My First Experience of UNISON Conference
This year I attended the Local Government Conference in Liverpool as an observer. I didn't want to be a delegate as the thought of potentially standing up in front of so many people and speaking was rather daunting. So off to Liverpool I went and armed with the agenda and my visitors permit thinking that it would be good to experience the atmosphere and the speakers, expecting to at least learn something. Did you know that Eric Pickles has been referred to as Jabba the Cut (this did make me chuckle!)
I learnt a lot; while many of our members back home are despondent at what they see as a lack of leadership from the top, the delegates at Conference were very quick to lay blame squarely at the feet of that leadership and to that leadership. I saw the leadership squirm at what was an attack on them.
I learnt that our brothers and sisters in the caring section of Local Authority are increasingly being demoralised and unfairly treated. How many of our members across the board know that carers sometimes have only 15 minutes to get their clients lunch and a drink and to do anything else they might need. Or 30 minutes to get a client bathed and dressed. On top of all this they have zero hour contracts and many do not get paid travel time!!!
I learnt that part time workers make up more than 50% of Local Authority workers and that over 90% of them are women, that these workers are normally the lowest paid staff in the authority and often the first to lose their jobs when it comes to swinging budget cuts.
I could go on about all of the things I learnt from Conference but then I would be writing a book rather than a short piece. What I did learn is that next year I do not want to go as a visitor, I want to go as a delegate, I want our members to be represented by somebody who will say something, who will stand up and make our voice heard. What I learnt most about Conference this year is that as a visitor I was frustrated because there were so many debates that I wanted to get up and say something to.
Had I been able to say something I would have said:
At a time when cuts are being imposed on our most vulnerable and lowest paid members of society I am reminded of the historian John Hobson.
Hobson was a socialist (albeit a liberal one) who wrote Imperialism: A study in 1902. Well we don't have an Empire anymore but we do have (snotty little rich) boy politicians in Westminster who act as though they are running one – their Empire is us, the Local Authority Workers.
Hobson wrote:- Aggressive imperialism, which costs the taxpayers so dear, which is fraught with so little value, fraught with such grave incalculable peril to the citizen is a great gain to the investor...who insists that his government should help him to profitable and secure investments.
Imperialism has simply been replaced with the word Austerity for the Bully Boys. What Hobson wrote about is happening to us all today, the investors, millionaires, tax dodgers and international companies, those friends of theTory Elite are profiting at the expense of you and I.
A state can solve the problem of recession by increasing the levels of income for the majority of the population, be this through legislation on wages or income from benefits for those unable to work. We did not cause this economic crisis, the bankers did. Why then are the CEO's of banks getting tax breaks on their income, effectively getting huge pay rises while we at the bottom are being squeezed.
President Eisenhower once said "In councils of government we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence"
I say it is time to send the Bullingdon Boys home and bring about a government that has the good of the nation, the workers, the every day man and woman at the heart of its movement.