Conference 2018 – Windrush scandal

The last day of National Conference 2018 marked exactly 70 years since the ‘Empire Windrush’ docked at Tilbury carrying hundreds of migrants from the West Indies.
The anniversary should be a celebration of the contribution these and other migrants made – particularly to our trade union and our public services. However, it happened just when many of the children of those migrants are facing the consequences of Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ for immigration.
In an impassioned debate, the impact on many UNISON members as well as the wider community was spelt out.

Michael Braithwaite
Michael Braithwaite with General Secretary Dave Prentis and his UNISON rep, Hugo Pierre

A video was shown highlighting the case of UNISON member Michael Braithwaite who lost his job as a teaching assistant after 15 years and despite having a ‘British Commonwealth’ passport was threatened with deportation. Now 66, he had come to the UK aged 9 to join his parents. As he said “To think that maybe tomorrow I would not be with my family, or in a place I love, was devastating”. “A campaign has now won him indefinite leave to remain but his life has been turned upside down. There is an article about Michael’s story here.

A speaker from the National Executive Committee moved an Emergency Motion calling for justice for the Windrush generation. Although the Home Secretary had been forced to resign, in reality people are still being denied access to employment and services and a number have been deported. It seems as though the only thing Theresa May is sorry about is that she got found out! It was My who started this policy. Public sector workers are here to deliver services, not to be border guards as the Tories would like.

One delegate from the West Midlands spoke of her friend, who had gone to a meeting to sort out her passport only to be detained with only the clothes she stood up in an held for two weeks before she was allowed a phone call.

Another delegate said that what had happened to the Windrush generation could happen to others – no-one from the Commonwealth was safe.

Conference overwhelmingly passed the motion calling amongst other things for:

  • Campaign for the restoration of full rights for the ‘Windrush generation’ , Commonwealth British residents and their children
  • Campaign for rights to legal aid and full compensation for any losses incurred including injury to feelings
  • Campaign against the ‘hostile environment’
  • Conference 2018 – UNISON members and the private sector

    Most UNISON branches across Local Government and Health are now having to deal with large numbers of members working for private contractors.
    Sometimes this is because homecare and residential care are in the private sector. Increasingly, NHS Trusts as well as councils are setting up ‘wholly owned’ companies (like ‘Southend Care’). Over 30% of our members now work in the private and community sector. Conference debated a number of motions about organising the private sector and fighting threats of further privatisation.

    Wigan Strikers
    Wigan Hospital workers on strike against transfer of domestic services to a ‘Wholly-owned’ company

    Workers from the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS hospital Trust in the North West got a standing ovation when they spoke to Conference about their action against a proposed transfer of hospital domestic services to a ‘wholly-owned’ company. They are about to take another round of strike action if the Trusts’ plans are not halted. It made the discussion about privatisation concrete and it was inspiring to hear from them about a solid campaign to beat back this threat to jobs, conditions and services.

    Organising the Private Sector
    In the private sector, workers may be on zero hours contracts in a hostile, anti-union environment. UNISON needs new ways of reaching those workplaces and Conference agreed to strengthen the National Private Contractors Forum and to use Regional and branch funds to develop our ability to organise in existing and new private companies.

    Fighting the Race to the Bottom
    Delegates spoke about the way trading companies save money by creating a ‘two-tier’ workforce as new staff are employed without decent pensions and on worse terms and conditions which is known as the ‘race to the bottom’. This also applies when privatisation is dressed up as a ‘public service mutual’, a ‘cooperative’ or a ‘social enterprise’. We also heard how big contractors like Carillion and Capita either fail, or walk away from contracts if they don’t make enough money. The London Ambulance Service described how private companies would subcontract patient transport to taxi firms!

    Decent, good value public services – run by the public sector!
    The shocking cost of contractors and of private funding schemes like PFI was condemned. Barnet reported that their council had paid Capita £335 million over the last few years!

  • Conference reaffirmed UNISON’s commitment to seeing public services delivered in a democratically-accountable way with a decent standard of terms and conditions for staff.
  • Conference rejected the use of ‘Public Service Mutuals’ as back-door privatisation.
  • Conference 2018 – Housing after Grenfell

    Housing – Affordability, Homelessness and Justice for Grenfell

    Grenfell scarves
    A sea of green scarves in solidarity with Grenfell #justice4grenfell
    There were brilliant debates about a number of motions on housing. Our Eastern Region delegates proposed the motion on affordability – pointing out that the ‘market’ in housing is failing working people, especially the young. Lack of social housing and sky-high prices mean our members are forced to accept housing that meets their budget but not their needs. There is a complete lack of security or rent control for private tenants. London members congratulated Haringey, where a ‘regeneration’ scheme which would have devastated council housing has been defeated. Conference agreed a policy of at least 1 million council homes, increased investment an end to the Bedroom Tax and a number of other measures.

    A debate on homelessness reported a 169% rise in rough sleepers since 2010. Some 3 million people are bieleved to be one step away from homelessness. This is no accident but is the result of years of austerity. Only building new homes would make any impact and Conference welcomed Jeremy Corbyn’s policy of building new homes.

    Conference agreed to support the campaign for justice for the 72 who died in the Grenfell disaster. Delegate after delegate expressed outrage at the contempt the council leadership had shown for council tenants. Half of the survivors and those made homeless are still in emergency accommodation. Delegates from Kensington and Chelsea council branch described how their members were affected and how staff only heard that the ‘Tenant Management Organisation’ was to be disbanded from the media. There was a disgusting attempt to blame council staff (a number of whom were made homeless themselves by the fire) and firefighters for the deaths. It is really financial decisions by the Tory council, the weakening of health and safety legislation by the government and Boris Johnson’s closures of fire stations when he was Mayor that have caused the tragedy.

    The whole of Conference, including the platform, stood with green scarves, the colour chosen by the Grenfell campaign, to remember the dead and show solidarity with the survivors who are fighting for justice. You can find news from Justice4Grenfell here