First of all, on behalf of the lay membership in the region I’d like to welcome our new regional secretary, Chris Jenkinson. Chris was appointed to the role following the retirement in May of Glyn Hawker. I know we all look forward to working with Chris and send our very best wishes to Glyn for her retirement. Glyn had mentored me over the last two years and I appreciate the support she gave me.
I’d also like to say a big thank you to all the Eastern region delegates at this year’s national delegate conference and to Rad Kerrigan for his excellent work as a first time regional rep alongside myself, Chris and regional manager Ann Glover.
Conference debated a whole range of motions spanning a wide range of topics from public sector pay, cuts in public services, the economy, pensions (including the WASPI campaign), LGBT rights, international issues, Brexit, branch funding and more besides.
Eastern delegates showed their passion for the subjects that affect our members and a special mention to those that delivered speeches (and I’m really sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone): Sarah Crowe – NEC and Bedfordshire police, Sheila Morley – regional retired members, Eleanor Donne – Basildon LG, Jonathan Dunning – NEC and Norfolk County, Dulce Carney – East coast health, Sam Hemraj – Peterborough and Stamford hospitals, Marion Kadewere – regional delegate, Tim Sykes – regional young members, Laura Murton – Colchester health, Trevor Hodgkins – Ipswich hospital, Stacey Davies – Cambridge City and south, Aran Price – Colchester health and Oladipo Ogedengbe – UNISON Essex.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis was on the mark when telling conference “the Tories are caught between the devil and the DUP.” Little did he know then that the whole fiasco would cost us £1bn just to keep Theresa May in No 10. That’s the equivalent of a 2% pay rise for every worker in the NHS by the way.
The fringe meetings were of an excellent standard this year. Owen Jones made an appearance on the Tuesday evening speaking about the NHS and answering questions from the floor. He made the point that the Tories dislike the NHS because it proves that the model of publicly run services can and does work. This definitely resonated with attendees and makes the fight to save the NHS even more pertinent if it erodes the neoliberal agenda.
Regional organiser Michelle Bradley addressed a packed fringe on Wednesday lunchtime highlighting the innovative work that UNISON Essex have been carrying out organising in the fragmented workforce. It is encouraging to see that the Eastern region continues to be at the forefront of developing progressive projects to engage with our members.
There was real fervour in the conference hall on Friday morning, which I’d love to attribute to my speech on mental health champions, was of course in anticipation of Jeremy Corbyn’s arrival. Jeremy, a UNISON member and former member of staff, took to the stage to deliver the keynote speech of the day. As you might expect he was very well received by delegates; not because everyone in the hall was a dyed-in-the-wool Corbynite, nor Labour supporters for that matter, but because he has helped reset the political debate.
For many delegates attending conference it had been a long time since some of our ideas have been in vogue: public services being owned and run in the interests of the common good, a system of progressive taxation, fair pay and decent rights for working people.
NDC showed that our members, just like the public in general have had their fill of austerity and that there has never been a better time for us to make a stand against cuts to our jobs, services, pay and rights. I look forward to working with you on campaigns and activities over the coming months!