There was little debate on pensions at the Unison national conference in Bournemouth last week. The union’s executive did its best to try to move on from the issue.
The conference spent half an hour on pensions on its last day, with eight speakers on a motion in total.
The composite motion passed does include some dissenting amendments. It says the deal “breached a number of fundamental principles” such as raising the retirement age and replacing final salary pension schemes with career average ones.
But unfortunately the motion did not talk about industrial action, only a TUC‑backed campaign. On the pensions deals, it called for individual consultation over each pension scheme within the union’s different service groups.
The conference voted to change Unison’s rules to allow it to expel members of the BNP and other fascist groups.
This had been blocked in previous years by fears that such a rule could be used against the left as part of the “witch hunt” in the union.
But left executive member Jon Rogers said that this year’s rule was specifically about banning members of groups that are “contrary to the equality objectives of Unison”.
Tower Hamlets delegate John McLoughlin added, “No more delay. Get the fascists out of the union.” The rule change passed overwhelmingly.
Conference also voted to put a cap of three years on the length of “rule I” suspensions and bans from office.
Last year a call for two years was narrowly lost on a card vote, reflecting the widespread desire to see an end to the witch hunt. This year the executive backed the three years position, which passed unanimously.
Joan Pritchard-Jones from Bolton pledged, “This doesn’t mean two years is off the table—I’ll be back.
Around 100 people came to a fringe meeting to oppose the witch hunt. Socialists Yunus Bakhsh and Glenn Kelly spoke about the treatment they have faced at the hands of the union machine.
After the meeting their supporters marched back to the conference hall, chanting “When activists are under attack, stand up, fight back.”
After a hard-fought debate the conference backed a hard position on Palestine. The motion passed calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions and brands Israel an “apartheid” regime.
The executive supported the motion. Some delegates spoke against but found themselves in a small minority.
Sue Brierley from Wolverhampton said, “I’d like to say to the people who oppose this motion: Palestine will be free.”
The conference also passed a motion supporting the Tamil people’s struggle against the Sri Lankan state.
Neville Lawrence, the father of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence, was a guest speaker at the conference.
He spoke about how unions have been a key part of the campaign for justice for Stephen.
“Every door was closed to my family and I,” he said. “It was not until Unison’s conference that doors began to open. I’m here because I want to say thank you.”