourage participation, and motion 17 ‘Dying to work campaign’.
The day seemed long but and not many motions or stories went through, however , Hazel Satenay, Treasurer, Labour Link/Asset Branch Secretary Brent UNISON talked about how she received a whatsapp message and video at 2.38 am about the Glenfell Tower and how she and her daughter volunteered to help. She describes her feelings on what she saw of the burnt out building and heard a choir singing in the background near Latimer Community Centre, which was very touching. Both Hazel and her daughter were packing food and items until 11.30 pm with no idea of where it was going or nobody giving her support or guidance. She saw people writing on the memorial wall – Hazel finished by stating she prays that she never experiences another disaster such as this.
There was another woman, who stated that she had a good childhood until her family tried to arrange a marriage at a young age to one of her cousins. Another spoke of how many women are forced at an early age of 13 to marry, some even younger abroad.
The mood of the conference turned with the Glenfell Tower and listening to how even in England, child marriages were being arranged and should be seen as child labour. There were many tears on the conference floor; this motion needs to be top on the political agenda.
Conference continued with discussion on motion 61 ‘Working globally for LGBT rights’ which was supported and carried with UNISON always included on the international agenda. Many stories about how many people had to hide their identity at work, which not only affected their performance but also their health. Listening on how many have to suffer every day across the world, and many being attacked and hate they face. There were concerns raised around Theresa May not supporting LGBT rights and who is attempting to deal with the DUP – blocking same sex marriage in Northern Ireland. Support and the fight needs to continue with the motion being passed for LGBT rights at home and abroad.
This was followed by a video with a message from Colombia – Solidarity with Colombia of jailed Colombian trade union leader Hubar Ballesteros and delegates taking part in an action calling for his release. He was held in prison without trail for three and half years. In 2015 UNISON delegate to visit Huber at La Picata prison in Bogota. Huber will be speaking at the TUC congress as a guest in September, released at the end of last year, as part of the peace agreement between Columbian government and FARC guerrillas. The video showed his thanks.
The agenda returned to the remaining order or business and the first motion was our Motion 36 ‘Why we need to build a new housing consensus for affordable and decent homes for all’. This also had 4 amendments that were supported and carried. The motion was amended, John spoke in support of the motion on behalf of the head table and Mitsy from our branch. Lola and Doreen were unable to speak because the question was put. Motion
42 ‘Media Portrayal of Older people’ was also supported and carried.
The afternoon session was packed; verbal SOC Report 7 was presented. Then conference continued with the commencement of changes to the Rules book, with Rule C ‘Becoming a Member’, Rule M ‘Data Protection Act Policy’ and Rule D ‘Structure of the Union at National Level’ before returning to the debate on motions which were supported and carried.
These included: Motion 84 ‘EU Exit – Protecting the Northern Ireland Peace Process’ and its amendment with part of the discussion being on the Good Friday agreement. Motion 74 ‘The Great repeal Bill – Protecting Devolution’ with 2 amendment, then motion 73 ‘Exiting the EU – A Fair Deal For Working and Public Services’ this motion had 5 amendments. Composite F ‘EU Exit and Workers’ Rights’, and motion 75 ‘Immigration and the effects of the EU Referendum and the Brexit Vote’.
Conference then returned to the order of business only Composite B ‘Pensions and Climate change’ was discussion before end of session
There were many fringe meetings: on Thursday: Fighting for fair pensions for women, Equality in our time and Challenging racism in the workplace and beyond. Our delegation split up and attended different meetings.
Doreen attended the WASPI caucus meeting which she reports “what an eye opener - money women born in their 50’s cannot claim their pension until they are 67 and it is estimated that those born in 60’s may be 70 years old – what an outrage". Their study revealed that only 52% women of compared to 60% men save for their retired pension and 23% are not saving at all. To qualify for state pension you need to be working for 10 years, the following applies:
October 2020 SPA will be 66 (DOB 5 April 1954)
April 2028 SPA will be 67 (DOB after 5 March 1961)
April 2046 SPA will be 68 (DOB after 5 March 1978
Gloria Mills, UNISON National Secretary, Equalities came to talk about the partnership work around Communication and legislation on finding out how many women were affected and ways to fight for fair transition to the new state pension age. Gloria states that you can:
1: share a photo of you signing the pledge with UNISON members on social media
2: Publish press release on website
3: Write to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
4; Table Parliamentary questions
5: Support an application for a backbench business debate
6: Get the word out about WASPI.
I was informed that Gloria’s presentation should be on the WASPI’s website.”
Conference commenced with housing keeping, the SOC provided their report 8 with the view that Motions 101 and 102 fell because Motion 103 was passed on Wednesday but was referenced back to SOC on Thursday. Debate continues on motion 13 and 14 ‘Mental Health champions’. Mitsy spoken on motion 13 she stated that Black members were at a higher risk of developing mental health issues however they did not report or waited until the late stage before seeking help.
Everyone was waiting patiently for Jeremy Corbyn, we knew he was in the building but could not get him to the auditorium – we were informed there were so many delegates wanting to speak and get pictures with him. Conference began to chant waiting for his entry – when he entered all raised, shouted and clapped welcomingly.
Following Mr. Corbyn speech, Emergency composite 1 was discussed, supported and carried. Conference returned to the remaining order of business with debate and discussion on the remaining motions this included the reprioritised motions. Most of the reprioritised motions had been submitted by the self-organised committees. These included motion 5 ‘recruiting and organising Black members in the fragmented workforce’ with the amendment, motion 16 ‘Invisible or Non-Apparent Disabilities’, motion 85 ‘Standing together for LGBT equality’ and motion 100 ‘Abortion rights (50th anniversary of the 1967 Act)’ this motion had lively debate as an individual went forward to speak against, however some of his comments caused issue with some people and in the end was not able to complete his speech. The remaining motion were unable to be discussed or debated and have been referred back to the head table.
Conference was then closed and delegates returned home.
Report by branch delegate Doreen Davies and Mitsy Harmon-Russell