UNISON conference 2022: day two

After the onslaught against the left NEC on day one of conference, the second day, writes our South London UNISON activist, returned to a more typical day.


Delegates in the morning debated a motion on trans rights which reconfirmed the union’s position on supporting self-identification for trans and non-binary people. There is a minority of delegates at conference who are ‘gender critical’ but they keep their heads down in terms of opposing motions on LGBTQ questions.

Christine McAnea urged activists to go back to their branches and get ‘strike ready’. It is clear that where UNISON is focussing its efforts on is bringing services in-house alongside rebanding and regrading posts – something it is quite successful on. McAnea managed to flip the left’s arguments on its head “We have spent too long focussing on the bureaucracy of our union. Well, we have excellent full-time staff to handle the bureaucracy, we need to get on with campaigning.” Whether this is a wilful misunderstanding of the left’s arguments against bureaucracy or not is unclear. McAnea takes bureaucracy to mean all the paperwork – but socialists understand bureaucracy to be the layer of full-time officers who exert huge, unaccountable power in a union or a political party.  Any lay activist knows the power of the full-time officials to frustrate and prevent actions that they do not support. They are the primary enforcers of the reactionary trade union laws within our own ranks.

UNISON National Delegate’s Conference 2022 Christina McAnea

McAnea also stated that she wouldn’t allow the union to be controlled by any one tendency or faction which got a very big round of applause. Many delegates see TFRC as some kind of illegitimate outside force that has ‘taken over the union’. They want to go back to when the union was run by an undisclosed secret faction of the right. And this is the contradiction the left often faces – it has to organise itself to build a campaign to win because they are often cutting against the grain, whereas the right can just present itself as the organic leadership of the union. The fact that most of them are also right-wingers in Labour and organised against Jeremy Corbyn goes without saying.

The rest of conference agenda discussed and agreed with motions on Global Warming, combatting racism through education, the Levelling Up government agenda and a general motion on organising the union that sought to continue the shift of UNISON away from a service sector model and towards a more campaigning model of organising.

A composite motion on the cost of living was debated but honestly, it wasn’t very good. It largely focused on increasing public sector wages and increased taxation to fund the public sector which was not very radical compared to the scale of the crisis facing working people Nothing on benefits, nothing on coordinating strike action with other unions, nothing on fighting for price controls. There is a more radical cost of living motion with amendments on the agenda but given how much of conference has been given over to castigating the NEC for various crimes, it seems unlikely we will get to it now.

Tomorrow rule changes will be debated, a number of which are advocated from the right of the union and if passed could mean that any officer of the union who is sacked from their job will automatically be removed from any elected position they have. This is clearly aimed at Paul Holmes but if applied as a rule would leave the union incredibly vulnerable to any of its lay officers (i.e. not full-timers) being removed from their position because of action by their employers. A charter to decapitate a trade union.

Motion passed on Climate Change at UNISON conference 2022

Post Glasgow COP26 – Decarbonising UK Public Services Conference notes that last year UNISON supported the UK and global trade union movement at the United Nations 26th Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26) held in Glasgow in November 2021.

UNISON supported the International Trade Union Congress (ITUC) by participating in the UK’s observer delegation to the conference and played a successful active role in the COP26 Coalitions’ trade union initiatives by mobilising our members across the UK to take part in a Youth Day and Global Day of Action amongst many other activities, during the COP26.

Conference further notes that the global trade union movement had four clear demands:

  1. Raise climate ambitions with Just Transition policies;
  2. Complement inclusive climate policies that respect and promote human and labour rights;
  3. Provide climate finance for the Global South;
  4. Implement funded plans that would achieve the transition to net-zero economies.
    Conference notes that COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021 ended with an agreement, The Glasgow Climate Pact (GCP), that failed to put the governments of the world on course to achieve the target, set in Paris in 2015 of keeping the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees celsius, and no more than 2 degrees celsius, above pre-industrial levels. Estimates show that even if all the actions proposed in the GCP, including all the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), were achieved, the world is headed for a rise of 2.4 degrees celsius by the end of the century. It is accepted that this would mean catastrophic climate change with all its environmental, economic and social consequences.
    Conference agrees that, in this context, it is essential that all countries revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their Nationally Determined Contributions as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022.

Conference also notes with disappointment that the COP26 presidency, led by UK MP and Minister Alok Sharma, consistently refused to meet with the trade union delegation ahead of and during the COP26. This flies in the face of the UK’s Just Transition commitments and those embodied in the GCP, agreed by the UK government, which “recognises the need to ensure just transitions that promote sustainable development and eradication of poverty and the creation of decent work and quality jobs”.

Conference believes that the UK government can only meet its Just Transition commitments, as part of its UK Climate and Net Zero commitments, by implementing a social dialogue and partnership “between governments and the representative organisations of workers and employers”. Trade unions must play a central role so that workers’ voices are at the table to deliver the policies and measures to keep the temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees celsius.

Conference notes that at COP 26 UNISON launched its own groundbreaking report Getting to Net Zero in Public Services: The Road to Decarbonisation. Based on the evidence and research, the report concluded that without significant and immediate government funding, public services still reeling from a decade of austerity will struggle to decarbonise.

The UNISON report sets out that getting public services to net-zero needs £140billion government funding by 2035. In the absence of a significant capital injection of funds, public services would only be able to move slowly towards its decarbonisation targets, taking resources from already stretched budgets, with disastrous consequences.

Conference notes the publication of the joint UNISON Scotland and Scottish TUC publication ‘Climate hazards and resilience in the workplace’ which deals with the necessity to adapt workplaces to the hazards climate change already poses, as well as provides practical suggestions for further action. Conference believes that whilst promoting individual action to combat climate change is important, collective action and social change are essential if man-made climate change is to be tackled effectively and public services will be crucial to doing so.

The conference reaffirms that public and not a private investment is the solution. Relying on private investment has already meant delay and will only increase extra taxes and financial burden for those least able to pay. The government must invest now to help public services over the green line to net zero. Otherwise, the cost of transitioning will be anything but just.

Conference supports the key recommendations in the report such as the demand for new national public service climate social partnership approaches, campaigning for affordable and public ownership of energy and water, supporting green reps in our branches, developing educational materials, engaging with employers, service users and elected representatives in developing inclusive Just Transition boards for all public service sectors.

Conference agrees that UNISON should continue to play a key role in:

  1. The international and national policy debates about the best and fairest way of achieving decarbonisation;
  2. The civil society movements that will keep leaders and governments on track;
  3. The social dialogue and workplace negotiations needed to deliver just transition across all workplaces.

    Conference, therefore, calls on the National Executive Council to:
  1. Build on the momentum and climate focus gathered around COP26 and continue to work closely with the ITUC, TUC, Scottish TUC, Welsh TUC, Irish Congress of Trade Unions on the roll out of the Glasgow Climate Pact (GCP) and the COP26 Coalition;
  2. Continue to work with the TUC TUSDAC (Trade Union Sustainable Development Action Committee) in developing and campaigning for public service sector climate plans and funding for the climate transition;
  3. Continue to promote UNISONs net zero report to relevant stakeholders. Including engaging and consulting on our key findings and recommendations with the government, public service employers and relevant community and private contracted organisations delivering public services;
  4. Support the development of a green bargaining and negotiating agenda by introducing a rule change to enable green reps to sit on branch committees and nationally campaign for facility time for green branch reps;
  5. Update guidance for branches and green reps with case studies of good practice initiatives, funding opportunities and examples of successfully negotiated decarbonisation and Just Transition plans;
  6. Continue to work with service users, community, NGO and green alliances on public sector workplace climate policies as they are developed and announced, calling for greater public investment to secure a Just Transition;
  7. Support our Energy Service Group Executive in developing and promoting decarbonisation of the energy system in a way that ensures it is affordable for all, and in ensuring a Just Transition for energy members;
  8.  Encouraging public bodies to support a sustainable transition away from meat and dairy farming in recognition of the massive contribution this industry makes to the Climate Emergency
  9. Update training materials for branch and green reps to support their increasing responsibilities and roles;
  10. Arrange at least quarterly online national meetings of green reps and those signed up to the green network to share best practice and plans for activity.

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