Union told to rethink its funding of Labour

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Indy Politics

Labour's biggest single donor is being asked to rethink its relationship with the party amid growing anger over the Government's policy towards public services.

A motion to be tabled at the annual conference of the local authority union, Unison, starting today, declares its members are increasingly asking "why we hand over millions of pounds of members' money to fund a party which is attacking our jobs, wages and conditions".

The motion from left-wingers argues that the union is breaking its own rules by backing a party that supports jobs cuts and privatisation. The leadership is urged to take a long hard look at the link with Labour and report back to delegates next year.

Delegates at the Brighton conference will decide whether to endorse the proposition after a keynote speech today by Stephen Byers, who has cabinet responsibility for local government and who will be expected to reassure delegates on the future of public services. Mr Byers is bracing himself for a rough ride.

Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, will urge the Prime Minister to abandon the practice of commissioning private companies to deliver public services. He will say the strategy undermines the work of doctors, nurses and other staff. Mr Prentis warned Tony Blair after the election: "If Labour think they have been given a mandate to go ahead with further privatisation of public services, then it had better think again."

The union will produce evidence this week that it claims will prove that private-sector deals are not good value for money.

The conference is expected to endorse a motion that commits the union leadership to back industrial action in defence of public-sector jobs.

A survey of 4,500 local authority workers released by Unison yesterday showed that two-thirds of council workers had considered leaving their jobs in the past year because of low pay and "feeling undervalued". Social workers, planning officers, housing staff and leisure employees were among those most likely to have considered quitting. There were also complaints over the lack of promotion prospects, limited resources and high stress levels.

Unison's survey showed that almost three out of four council staff said their workload had increased over the past year, while a third reported staff cuts in their departments.

Most of those polled said they regularly worked extra hours at short notice with one out of 10 putting in an extra four hours a week unpaid. Two out of five said they felt less secure in their job ­ a finding Unison believes reflects the "growing threat" to privatise council services.

Unison's head of local government, Malcolm Wing, said: "Staff working for local councils are doing a good job and want to do even better. But cutting their pay and threatening them with privatisation is not the answer."