UNISON activists received special recognition at the TUC Congress in Brighton this week.
Darren Barber, branch secretary at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, Norfolk and regional convenor for UNISON Eastern, was honoured with the TUC organising award.
When he started at the hospital, union membership was at an all-time low. But now, membership has grown from 365 to 810 and the number of active UNISON stewards from two to 14.
He said getting the TUC award was “absolutely huge … I can’t put it into words how happy and privileged I am to win this award.”
Darren has been a UNISON rep for around nine years in the NHS – a world where cuts mean a “very pressurised” environment.
Nominating him for the award, UNISON noted said his work means the union “is now an active and dynamic force within the hospital, providing a wide range of organising support and opportunities for members and staff.”
He is particularly proud of the work he did with the trust to get it out of special measures, benefitting both health workers and patients.
“One of the biggest reasons, more than anything, why everyone should be in a union – it doesn’t matter what workplace you’re in” he adds, “if we’re one voice we can get rid of austerity.”
Northern Ireland health worker and UNISON vice president Margaret McKee was presented with the TUC women’s gold badge.
Margaret has been a UNISON member for 36 years and recalls that she became an activist because ““There were equal pay issues in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, where I worked.”
She went on to give more and more of her time in UNISON – serving as union branch chair for the last 12 years – the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and a range of community and voluntary organisations and causes.
“I feel very honoured and humbled,” she said about the award, adding that it was her UNISON experience that has allowed her to be involved in community work “in areas which I would never have been given the opportunity”.
In particular, she recalls her work with domestic violence victims both at work and outside the workplace, particularly in women’s prisons, which she calls her proudest moment.
“I hope that I have made a difference.”