Yesterday marked the first day of UNISON’s 20th Local Government Conference.
Branch Secretary Pat McDonagh had already been busy before conference as part of his role on the Standing Orders Committee, assessing motions, prioritising them and adding them to the agenda.
Following an introduction by UNISON President Chris Tansley (which was rudely interrupted by a tannoy announcement) our first speaker was The Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson.
Having begun his career as a Convenor for the National Unions of Seamen, Joe is Britain’s only UNISON Mayor. He gave a stirring speech, giving his views on the bedroom tax, cuts to council budgets and the benefits of working in partnership with the trade unions. His commitment to UNISON was made clear with five words, “I am on your side.”
He also sent out a clear message to business leaders who engage in blacklisting that they are not welcome in Liverpool.
Joe Anderson’s commitment to UNISON activists having a “direct line” to his office was sharply contrasted by the first debate on trade union facility time, during which many speakers related the battles they are engaged in, defending facility time and highlighting the benefits for workers and employers.
The second debate was on the impact of the coalition benefit “reforms”. Resolute commitment from UNISON members to oppose these cuts rang out in the speeches, particularly from delegates who work directly with the people affected and see the true hardship that people face.
Of particular importance in the morning session was a motion on the Local Government Pension Scheme. Manchester Branch delegates voted in favour of campaigning for at least one third of the seats on the boards of all our pension schemes to be occupied by fully trained union activists with the facility time guaranteed to attend.
Following a break for lunch and a chance to grab a free copy of the Morning Star, the afternoon session focussed on pay and terms and conditions.
The announcements on Thursday that the recent consultation exercise had ended in a 59% vote to accept by the members has lead to our NJC Committee voting to accept the 1% offer. Needless to say this lead to a heated debate, which closed with conference resolved to campaign hard for an acceptable offer in 2014.
Manchester Assistant Branch Secretary Rena Wood spoke on Motion 22 – Campaigning for Part-Time Workers Rights. This is an ongoing issue for our union, 55% of Local Government workers are part time staff, of whom over 90% are women. Rena reminded us all of the reality of the situation that many of these members are often quite isolated from the wider union, finishing their day when everyone else is starting, or simply unable to engage in the union because of the nature of their hours.
Part-time workers are too often forgotten or marginalized by employers. As Rena said “when our part-time members make mistakes they get disciplinaries, when the CEO of Thames Water makes mistakes he gets mentioned in the Queen’s birthday honours”.
As conference closed for the day delegates were attending a variety of fringe events in the evening, including meetings on defending Libraries and a screening of Happy Lands, an excellent film about Scottish Miners during the General Strike. The Queues were also fairly long for a performance by radical poet and Glastonbury legend Attila The Stockbroker.
There will be further updates throughout the week. If you want to be able to follow how the Branch delegates are voting on the issues that matter to you, and what is said in the speeches they give, follow us on Twitter @UnisonMcr.
See you on the floor tomorrow.