Saturday saw the kids and I at the Abbey Pumping Station - built by the Victorians to solve the problem of sewage, in response to a higher than average death rate amongst local children, and now a museum. Since it went out of service fifty years ago it has served as a museum of technology for Leicester and the shiny National Space Centre was built next to it.
On Saturday the giant beam engines which pumped the sewage uphill out of Leicester were running again. It was a reminder of the good that science can do - when harnessed by progressive rather than reactionary ideas.
Wellington Chibebe and Lovemore Matombo are Zimbabwean union leaders arrested and charged with "spreading falshoods prejudicial to the state" (in other words, being active trade unionists and democrats). Their trial was planned to start yesterday, however the judge and prosecutors did not attend the court, and the trial has now been rescheduled for July 30th.
The TUC organised a protest yesterday, to coincide with the planned start of the trial, and they report: Hundreds of unionists and human rights supporters gathered outside the Zimbabwean Embassy on the Strand in London today to protest at the scheduled trial of Lovemore Matombo and Wellington Chibebe of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
Top of the list for this afternoon's business - prioritised by delegates at the conference - is motion 63 on the union's relationship with the Labour Party.
The motion calls for a review of the union's political funds, and asks "what do we get for our money"?
The NEC have submitted an amendment to the motion. Although the speeches and the leaflets they have put out argue that we don't need a review because we had one five years ago, their amendment accepts the idea of a review whilst gutting it of any potential impact. The NEC aren't actually speaking against the motion, but by putting up an amendment they are trying to avoid the embarrassment of losing a vote on this subject.
I received the following email the other days. Despite being an elected member of UNISON's Health SGE I didn't receive it from the national office directly, but via a member in another region who forwarded it on to the excellent and useful healthactivists email list.
The email raises a couple of questions. Firstly the fact that the email, the meeting it refers to, and the draft statement presented to that meeting in UNISON's name all seems to have gone on without any oversight or control by the elected lay leadership of the union. I think members of the union will quite reasonably ask why the SGE weren't in control of this process of negotiations with the other NHS unions.
The highlight of the second day of UNISON conference has undoubtedly been the NHS debate. There was an excellent fringe meeting at lunchtime organised by the cross-union activist bulletin health worker. Several of the newly-elected members of the health SGE were there, and they joined in an excellent discussion about learning the lessons from the pay ballot. There was a determined mood to the meeting and positive suggestions for rebuilding our relationships with other NHS unions in support of efforts to get the pay deal re-opened, in line with Dave Prentis' speech and his comments in this morning's papers.
Marsha has already blogged on the excellent Public Service Not Private Profit fringe meeting, and General Secretary Dave Prentis' speech. So I won't repeat her comments.
Currently Francis Prideaux from St Mary's Paddington is moving an excellent amendment to the NEC's motion on the economy. Francis.makes the excellent point that the government is not in favour of privatising everything. As the Northern Rock debacle showed, while they are privatising profits they are determined to nationalise the costs and the losses. Francis' amendment points out that the Labour conference already has agreed policies with the support of Unison which would turn that agenda on its head. The question, of course, is what do we do to get those policies implemented.
There is always something to make getting in to conference more difficult than it should be. Often it is forgetting my photograph for the conference badge and finding the nearest photobooth is a mile across town.
Today it was the fact that I'm not here officially so haven't sent in a visitor application in advance. I did hand it in at 8.30 this morning but apparently the conference office won't be able to process it until 11 because of having to deal with delegates' problems first. Fair enough. I think I'm first in today's queue though.
This means I won't be inside to see our branch challenge standing orders. That's one of the conference traditions - somebody has to do it, and this year it will be us, I think. The Standing Orders Committee have ruled out of order our branch's amendment affirming that branches should have the right to make recommendations during member ballots and consultations. SOC seem to be saying that the rules delegate the power to decide this question to service groups, and Kate has worked out that if that interpretation stands we have already won, thanks to a vote at health conference two months ago. However our branch view is that national conference should decide, so we will be pushing to get the amendment back on the agenda.
I know Marsha and Jon have been here for a few days already but UNISON conference gets underway in Bournemouth tomorrow. Local government delegates are therefore being joined here this evening by those from health branches. Kate is, of course, spending conference on the platform. Literally, as she hasn't been allocated a single speech, but I will be on the balcony in a strictly unofficial capacity. Its been a while since I attended a unison conference without any official responsibilty so I'm looking forward to it.
I will try to report on the significant decisions and debates over the next four days. And if you are in Bournemouth and fancy a cuppa, get in touch.