England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

UNISON National Delegate Conference: Which way forward?

From 14 to 17 June, UNISON’s National Delegate Conference is taking place in Brighton. Socialist Alternative members in UNISON – an over-one million-strong public sector union, will be participating from the conference floor stressing the need to build a fighting, democratic and militant member-led union to fight the cost of living crisis.

Come to the Socialist Alternative fringe meeting!

7pm Thursday 16 June, Lecture Room at Friends Meeting House, Ship Street, BN1 1AF

UNISON NDC meets as our members, their families, the communities we live in and serve on a daily basis, are coming under the hammer blow of rising prices and stagnating wages – all presided over by a cruel and arrogant Tory government. 

At the same time, the number of billionaires in Britain has increased by 24 since the start of the pandemic. In this situation we have to say enough is enough – now is the time for working class people to fight back. The trade union movement has an enormous role to play in galvanising this resistance – and UNISON has a big responsibility in this battle. 


For too many years our members across all service groups have seen their pay drop in real terms. Other unions in many differ- ent sectors for eg the CWU, PCS, NEU and RMT are balloting their members or plan to do so – and there is an urgent need for unions to come together to coordinate a massive campaign of industrial action on pay. 

We need to resurrect the spirit and momentum that saw over 1 million public sector workers take action over pensions in 2011. There are significant challenges but they can and must be overcome. Leaders and activists from across the unions need to come together in a council of war to prepare the action. The RMT have recently shown how the highly restrictive balloting thresholds can be beaten. Let’s learn from their example! 

“We need to resurrect the spirit and momentum that saw over 1 million public sector workers take action over pensions in 2011.”

The demonstration on 18 June should be used as a springboard to build for action. Let’s show the government and the employers that we are serious – and give confidence to everyone facing ‘heat or eat’ decisions that we can win. 

What type of union do we need? 

Our chances of beating the pay freeze and the Tories will be increased by UNISON being transformed into a fighting, democratic union. The experience of recent years has been that all too often a section of our leadership has been very happy not to mobilise our full strength, and then blame the members for any failings. This must change. The election of a left majority on the NEC is a brilliant step forward – but we know there is a long way to go. Where the right is still in the majority, such as Health, they need to be defeated. 

Too often unelected senior officials hold enormous power in the union and this can’t be allowed to continue. We need to build Time For Real Change across our union to truly transform UNISON from top to bottom by beginning to organise TFRC groups in all regions. We need to drastically increase the number of stewards in all parts of our union and should build on the activists’ seminar that took place last Autumn. 

A UNISON that gains victories and is seen as a fighting back union will be a hugely attractive force for change. Socialist Alternative supporters will do everything we can to make that happen. 

No doubt there are some across the union who still wish to prioritise the union’s relationship with Starmer and Labour – but recent experience of members up and down the union will question this – whether that is Labour’s lack of real opposition to the Tories in Westminster or their treatment of workers in Labour run councils (for example the attacks on Unite members in Coventry), it all raises the need for an organised discussion across the trade union movement about the future of working class political organisation within which we would argue for a new left party, based on struggle and socialist policies. 

Crisis of capitalism 

As the capitalist economic system lurches deeper into crisis, the question is posed – what should UNISON fight for? Our view is that as well as supporting higher taxes on the rich we need to boldly fight for an alternative that includes not just nationalisation of the utilities, but brings the banks and financial institutions into public ownership under democratic workers control and management. We need an economy that can be planned in the interests of working class people and the climate – and to do that we need to break with this profit driven system and fight for a socialist future. 


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