Even an old cynic like me finds it hard not to be very enthused by Dave Prentis's speech at Unison Conference today - and I've never voted for him!
There is no doubt that, with 750,000 workers striking on 30th June without Unison, Prentis had to do something to get the union back in the game, and some of his "awkward squad" credentials back as well! And Prentis did not win three Gen Sec elections by good majorities without knowing what buttons to press and when. But what we got was one of the most militant speeches from a trade union leader for many a year
Prentis set out the prospect of sustained industrial action to stop Cameron's pensions robbery, and made it clear that he was ready to lead a campaign to win the endorsement of the members for that action.
"To the people who say to me 'name the day', I say a day won't be enough!"
In offering support to the workers taking action on June 30th, Prentis said
"If the government fails to listen, to heed our warnings, to negotiate in good faith, I say, David Cameron, you ain't seen nothing yet. We will strike to defend our pensions. A campaign of strike action without precedent."
And his contempt for the leadership of the Labour Party could not have been more withering. The message was "get behind us or get out of the way". He directly addressed Ed Balls...."when we want your advice Ed, we'll ask for it". He went on to say that Unison money would only go to Labour candidates who were prepared to back the union.
But it was the less-reported stuff which was also important (thanks to Jon Rogers for the info). Prentis made a point of praising two named branch secretaries, Mike Tucker of Southampton and John Burgess of Barnet, both United Left supporters, for their work in their branches defending jobs and conditions. He also said (and the reference seemed clear) "there are no enemies in this hall". If that means an end to the use of punitive measures by bureaucrats to deal with political difference and dissent, which has plagued Unison for years, then that will be a major step forward.
I should not end without thanking the members of NUT, PCS, ATL and UCU. It is they who have administered the wake-up call which led to today's speech.
Unison members now need to turn Prentis's words into a reality.....and to make sure he doesn't go back on any of them.