Prentis warns against PFI bail-out
(20/04/09) "You're are at the heart of our union and our ethos," general secretary Dave Prentis told representatives of more than 450,000 health workers gathered at the union's health conference in Harrogate today.
And it is the values represented by UNISON, and health members in particular – caring, service, equality, solidarity and democracy – which explain why the union will be leading the campaign against privatisation, he said.
"UNISON will never, ever back down on the market," said Mr Prentis. "Patients are not consumers. The market cannot do a better job. Unlike Virgin Healthcare, we will not walk away when the going gets tough."
This is particularly important when "we have seen the biggest financial bubble in history burst".
Across the world, 20 million people have lost their jobs in the crisis, he noted, with two million unemployed in the UK, predicted to rise to three million by the end of the year.
"But as a trade union, we know this is not about figures, it's not about statistics, it's not about percentages," he noted. "These hide the truth about recession.
"This recession is about people's lives," said Mr Prentis: ordinary people who have given their lives to an employer, a public service, school or hospital, only to be shown the door; families who have built a home, only to have the bailiffs at the door; young people who have borrowed to get to university, only to have their future life taken further out of reach.
"And why?" he asked. "We know why. This crisis is a crisis of an unjust financial system where a few continued to profit by inflicting misery on many."
UNISON will be leading the campaign not just for public services to deal with the recession's impact, but "organising the fight for a better deal", promised Mr Prentis.
And ahead of Wednesday's budget, he warned: "UNISON will oppose any bail-out of PFI consortiums – not in our name.
"Our patience and our time is running out – we are looking to government for serious solutions."
Rather than "a golden carrot for the rich and a stick for the poor", he said, "we cannot allow our public services to pay the price of bailing out the banks – our members will not stand for it."
At the same time, he cautioned, "we know what the Tories have said, we know that the Tories will be worse."
And while the Tories are waiting in the wings, so are the "gutter racists" of the BNP who will exploit any opportunity to prey on people's hardships.
The union is at the heart of a campaign against the BNP's bid to win council and European parliamentary seats at this summer's elections "and you have to be at the heart of it", he told members, defending our principles and ethos of fairness, equality, solidarity and democracy.www.unison.org.uk