UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis has made an impassioned plea to end “the cycle of desperation” and defend all that the union movement has achieved, arguing that now is the time “to stand up for ourselves”.
Addressing delegates from over 50 unions at the TUC Congress in Liverpool today, he highlighted an autumn of planned coordinated union action to defend public services and the ongoing fight for fair pay: “for a living wage for real people whose wellbeing is being ignored”.
He described a country where public services are devastated, working women are hit the hardest and where “a quarter of a million UNISON members struggle on a minimum wage that falls in real terms every month”.
A country where unemployment is falling but zero hours contracts are tripling: “Millions wait by the phone – no certainty, no security, our people in work struggling like never before. Trapped in a spiral of debt.”
He argued that now is the time “to defend all we have achieved and yet not to be ashamed to ask for more”.
And referring to the members of the King’s Regiment of Liverpool who marched into battle 100 years ago to the day, together with the generation lost in the Second World War, he said: “And in the ashes of those horrendous wars our welfare state was born – a national health service, free secondary education and benefits for the vulnerable – a safety net.
“But we are governed by a political class that has ridiculed their sacrifice because now a century later, our people are living in poverty. Not because the country is at war, not because they are lazy, but because they have been betrayed.”
Stressing that UNISON members do not want to strike he argued that, “it is the only way to get to the table – the only way to be heard”.
And highlighting the continuing action of the Care UK strikers – “brave men and women fighting back, making a stand”, he championed the autumn of action across health, local government and education amongst others, culminating in the TUC-organised national demonstration on 18 October.
“Enough is enough. It’s going to be tough. We know that. But this is our time. Time to make a stand. Time to lead the fight. All of us together. Strong. United.”