This year’s Unison young members’ conference, held in Newcastle from 24-26 November, saw over 120 delegates attending from across 12 regions.
The conference came on the back of an unsuccessful strike ballot in the union’s local government section earlier in the year. Despite 75% of members voting in favour of strike action, a lacklustre turnout of just 31% meant that the ballot failed to beat the Tory-imposed thresholds.
Dissatisfaction with this result was reflected in a motion that sought to provide training for young members in terms of future strike ballots. Many delegates took to the rostrum to point out the union’s repeated failures on this question.
Many delegates were also disappointed to find that the majority of motions that had initially been submitted had been ruled ‘out of order’ before the conference even began. This meant that many subjects could not be discussed.
Eight motions were approved for discussion by the standing orders committee. But a total of thirteen motions were struck off the list for one reason or another.
The young members’ conference itself has very limited authority within Unison. Motions are typically either limited to ‘requesting action’ from the National Young Members’ Forum, which doesn’t have the power to actually act on anything, or must compete to be the sole motion put to the National Delegate Conference.
When wider issues were discussed, however, delegates enthusiastically engaged with these questions.
Many people got up to speak in favour of an emergency motion on Palestine, for example, calling for an immediate ceasefire. Several speakers pointed out the hypocrisy of our own government in aiding and abetting the Israeli assault and oppression.
Comrades from Socialist Appeal raised the call from the Palestinian General Confederation of Trade Unions for organised workers’ in Britain to halt the arms trade, and the need for us to show real solidarity by fighting against our own ruling class.
Socialist Appeal comrades outside of Unison Young Members conference in Newcastle this morning ✊
If you’re here, come and say hello and grab our latest issue! 🗞️ pic.twitter.com/uFHAtkyvlB
— Socialist Appeal (IMT) (@socialist_app) November 25, 2023
A good layer of members clearly want more from their union than anodyne ‘debates’.
During a well-attended fringe meeting held by Time for Real Change, the union’s main left faction, delegates enjoyed a much fuller discussion.
Speakers made the case for organising against the bureaucracy, and for fighting to change Unison into a democratic, member-led, militant union.
Whilst those within the union bureaucracy are always quick to claim that ‘young members are the future of the union’, it is clear that in practice they want us to be seen and not heard. This is something no militant young worker can accept.
A complete transformation across Unison, including within its young members’ structures. Power must be placed concretely in the hands of rank-and-file members – not just in words, but in reality.
With heightening class struggle opening up, there has never been a more important time to start fighting. If you agree, then join us.