The morning session of day two of UNISON Local Government Conference opened with guest speaker Jennette Arnold, Chair of the London Assembly, Labour Group who spoke frankly about the effect on London of Boris Johnson’s time as Mayor. Jennette was clear on her view on Johnson’s politics, saying “he has no ambition for anyone but himself.” She went on to relate the struggles of Londoners campaigning to save Fire and Police Stations, which were being closed to pay for his cut to council tax
Most of the morning was given over to motions on cuts and privatisation. The wide range of differing proposed strategies led to sometimes heated debate, particularly when considering political solutions.
The highlight of the morning though was North West Service Group Executive member Glen Williams speaking on council tax benefit. Reminding us that George Osborne’s real first name Gideon means “The Destroyer” Glen proceeded to relate the terrible problems caused by Osborne’s changes to council tax benefit, telling him “Steady ON, GideON, this isn’t EtON.
The afternoon session began with an international speaker: Jane Carter, a Labour Economist from The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). International speakers not only link us to the wider, global trade union movement but also bring a new perspective to the issues we deal with here in Britain.
Jane’s work involves her dealing with the extremes of outsourcing public sector services to corporate America. Such as in Chicago where parking meters and traffic wardens were outsourced on a contract which will not end until 2084. The company paid $1.2 billion for the contract. They only have two million more to make before they will be making pure profit for around 70 years.
She also told of about the scandal of Corrections Corporation of America who offered to run prisons for numerous US cities. Provided the city would guarantee that they would keep them at least 90% full.
This has meant new challenges for AFSCME. Some of the strategies they have employed include training activists to analyse legal documents to be able to find flaws and illegalities in bids for contracts and challenge them.
They also use the lobbying pressure they have through the votes they have in their pension scheme. A tactic UNISON could do well to employ as we campaign to have voting rights on the boards of the Local Government Pension Schemes.
If these extremes of privatisation are still to come in Britain there is much we can learn from AFSCME.
Manchester Assistant Branch Secretary Eddy Redmond was one of the last speakers of the day.
Speaking on Motion 9 – Cuts To Youth Services, Eddy gave a very personal speech relating his early work in Local Government setting up youth services. He spoke about the numerous projects that ran seven days a week that were vital for so many young people, before telling us the harsh truth, that the cuts had “decimated the youth service. There’s nothing left. That’s what you call a cut comrades!”
If you want to follow how your Manchester Branch delegates are voting and what they speak on during the day follow us on Twitter @UnisonMcr.