No more privatisation
by Mike Fletcher in Bournemouth
THE GIANT public sector union Unison last week, at its annual delegateconference in Bournemouth, voted against any further privatisation by theLabour government.
And an amendment to a composite resolution called for the renationalisationof all public services. The motion called for spending on the NHS to bemaintained above the European average.
It was moved by Greenwich Local Government branch and it said: “Conference condemns the thousands of jobs shed in the NHS, with 4,000 announced in March 2006 alone.”
Conference also called for backing of workers in the private contracthealth in Whipps Cross Hospital in east London, who were being balloted forstrike action over the failure to implement the Agenda for change – an equalopportunities programme – and against cuts in their hours and jobs.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said that Unison will be in theforefront to defend our NHS in conjunction with patients’ groups and community groups.
Conference deferred a motion opposing the union’s affiliation to the LabourParty and Unison will continue to give positive support to its link with Labour.
Veteran left-Labour statesman Tony Benn pointed out at a fringe meeting that all unions should affiliate to the Labour Party; with a forthcoming party leadership election the 40 per cent trade union vote would be criticalin the election of a new Labour leader.
Dave Prentis said: “Any final offer on pensions will be put to the membersfor a ballot for industrial action.”
Trade unions have a major role in sticking up for the rights of migrant workers, conference heard. The Government was urged to “shift the debate”away from discouraging immigration – and using inflammatory language thatleads to racism – to improving migrants’ working lives.
Migrant workers made “a valuable contribution to the economy and to ethnicand cultural diversity in our society,” said Pat Roland from Scotland.
“These workers do more than their share, fiscally, but that is not always reflected in government policies.”
Migrant workers, many of whom work in the health service, suffer from thelack of legal protection, leaving them exposed to unscrupulous employers, she said.
Low pay, long hours and appalling accommodation are just some of the ways in which they suffer.
Roland added that Unison in Scotland already had a number of initiatives,including the overseas nurses’ network and refugee learning project thatcould be replicated across Britain.
Delegates voted to challenge the government “to shift the debate aroundmigration to a focus on increasing the employment rights of migrant workers,rather than restricting their ability to work in the UK”.
The Government was also called on to clamp down on rogue operators whoflout employment regulations.
The conference heard that there has been a 29 per cent increase in racistattacks in the last year. And Islamophobia is on the increase, both before 7th July 2005 and subsequently, with two-thirds of religious hate crimetargeted at Muslims.
This prejudice is fuelled by a “hysterical” right-wing media and plays intothe hands of the British National Party (BNP), said Hannah Priest of West Midlands.
“Witnesses are refusing or failing to attend court to give evidence against those who cause misery,” she explained, “because they are afraid ofreprisals against themselves or family.”
She added that the BNP is inciting racial hatred with leaflets saying people should “get even”.
“If we allow the BNP to grow in this country, oppression against freedom ofspeech and trade unions will increase.”
Ann McCormack from the North West region said: “We need to make members aware of the BNP’s vicious lies and politics. We need to get them off the councils where they already are and stop them getting any more seats.”Conference pledged the union to:
• work with Government to make it easier for witnesses to giveevidence and other appropriate bodies;
• get Unison branches to foster closer links with differentcommunities;
• challenge BNP attempts to exploit divisions in society;
• work with partner unions to challenge the misrepresentation of Islamand the portrayal of all Muslims as potential terrorists.
Dave Prentis congratulated Unison members in leading the fight againstfascism and the British National Party. Any member of the BNP will beexpelled from Unison.
Unison is opposed to the Government’s ID scheme and remains concerned aboutthe cost of the scheme and the impact on race relations and civil rights.
The scheme is expected to cost up to £19 billion, and charges are likely to impact most on the poor, especially those living in insecure accommodation who are expected to be charged for changes to the database every time theychange address.
“This is money better spent on public transport, improving patient care,protecting pensions, and public services,” said Ray Walker, moving the motion opposing the scheme.
Criticising the Government’s view that the scheme was necessary to protect security, Walker said: “There is nothing that shows that we would be safer than we are now.”
Delegates expressed alarm at the potential impact on race relations. Therewas concern that black and ethnic minority people would be targeted when trying to access public services, and would be subject to more frequent stopand search procedures.
“I’m proud to be a British Muslim, I don’t need an ID card to tell me I’m aBritish citizen,” said Medhi Hassan from Tower Hamlets.
The ID card was a form of state racism, he continued, “I will be stopped every day. I don’t think Tony Blair will ever be stopped. My skin colour isbrown, and his white – and that is the difference,” said Hassan to cheers from the hall.
Delegates also raised the issue of the security of personal data collected by the scheme, as the work is being contracted out to private companies.
Conference re-affirmed its opposition to the scheme and resolved tocampaign on both ID cards and for the Government to abandon the national information register scheme.
Conference also agreed to work with civil society organisations, such asLiberty and their “NO2ID” campaign. Branches were reminded that they could affiliate both to Liberty and their campaign.
The conference warned US president George Bush not to interfere with the revolution that is transforming the fortunes of Venezuela.
Delegates in Bournemouth signalled their support of President Hugo Chavez,who is presiding over social programmes aimed at improving education,health care, housing and jobs in his country.
But his pan-continental “Bolivarian revolution” is making the US governmentvery nervous about its dwindling power in the region.
“Hugo Chavez has won nine elections, and is working to do things differently,” said Bill King from Wales. “His policies are popular inVenezuela but not with the Bush administration.
“Bush believes that democracy is not any good unless it is his kind ofdemocracy,” King added. “We must show him that he has no right to interferewith the internal workings of another state.”
Conference heard of the “colossal advances” in Venezuela, which included amassive house-building project and the building of universities, schools andhospitals.
Chavez’s government is also encouraging trade unions and worker co-operatives. Jacobo Torres, a member of the Public Services Federation ofVenezuela’s National Union of Workers addressed a fringe meeting promotingthe revolution taking place in his country.
“We are not carrying out an International Monetary Fund agenda,” he said,“but a Bolivarian agenda, for the benefit of the Venezuelan people.
“We are building our own reference points, in our own rhythm.”
The conference was organised in a friendly atmosphere with delegates from all over the world expressing their need for solidarity against and Anglo-American global capitalism and its desire to exploit and privatise theworld.