NIPSA, the largest of the Northern Ireland’s public sector unions, had its annual conference in Derry’s Millennium Forum at the end of May. At this conference, NIPSA members determine the key policies and elected positions that will direct the union in the coming year.

The Broad Left group in the union, which includes Socialist Party members, consolidated its influence, taking the positions of President, Vice-President and Honorary Treasurer unopposed. Broad Left candidates took the majority seats on all committees but one. This is on top of the increased Broad left majority of 23 of 25 seats on NIPSA’s executive committee prior to conference. Broad left authority across NIPSA was secured for the coming year.

Over three days, 89 motions on social, political, economic and environmental issues were debated and voted on. Of these, it is worth highlighting some standout motions.

A constitutional amendment committing the union “to promote independent, cross-community, anti-sectarian trade unionism” was passed overwhelmingly, formalising NIPSA’s historic and ongoing role in uniting workers across the sectarian divide around their common interests and in opposition to sectarianism in all its forms.

Following on from this was the debate on consulting members on establishing a political fund, which would increase NIPSA’s ability to flex its muscle freely in campaigning for members’ interests broadly in society. While winning a majority and a moral victory, unfortunately it did not achieve the two-thirds majority required for constitutional change.

A number of motions highlighted the explosion of young agency and precarious workers maintaining the provision of public services – how these workers are the lowest paid with few rights, while hundreds of millions from public funds paid to super-exploitive employment agencies. There was overwhelming support for NIPSA launching a campaign to recruit these workers, fighting to secure permanent employment with trade union-agreed pay, terms and conditions. Conference also agreed to affiliate to Health Campaigns Together, which has led major demonstrations to defend our NHS.

Equality was a central theme with motions on the #MeToo campaign, Belfast rape trial and the stupendous victory of the abortion rights campaign in South. An outstanding guest speaker, Eleanor Crossey-Malone from socialist-feminist group ROSA, reflected these issues. To a standing ovation, Eleanor reiterated the determination that women will no longer accept sexism, inequality and oppression. Eleanor’s speech electrified conference, with many delegates subsequently attending the Bus4Choice rally at the Guildhall. This intervention ensured NIPSA’s commitment to support and facilitate the work of ROSA and other pro-choice groups.

After three days of positive debate and discussion and with firm foundations laid for the year ahead, Conference ended with a rendition of Pete Seeger’s rousing union song ‘Solidarity Forever’. Delegates standing with fists held high understood this could not have been more significant.

by Pat Lawlor