Sunday, 10 March 2013

Why I am standing for UNISON NEC

I am standing for election as I believe our union needs to radically change its approach to the austerity agenda imposed by the Con-Dem government if we are to survive as a union and protect and improve our NHS. I am standing so that I can help transform our union. I want to develop a much more democratic, activist led union which gives members ways to participate in and control their union, from top to bottom.

We have hundreds of thousands of members in the NHS, yet UNISON does not use this power to actively combat the government’s dismantling of the health service. 

With our members living in every town and city with NHS facilities, UNISON should be at the centre of any campaign to defend the NHS. We should be mobilising our members for protests and marches to combat the government spin about the NHS, undermining their lies about NHS workers “lacking compassion” and taking the fight to the government.

There is great scope for our branches and members to link up with popular campaign groups like UK UNCUT which are not afraid to use direct action tactics to highlight the devastation being wreaked on the NHS by the Tory government, or Keep Our NHS Public, whose activists have been tirelessly campaigning to defend the NHS, organising protests and raising awareness nationwide. Holding joint protests, supporting direct action and getting our members out on the streets would be an effective way to raise the profile of our union and make stronger links with the communities we serve.

Protests and occupations of banks funding privatisation or PFI, or private healthcare corporations which are taking over chunks of the NHS are ways we can put pressure directly on those profiting from government policy. Combined with co-ordinated industrial action across the NHS against all cuts, closures and privatisations, we could build the sort of movement that could stave off these attacks and preserve our NHS for future generations.

The reality is most UNISON branches are crippled by lack of stewards and poor organisation, a culture of low participation (and low expectations) from members. Those few that are active suffer intimidation and bullying from full-time officers, who treat any activist or non-UNISON campaign as some sort of menace.

I want to help create a more democratic culture in UNISON, where members decide our actions and campaigning priorities.  I believe members should always be balloted over major decisions affecting their terms and conditions, have a direct say in negotiations and have control over campaigning priorities and initiatives. At present, most members interaction with the union is the occasional e-mail, and once in a blue moon a ballot over some change to our terms and conditions. 

This has to change. We need an active campaign to reverse the culture of low participation, to actively involve members in regular meetings, forums and create new and inclusive forms of union democracy. For our union to exercise it's full strength it must have the active participation of it's 1.2 million members, from the bottom up.

We need a return to mass, participatory democracy in our union; this means regular mass meetings of the membership which can debate and decide policy at a branch and workplace level, letting members decide for themselves how they want to respond to and fight the government's austerity plans. Regular elections for all officials, and real accountability so officials who make decisions against the wishes of the membership can be replaced democratically and quickly. 

I believe all full-time officials, including the General Secretary, should be on the average wage of the membership. Our subs pay their wages, there for they shouldn't have a higher standard of living than us, or receive perks for doing a job they're elected to do. If they want higher wages, they need to campaign to raise OUR pay and conditions, and if we receive a pay freeze, they should get one too.

To achieve this necessitates several things; organising the membership to secure real rank and file democracy, aimed at creating new structures and forms of organisation which can give a voice to the desires and needs of our thousands of members, ending the culture of witchhunting, intimidation and bullying that scars UNISON's reputation; and an end to the strategy of give backs - giving away our pay and terms and conditions has never helped defend those that remain. Only a strategy of struggle, of fighting the government to secure a reversal of the policy of cuts and privatisations, and for an increase in funding to NHS services will give us what we need.

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