Unison’s call to arms

DAVE PRENTIS, general secretary of the public sector union Unison, opened the union’s annual conference in Manchester this week with a powerful “call to arms” in the fight to defend public sector pensions.

In his opening speech he told delegates: “March 26th , what a day it was. We marched together. But this week we march on, because this is our week, together not beaten....

“They’ve declared war on our public services. With Tory donors, City firms, hedge funders back in the heart of government. Financiers like John Nash whose private equity firm, sovereign capital, buys and flogs care homes for the fun of it.

“John Nash, who chaired Care UK, who grabbed NHS contracts, who funded Andrew Lansley’s private office, who wrote the White Paper.”

After a tribute to peace campaigner Brian Haw, who died last week, Prentis added: “Next week we stand firmly behind our brothers and sisters from PCS, UCU, NUT and ATL on the 30th June. Their fight is our fight. Yes, we will negotiate, but if the Government fails to listen, to heed our warnings, to negotiate in good faith. I say, ‘David Cameron, you ain’t seen nothing yet’.

“We will strike to defend our pensions — a campaign of strike action without precedent. Yes, we hope for the best. But we plan for the worst. Our preparations are well advanced, but there is more to do. Today is my call to arms. When you get back to your branches, prepare for action. You have a massive job to do....

“Strike action will need to be sustained. And the political and public campaigns intensified. The fight of our lives may be an overused cliché, but conference, that it what this is. A fight we can win, a fight we must win, and together a fight we will win....

“We know we won’t win it in a day. But every day we keep the pressure up. We’ll wear them down, sap their strength, and bring them closer to breaking point.”

Then he called for unity: “Conference, this week let’s remember who we are fighting. No one in this hall is the enemy. Let’s turn our fire where it’s deserved. We know who the enemy is.

It’s the bankers who crashed our world. The venture capitalists who sucked the life blood out of Southern Cross it is this coalition, who set our nation on a reckless course....


“And the NHS review, a cynical exercise in deceit and deception. They may have paused, but they didn’t listen, their aims remain. For them, this was never about strategy, it was all about tactics. So this union remains on red alert.

“The threat to our NHS is greater than at any time since 1948. A coalition with no democratic mandate, led by Tories who don’t believe in our NHS. And to those Lib-Dems, I phoned your head office and asked for a copy of your manifesto, “We’ve sold out”, they said. “I know that, but can I have a copy of your manifesto”. And he called on Health Secretary Lansley to bin the NHS Bill.

“And so to the fight for pensions,” he continued. “Our biggest test yet. To those who say ‘name the day’, I say — ‘a day won’t be enough’. This coalition won’t move with one day. To those who say, ‘negotiate’, I say ‘anytime, anywhere, for as long as it takes’.

And with a message for Ed Miliband, Prentis said: “It’s about breaking a political consensus that says markets know best. In truth, Labour built the bridge over which the Tories now march. In future we will be only supporting Labour candidates who support our values, our union, our people.”

His final words to delegates were: “I ask you to find within yourselves the strength, the resolve, the courage, to march on. Determined, united, one million strong. And Conference, we will win.”