‘We’re still standing’

Dave Prentis tells women’s conference that UNISON is ‘the women’s union’

UNISON members are “united in a passion to make our world a better place.”

That was the core of the message from general secretary Dave Prentis to the union’s national women’s conference when he addressed delegates in Bournemouth this morning, during Heart Unions week.

“Ours is a union that the doom merchants said would never work … but we’re still standing,” he said, as the celebrations for UNISON’s first quarter of a century continue.

He reminded everyone of how Nalgo, Nupe and Cohse came together – “3,000 branches – more used to poaching each other’s members than working together. All united within a year.”

And it is now “a growing union; a union where the women call the shots – and don’t I know it!” he said, to much laughter.

“Twenty-five years ago, that was just a pipedream, but now – thanks to you – it’s a reality.”

It was UNISON that had campaigned for – and won the minimum wage.

It is UNISON that is now fighting to turn that minimum wage into a living wage.

And Mr Prentis told delegates that, only last year, it was their union that had won the living wage for “over a million workers in our NHS”.

Delegates applauded when he told them that UNISON has just been awarded the right to appeal to the Supreme Court over the Court of Appeal’s decision against paying care workers at least minimum wage for sleep-in shifts.

The general secretary also pledged the union’s continuing support for the Birmingham care workers, who have been fighting against the plans by the city’s Labour council to reduce their hours and pay.

UNISON is winning for women, Mr Prentis said: “It’s not just a slogan, it’s what our union is for.”

On the current political situation in the UK, he told conference that attitudes that had once seemed to be fading had been unleashed once more by Brexit, fuelled by “a government that veers between incompetence and malice”.

Noting the hypocrisy of leading Brexiteers such as Jacob Rees-Mogg – who has moved a company he co-founded to Dublin to avoid any negative impact on that company from leaving the EU – he added that the “best thing Boris Johnson has ever done was to hand in his resignation to spend more time with his ego”.

In the face of all this, the task might seem hard, he said, but “we will never take a step back”. We have “politicians acting like clowns in a Christmas pantomime”, but where others have veered, UNISON will stay true to the course.

The biggest union, the best union “and yes … the women’s union!”