“Being the biggest union – being the biggest women’s union – gives us power and with that power comes responsibility.”
Addressing the union’s national women’s conference in Bournemouth, UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea told delegates that they were meeting during a period of significant anniversaries.
It was 70 year since the founding of the NHS, 150 years of the TUC and 100 years since (some!) women got the vote.
And, of course, 25 years of UNISON itself.
“I’m sure to many younger women this may feel like ancient history, but it feels like yesterday to some of us!” she quipped.
But on the last of those anniversaries, Ms McAnea stressed that UNISON was not created out of a crisis: “We came together to make ourselves stronger and to campaign for public services in this country.”
In the time since – and despite resistance – UNISON has achieved huge amounts.
“Unrepresented – and under-represented – groups are now mainstream in our union,” she declared. UNISON is “giving people a voice – not just telling them what to do” and “creating structures to make sure that happens”.
“Equality is at the heart of everything we do,” she said, reminding conference of the union’s victories, including scrapping employment fees and Glasgow members winning equal pay after a 10-year fight, with a “settlement of over £500m”.
Last year, the union ran a huge campaign to force the government to end the 1% public sector pay cap – “and we won”.
“The vast majority of our members got over 1%, but we know that 2% or 3% still isn’t enough to make up for the pay freezes of the past decade.
Ms McAnea said she made no apology that UNISON’s overall strategy is also targeted at improving pay for the lowest paid. Indeed, last year alone, the union helped move more tha 100,000 low-paid workers above the real living wage: “That’s something we should be proud of – because it makes a significant difference to people’s lives.”
Highlighting the pay gap and and sexual harassment as key areas for UNISON’s work over the coming year, the she said that to challenge the problems facing the UK, “we need to harness the full power and strength” of a union of more than “one million women and 250,000 men”.
UNISON had, therefore, “a responsibility to listen to women, to speak up for women and to do everything in our power to improve the lives of women, here and around the world,” she told delegates.
“In 25 years, some of you – or your daughters and granddaughters, your sons and grandsons – will hopefully be the future leaders of UNISON,” concluded Ms McAnea.
“And when they look back, I want to make sure they can say UNISON continued to make a positive difference to the lives of hundreds of thousands of women, raising pay and the value of the jobs they do and by fighting for women’s rights – in this country and across the world.”