This year TUC Congress – like tens of thousands of other events – is taking place online. The ongoing pandemic left little choice, but being online doesn’t mean being less important. This week is a vital opportunity for the trade union movement to reflect on the consequences of Covid 19 for the world of work and the public services we all rely upon. Just as importantly, it’s the perfect platform for us to think about what comes next and how we campaign for a recovery that recognises the huge sacrifices made by working people and addresses the glaring inequalities we all see in our communities.
That’s why our union is taking the opportunity to launch our new campaign, No Going Back to Normal.
Thousands of key workers died during the pandemic looking after us. Nurses, care workers, cleaners and more made the ultimate sacrifice to help others. And this was all the more heart-breaking because for years before COVID-19, these public service workers and the jobs they do have been undervalued, underpaid and too often invisible.
Years of neglect made the effect of the pandemic so much worse for them – from shortages of PPE to the crisis in care homes. From a lack of nurses to a shortage of Covid tests. This was a failure of planning, but it was also the result of more than 10 years of brutal spending cuts and vicious austerity.
And yet despite all this, key workers in our public services pulled through for all of us. I’m proud of every single UNISON member’s reaction to this unprecedented crisis. And proud too that our union has continue to support, represent and fight for those incredible public service workers every single day despite the challenges we’ve all faced.
It’s understandable that after so much sacrifice, there’s a desire to return to normal. Yet in UNISON we know that normal was never good enough. The old “normal” would only mean making the same mistakes again, and a return to under-valuing our public services and the people who provide them.
This autumn, politicians Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont will be making important decisions about the future funding of our public services.
The early signals are that the lessons have not been learned. The Westminster government is intent on pitching public sector against private sector and ignoring the decisions they have taken that got us to where we are now. They want things back to normal, because they think the old normal was ok.
That’s why our campaign calls for measures now to: rebuild all our public services, by securing sustained long- term investment; create fairer and safer workplaces; give public service workers a decent pay rise, lift the lowest paid out of in-work poverty and build a more equal post COVID-19 society, in which the inequalities that have become so evident during the crisis are addressed as a matter of urgency.
Over coming weeks we will be taking this fight to the government. The more people who visit our new campaign website and sign the open letter to the prime minister and chancellor the better. Please look out for the ads in the press and on social media over the coming weeks and share with your family and friends.
Together, we can make sure that our future is better than the old normal.