UNISON vice president Carol Sewell addressed conference this morning, opening with a tribute to Eric Roberts, the union’s president, who died suddenly in November.
“He should have been delivering this speech today,” said Ms Sewell, who was in Brighton with her fellow vice president, Margaret McKee, “and it breaks my heart, but unfortunately, he was taken from us.”
“He was a wonderful gentleman who cared passionately about UNISON,” she said through tears.
“We’ll never forget him, and rest assured – his name will be etched on our hearts.”
Attending conference with her co-vice president, Margaret McKee, she took the opportunity to tell delegates that the government’s economic record was a disaster for working people and public services alike.
“The government’s austerity plan is still intact … the government’s continued refusal to end the pay cap, together with rising prices, is causing real hardship”.
She pledged that the union will continue to campaign for the living wage – the real living wage, that is, not the rebranded minimum wage that former chancellor George Osborne announced last year.
With the most divisive government of all time, “these are tough times,” said Ms Sewell. “Why are tax payers continuing to pick up the bill for low pay?”
“The storm clouds are gathering” she said of “the grim economic outlook” since the EU referendum last summer.
And she said that she was “sure that many of you could give examples of hateful behaviour that has increased since Brexit”.
UNISON would continue to challenge racism and xenophobia, as well as fighting to defend those EU migrant workers helping keeping our services running, and now living in fear that they may be told to leave the country – no matter how long they have been here, or whatever relationships they have developed and roots they have put down.
“Black workers are proud to be in UNISON,” she stressed – and urged delegates to return to their branches, remembering the vital importance to their union of recruiting and organising, building the union so that it can continue to do its vital work.