Saturday, June 21, 2008
The EU’s support for the American led blockade of Cuba with their own embargo has been overturned. Clearly our own Government had been listening when I called on them to normalise relationships with Cuba at UNISON’s National Delegate Conference on Wednesday.
This is an important step but there is much still to do:
- Support the Miami 5 and their families
- Resist the American blockade being enforced in this country (such as it causing Barclay’s Bank to stop providing bank accounts)
- Campaign for a full end to the illegal American Blockade
I had two speeches to do on behalf of the NEC. I moved the NEC’s motion on the NHS at 60, I really enjoyed this speech and it seemed to go down well. The debate was generally excellent but I did need to use my right of reply when a delegate criticised the campaign for celebrating the Government’s agenda (which it doesn’t), criticised the NEC for welcoming all Government proposals (which we don’t) and attacked our members in health for their decision to reluctantly accept the NHS pay offer.
I also spoke on Friday morning on Composite G, Gun & Knife Crime. This was a moving and passionate debate with real experiences being told from the rostrum and I was glad to be able to give the NEC’s clear support to this agenda.
On the fringe
I was also asked to Chair the Equality Matters fringe. This was used to Launch UNISON’s draft Equalities Scheme with action plans for every head office department and every region. These are now out for consultation so get involved! We had Kim Silver NEC member who sits on NDMC, Bob Aberley Assistant General Secretary (who sponsors the Scheme) and Gloria Mills National Secretary for Equalities. The Fringe was packed to the rafters with people, which while being great also meant problems from overcrowding and not being able to get everyone in even though we over ran.
I also contributed to the Latin America fringe with my experiences of Cuba and encouraging those there to send members on the brigades.
Young Members Forum business
The National Young Members Forum did really well this year in getting business on the agenda, heard and passed. Our Motion, Celebrating, defending and improving the National Minimum Wage as it reaches it’s 10th year, was the second motion to be heard at conference. In a really excellent debate speakers young and old talked about the minimum wage and the effects of the discriminatory exemptions for apprentices and the youth rates. A particularly powerful speech came from a delegate from the Retired Members Organisation, who are always keen to support the Young Members’ agenda.
The Forum’s amendments on Organising Young Workers and Education & Skills both had great contributions again highlighting issues for apprentices as well as our relationship with the student movement and the HE funding issues around the 2009 review.
Our rule amendment to add environmental sustainability also passed easily and was marked by the planting of a shrub in the nearby gardens by the Forum’s chair Stuart Reeves and General Secretary Dave Prentis.
One of the most exciting sessions of conference was the Rules Debate on Thursday afternoon. There were a few contentious issues including adding in Disability Officers into the rule book (mostly controversial on the way it would be done rather than the principle) and this failed to get even a simple majority. But the highlight was the amendment on the rules for qualifications for legal assistance which was to change it from 13 weeks membership to 4 weeks. Backed by the NEC and National Young Members Forum this has been attempted for a number of years as it’s a real disincentive to recruitment and a bigger problem for young members. I’m glad to say this achieved a clear two-thirds majority so we finally did it!
Political Funds Debate
The last session of conference on Friday afternoon is used for re-prioritised motions, so motions that the NEC, Regions, NYMF and SOGs prioritise at the conference on things that haven’t been prioritised high enough in the initial stage to get timetabled. Probably looking for a bit of controversy at what was otherwise a very consensual week, a motion on our political funds and the Labour Party was prioritised. A debate pushed by those with no real support for our movement or our members and rather an agenda of supporting their own fringe party the Socialist Party.
The NEC had submitted an amendment to make a review of political funds not about whether we should have them, but about how effective we can make them for our members. Many speeches against this were full of misinformation trying to mislead delegates about our affiliated fund. This included talk our members money lining the pockets of our sponsored MP’S, when UNISON HAS NO SPONSORED MP’S and NO MONEY GOES TO INDIVIDUAL MP’S. Another delegate talked of not million, but millions of millions going to Labour, which while that money would be lovely, is nowhere near the truth (though we all enjoyed asking the chair of Labour Link what he’d done with all these millions). We had great speeches supporting the platform, all telling of their anger with Labour, but of the need to change from within and not be locked out.
Though when the hands went up I had some doubt, our Gen Sec was confident that we had won, which was confirmed when the card vote came back with a clear majority in favour. I’d like to hope then that we can put this issue to bed for a while, however I wouldn’t be surprised if the Socialist Party attempt the very same motion next year!
Friday, June 13, 2008
As always, NDC is a a great opportunity for activists from across the country and across all the areas of our work to come together and set our common agenda. I just wanted to highlight some key issues ahead of conference.
The Forum has submitted a Rule Amendment which seeks to add environmental sustainability in the objectives in the rule book.
The Forum's amendment to the Education & Skills motion highlights issues around apprenticeships and higher education funding.
The amendment to the motion on Organising stresses the importance of recruiting young members and in particular highlights recruitment of young apprentices and students.
Rule amendment - Qualifications
This amendment from a number of branches seeks to change the length of time you need to be a member to qualify for legal assistance for 13 weeks to 4 weeks. This is a real barrier to recruitment, and for young members it has a big impact, as if it's your first job it's not like you've been able to join a union before.
This motion will be heard in closed session (ie only delegates and member visitors will be entitled to stay and hear the debate) because of the legal sensitivities. It's important that conference backs the proposals to fund our work on equal pay litigation.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
One of the highlights of the trip was being guests at the central May Day rally in Havana. Over half a million Cubans marched in celebration of socialism there, with over half the population taking part in activities across the country.
From my trip I have committed my self to work on three key areas:
- The Miami 5 - supporting these Cubans arbitrarily detained in the US for trying to PREVENT terrorism!
- End the blockade - the illegal US blockade (supported b EU sanctions) is having a devastating effect on Cuba, limiting the people's achievements
- Learn from the health service - The Cuban system is amazing with it's focus on prevention, local delivery and of course free and delivered by the state
Also, I'm on a personal crusade against Bacardi! They not only massively support the US boycott, but have actually been linked with terrorist organisations who murder Cubans and tourist. So if you see me in a bar asking to speak to the manager, that's probably why.