Time’s up – or the time of our lives?
Like every other month since the dawn of time, women were at the centre of things in February. Everyone got excited about the 100th anniversary of those women over 30, who owned their own houses, getting the vote.
And with beautiful happenstance, it coincided with the country’s biggest women’s organisation holding its biggest ever women’s conference.
Yes, the women of UNISON met in Liverpool with general secretary Dave Prentis praising “the biggest gathering of women trade unionists in this country” and president Margaret McKee hailing them all as ”amazing women”.
And the variety of debates reflected the variety of delegates, whether it was women working in technology, science and engineering; opposing the tax credit rape clause; voting to fight for refuges or supporting older female workers.
There was even a guest appearance from a suffragette descendant.
Learning from history
History was everywhere in February (isn’t it always?).
It was also LGBT History Month – a chance to celebrate LGBT lives and culture in order to challenge prejudice and build equality. And this year’s event took place amidst a whole calendar-worth of anniversaries.
It was the 30th anniversary of the UK government passing Section 28, the notorious piece of legislation that prohibited local authorities from “promoting homosexuality”.
Ten years earlier, Harvey Milk, the first out gay councillor in the USA, was murdered. On a brighter note, the rainbow flag is also 40 years old, while Sarah Walter’s lesbian classic, Tipping the Velvet, is 20.
The theme for LGBT History Month was Geography: Mapping the world.
And if those anniversaries provide us with a snapshot of progress in a short time, then there is no shortage of information around to remind us that, while equality is spreading – from marriage to adoption and much more – there are also large parts of our world where LGBT people live in fear. Find out more about LGBT members in UNISON.
Action, action, everywhere
UNISON is all about creating, not just celebrating, history. And there was plenty of history-making action around too in February.
Homecare workers in Birmingham went on strike, after a 99% vote in favour, over redundancies and a new rota system.
General secretary Dave Prentis reiterated his support for them: “Our homecare workers in Birmingham have the full support of myself and the national union,” he declared. “You will not be alone.“
Further north, hundreds of women (some of them dressed as suffragettes) marched in Glasgow as they continued their fight for equal pay.
And local government members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland started a month-long branch pay consultation.
Patient transport members in Manchester voted on industrial action over a two-tier workforce; Harrogate NHS members rejected plans to transfer them to a private company. and UNISON members working at three hospitals in Lancashire were on course for industrial action over plans to outsource their jobs to a new company, set-up and owned by the NHS trust, in May.
More positive news came from Wales as University of South Wales cleaners won their tribunal case and UNISON announced that it was to negotiate pay and conditions for staff at one of the UK’s largest housing associations.
And as the winter crisis left the front pages, UNISON was heavily represented as more than 60,000 people braved freezing temperatures and rain calling on the government to properly fund the NHS.
In the news
Two big news stories in February involved UNISON members.
British Gas announced plans to cut 4,000 jobs by 2020. And UNISON national energy officer Matt Ley argued that staff were yet again paying the price.
And after it was announced that meat supplier Russell Hume went into administration after being investigated by the Food Standards Agency, UNISON’s head of local government Heather Wakefield called for more meat inspectors.
UNISON also wrote to vice chancellors over the university pensions dispute.
Closer to home, a lot of important things happened within the fine walls of UNISON itself.
The UNISON lottery was relaunched, helping raise vital funds for UNISON’s own welfare charity There for You (and giving players the chance to win some prizes too, of course).
There was also a new UNISON Living partner providing mortgage advice. And UNISON’s advice even started to get real close and personal with the launch of a new mobile face to face advice service for workers in Edinburgh and Lothian.
And it sounds a bit dull but is actually really, really important – there are new UNISON application forms in force now to comply with changes to the law.
You can find out more here.