Well, October was a month of change. And not just when it comes to clocks and seasons. It started off with the country due to leave the EU on Hallowe’en – “do or die”, deal or no deal. It ended with another Brexit extension and everyone gearing up for the third general election in four years.
But some things are perennial and they’re always on UNISON’s agenda.
The union’s month kicked off with our retired members and police and justice staff conferences in Southport.
The service group conference saw assistant general secretary Christina McAnea tell delegates: “We need to get the message out about the need to invest in public services.”
Despite a feeling of political chaos and nine years of austerity, she said, “UNISON is fighting back and the campaigns and the disputes we’ve been running are making a difference. We’re a union that isn’t afraid to take on difficult cases.”
It was a theme picked up by delegates as they called for investment in police staff to match proposals for more officers, for “one service, one pay scale and one bargaining structure” for a reintegrated probation service in England and Wales, urged support for members’ wellbeing and mental health and much more.
When it comes to supporting and celebrating our members, we stepped up the theme in the middle of the month with our first Local Service champions day on 17 October.
This had a straightforward message message: local government workers are true local champions. Working as a team, both on the frontline and ‘behind the scenes’, they encourage our communities to thrive and help the most vulnerable in our society.
As general secretary Dave Prentis declared: “We will always fight for local services.”
On the day, we also launched our Local Service Champions awards – so why not nominate your champion? Just make sure you do it by 15 November.
Celebrations and awards are fine, but our members in local government still need a decent pay rise.
Late October saw members travel from Birmingham to Downing Street, where they urged the government to fund councils so they could meet their pay claim for a 10% pay rise and £10 an hour minimum wage in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
But as is becoming regular this year, we also had victories to celebrate. In London, low-paid and outsourced university workers at UCL celebrated after UNISON secured them the same pay, pension and annual leave rights as directly employed workers.
And in North West England, outsourced social care workers in the won statutory recognition for their union – UNISON naturally.
Of course, when it comes to defending and championing our members, a bigger union is a stronger union.
So it was that October’s meeting of the UNISON NEC set the stage for another month of union-wide campaigning on recruitment and retention as we Go for Growth again.
And then, just as the month dragged itself to the end, came more Brexit manoeuvring, which saw Prime Minister Boris Johnson forced to ask for the Article 50 extension he swore he wouldn’t have. The EU granted it, until 31 January 2020.
With the threat of a crashing out without a deal on Hallowe’en removed, Labour agreed to vote in favour of a general election.
So we’re going to the polls again on 12 December. And UNISON promptly kicked its voter registration drive into action – especially urging to people to apply for a postal vote and counter the effects of cold dark nights on voter turnout.