Labour shadow education secretary and UNISON member Angela Rayner outlined a number of key public sector aims for a future Labour government, in a rousing speech in Brighton today.
These would include introducing a “genuine” pay bargaining body for all education staff, bringing back the NHS bursaries for nurses and restoring the Union Learning Fund to pre-Tory government levels.
“The Tories will sometimes praise you for the job you do,” she told delegates. “But Labour will always pay you for the job you do.”
Remembering her days as a UNISON activist, Ms Rayner joked that in her first national delegates’ conference, “I thought a standing order is what I had waiting for me at the bar.”
But she added that she was proud to be attending this conference in the union’s 25th anniversary year. “The values of the union when it was founded remain as relevant today as at any time in our history,” she said. “Unity is strength. United we stand, because divided we fall.”
She then praised Wigan members who are striking against outsourcing and to remain within the NHS, and UNISON’s Supreme Court victory against employment tribunal fees, last year, which she called “a famous, landmark victory for UNISON members and all workers.”
The Ashton-under-Lyne MP said that public service workers remained “at the sharp end” of Tory cuts.
She then quoted John F Kennedy, when he once recalled meeting a janitor at NASA. When the US president asked the janitor what he did, he answered: “I send astronauts to the moon.”
Ms Rayner felt the same could be said of UNISON members working in public services. “You are all too often unrecognised as so-called support staff. But the work you do saves lives and transforms lives.”
As one example, she cited teaching assistants. “Teachers could not do their job without teaching assistants, but they are often forgotten.”
Ms Rayner believed that in the next general election Labour would “finish the job” and form a government.
And unlike Theresa May and her party, a Jeremy Corbyn government “would not just handpick the privileged few, but empower the many.”
Labour’s plan for a National Education Service would be a “cradle to the grave system that runs parallel with the NHS by providing support to everyone at every stage of their life,” she said.
“Not just because education is important in its own right, but because it also shapes our society and shapes who has wealth and who has power.”
The new service would represent a Labour promise to the British people “that we believe in all of them, in their talent and potential.”
And to her trade union audience, she added: “Our historic purpose as a movement is not just to be a voice for the voiceless, but to give them a voice of their own. That’s the challenge we face.”