Monday, June 16, 2008

Sunday: First day of Business – who needs a magician when you have so many comedians?

Pleased to get up early (07:30) and go for walk along West Cliff and the beach before breakfast. It was lovely and sunny. Saw two groups of lads (not UNISON delegates) who had obviously been up all night and still wandering around still drinking and looking pretty “rough”.

At Conference there didn’t seem to be that many newspaper sellers and leafleters outside. Inside it was a bit chaotic as delegates and visitors queued up to make last minute changes to delegations and replacements for lost identity cards etc. I found our seats and met up with my branch delegation. We had a brief meeting about the day’s business. The morning order of business was pretty quiet – no big rows. All the motions and composites were supported by the SGE. This actually meant in my view that there were more thoughtful contributions on issues than may have been the case if they had been opposed (as we found out later).

Of course some speakers used the opportunity simply to make statements to slag off the Labour Party whenever possible. No big surprise there! It reminded me of the saying that there are more tears from prayers answered than those which are not. A number of speakers who work in Tory dominated councils complained about the horrendous attacks on jobs and services. There seems to be no linkage to this, no recognition that for all its faults, workers in local government are better off under Labour councils and governments than Tories. In my experience strikes and protests over protecting services and conditions tend to be far more successful in either controlled Labour councils or those councils were there are supportive labour minorities. While strikes in Tory Councils and shires tend to be unsuccessful. There are obviously exceptions to this. But not many.

There was also another passionate speech in support of Fremantle. Business passed by very quickly.

During lunch I went to a crowded fringe on “After the Housing Market fails…” which I will post separately.

The afternoon session was livelier. The main bone of contention was a motion (4 and amendments) criticising last year’s pay claim and the way it was dealt with. This was not unsurprisingly opposed by the SGE. The SGE lost during quite a bitter debate. I need to double check on what the motion will actually mean in practice but I was told on the way out of conference by one old hand that we had effectively voted for strike action every April. We live in interesting times.

I spoke on motion 59 which was on “Pay in the Community and Voluntary sector” (CVS). I admitted to conference that it had been a bit of a shock when I became an activist in the UNISON CVS, how many organisations pay such poor wages, have shoddy sickness arrangement and rubbish pensions. There are very good organisations but they are increasingly being under cut in many contracts by those who will cut terms and conditions. “A race to the bottom”. The motion is in many ways a “back to trade union basics” call to organise, campaign and bargain to bring up terms and conditions for all 60,000 UNISON members in CVS.

At 4:30pm there was a guest speaker Ana Lucia Pinzon, leader of the Colombian public sector workers trade union FENAL TRASE. Ana gave her speech in Spanish (it was then translated into English) but she had by far the best reception from delegates of any speaker that day.

The conference finished at 4:50pm. At 5pm a “Marxist magician” was due on the stage to entertain us. I felt that I had my fill of Marx for the day and would give him a miss. After all, poor chap, with there being so many such comedians all day who needs a magician!

The British summer reasserted itself on the way back “up the hill”. Got soaked.


Robert said...

Seems Unions are not your big thing anymore, how about becoming New labour MP, thats a bigger laugh.

leftygirl said...

Enjoyed your speech on CVS Pay John - well done for pointing out just how many CVS people there are in UNISON.

John Gray said...

Hi Leftygirl
Great post on your blog on being a first time visitor to conference.