England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

UNISON: Get the Tories out and prepare to resist a Starmer government

By Kevin Corran, UNISON NEC member (in a personal capacity)

Just like the vast majority of working-class and young people, UNISON members will be rightly looking forward to seeing the back of 14 years of Tory misrule, which have devastated our jobs, services and communities. The pressing problem that trade unionists have is that Labour offers no real alternative.

An incoming Labour government will have a very short honeymoon period, as they continue on the road of austerity cuts, privatisation and the culture wars rhetoric.

The day after the election announcement, the UNISON NEC met, with General Secretary Christina McAnea raising the idea of having a Front Bench Labour Party MP speak at the National Delegate Conference (NDC) in June.

The Labour Party leadership has consistently been rowing back from their commitments on a range of the most progressive UNISON policies, including the New Deal For Working People, reversing the privatisation of the NHS, and commitments to the funding of the National Care Service. They have also supported the Cass Review, which is an outright attack on the health and support care for the Trans community (see back page).

But Labour’s position on a Gaza ceasefire has been a sea change moment for many union members. The leadership’s support for the continuing genocidal attacks on Gaza will not be forgotten nor forgiven.

Only 56 Labour Party MPs voted with the SNP motion calling for an immediate ceasefire. If we are to have any representative from the Labour Party at NDC, then it should be one of these 56 MPs. But even many of these MPs do not have a consistent record of supporting Palestinian struggle, instead they voted to save their own skins.

In the NEC meeting, Socialist Alternative members and others on the left were able to win a majority for an alternative proposal, calling for the Presidential Team to select an MP from the 56 (one who has consistently and genuinely supported the Palestinian cause).

Tensions within the union

The right-wing and bureaucracy want to support the Labour leadership to curry favour, in a vain hope of winning concessions from them. Part of this deal will be to frustrate and hinder members taking strike action.

But we know that while the first step is to get rid of the Tories, a Starmer government will not be an ally to our members. A honeymoon period for a new Labour government will be weeks or months, rather than years. Starmer has been brazen in his support for the billionaires and their system, so very few in the country have illusions that change is on the way. We expect a Starmer government to continue cutting pay in public services, privatising health and other sectors, and making cuts to local government. Basically, a continuation of the Tory austerity policies that have destroyed working class communities across the country.

So we need to be preparing now to continue and escalate all the campaigns and movements we have built over recent years. The left (organised in Time for Real Change) wants to build on the successful ‘mini strike wave’ in the public sector. These actions were small in number, but were very successful, and are continuing – winning over £70 million in wages for mainly low-paid workers. This has contributed to 200,000 new members joining UNISON and helped to raise political consciousness and solidarity in the workplace.

We need a new left party!

The Labour leadership’s position on Gaza has been a turning point for many union members. Labour’s support for the continuing genocidal attacks will not be forgotten nor forgiven.

The need for a new political party that unites our struggles is coming to the fore. Labour provides no real alternative. Trade unionists need to be at the heart of any developments towards building a new party based on struggle and socialism.

That is why we are calling for a mass conference to build the resistance to be organised urgently after the election to discuss where to take the next steps towards a new left party of struggle. This would need to draw together trade unionists, students standing in solidarity with Palestinians, activists fighting to defend Corbyn’s seat, and all those desiring a mass left alternative to Starmer’s red Tories. UNISON and its members – and all trade unionists – should play a central role in this process. 

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