New year is a special time. It’s a time to look forwards with hope to the possibilities of the year ahead, and it’s an opportunity to look back at what’s gone before to see how far we’ve come.
In UNISON, we like to look forward. 2019 will be another challenging year for public services and everyone who works in them. Yet it’s also a year that holds genuine promise. It’s a year when we can continue the fightback against austerity, it’s a year when our union can continue to strengthen and grow and it’s a year when we might get to chuck the Tories out of Downing Street and elect a government that genuinely cares about the services UNISON members provide.
2019 will be tough, but like every year I relish the challenges our union faces and the opportunities we will have to fight for better, stronger, better funded public services.
Of course each new year is an opportunity to look back as well. A chance to take inspiration from our achievements, to learn and grow and drive ourselves onwards into the year ahead.
There is perhaps no better time to do that than now, as UNISON continues to celebrate our 25th anniversary.
In UNISON, we’re not very good at celebrating the incredible achievements of our union and our members. Instead we tend to work hard, reach our goals and then move onto the next thing. In many ways that’s admirable, but I hope you won’t mind if I take an opportunity this new year to celebrate – really celebrate – our special union’s achievements.
25 years ago, UNISON was formed from the merger of NALGO, NUPE and COHSE, to provide a home for all public service workers. A proud union of the left, fighting and winning for working people. We were the biggest union in the UK then, and we’re the biggest union in the UK today, representing 1.3 million people working for the benefit of our communities. From the day our union was founded – and especially at the advent of austerity – our downfall was predicted. Yet the naysayers underestimated UNISON members, and instead we’ve achieved incredible things together.
Ours was the union that led the fight for a statutory minimum wage, against opposition from employers and even some in the Trade Union movement. We won that fight – and now we lead the fight for a real living wage for all.
We were the union that led the fight against the Trade Union Act – taking on and defeating some of its worst excesses. We were the first union to back Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for Labour leader – and work with him to put UNISON policies into the Labour manifesto.
And we’ve repeatedly taken on the government over Universal Credit and Tax Credit changes – winning changes for low paid workers worth thousands of pounds.
It took years of hard work – but we were the union which won the historic Employment Tribunal fees case at the Supreme Court. Thanks to UNISON, all working people have better access to justice – and the government saw what happens when they try and attack the rights of working people. They won’t get away with it on UNISON’s watch.
Likewise on equal pay, UNISON – with over a million women members – fought for and won equal pay for all public service workers. We’ve helped tackle pay discrimination and will keep on doing so until there’s a genuinely level playing field for everyone. We do that because it’s right, and also because women lead our union at every level. Ours is the only union in the UK where the majority of democratic positions are reserved for women and where four out of five UNISON Assistant General Secretaries are women.
For years the Tory government attacked public sector pay – yet it was our union that broke their vicious 1% public sector pay cap with our Pay Up Now campaign. Of course there’s so much to do, so we’ll fight on until all public service workers receive the wages they deserve.
On care, it’s our union which stands up for some of the most vital but lowest paid workers in our society. Dozens of councils have signed our Ethical Care Charter – ensuring decent pay and conditions for care workers and better care for those who need it most.
And whether we’re campaigning against mental health stigma, or providing the tools our members need to succeed through the incredible education and training we provide, it’s UNISON which cares about every aspect of our members lives.
But it’s not just our members – or even just our country – that UNISON cares about. We’re proud internationalists, whether we’re campaigning for dignity and respect for women diagnosed with HIV across Southern Africa or playing a leading role in the fight for Palestinian rights as a constant supporter of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. We’ve fought everything from Ebola in West Africa to the blockade of Cuba – and through our leadership role in EPSU and PSI we’ll continue to push for better public services around the world.
That better world is, after all, what we’re all striving for. UNISON members care about the services we provide, not out of self-interest but because we care about the world around us. That’s why we helped to create and continue to support incredible anti-racist and anti-fascist campaigns like Hope Not Hate, Show Racism the Red Card and Stand up to Racism. That’s why we campaigned alongside the Neville family for justice for their son Stephen – and for all victims of institutional racism. And that’s why we dedicated ourselves to taking on the BNP – and wiping them out. We’ve spent twenty five years fighting racism and fascism, because they are the direct opposite of the inclusive, open, loving, caring and respectful world we seek to build.
This our union.
This, and so much more.
Achievements in your workplace and around the world. And every one of them happening thanks to the passion, dedication and decency of UNISON members, and the hard-work and support of UNISON staff.
Yet we can’t and shouldn’t rest on our laurels.
I still have big dreams for this union – and I know you do as well. Together, we can be the bridge that takes our members and our country from an imperfect present to a better future. We can grow faster, deliver more and fight even harder. It won’t be easy – it never is – but it will always be worthwhile.
So to everyone in UNISON, the beating heart of our country and our communities – Happy New Year. Let’s make 2019 our union’s best year yet, but let’s also be proud of our union, and everything we’ve achieved together.