UNISON’s disabled members, meeting in Brighton for their annual conference this weekend, opened a packed plenary session with a series of passionate debates.
“Knowledge is power,” said one speaker, who went on to describe how, when she became a steward, she had searched out the sort of information that she required in order to “become a good rep”.
And the question of knowledge was at the heart of the first motions, as delegates considered how best to be able to serve members in dealing with complex issues.
On the difficulties of applying for personal independent payments, Maureen Le Marinel from Lancashire Police cited the problems faced by branch welfare officers in terms of diminishing facility time, but stressed the importance of “signposting” members to proper, qualified advice on making applications.
From the Northern Region, Mark spoke of the need for activists to be better equipped with information on the broader range of questions affecting those with disabilities.
Margaret Calendar from Scotland agreed that there was a “disabilities deficit” in training for UNISON activists – not least when dealing with the issue of reasonable adjustments, where employers can and do refuse to comply with requests that are, in fact, completely reasonable and can help ensure that disabled workers can continue to do their work.
“We need to support our stewards to walk a mile in our members’ shoes,” she concluded.
Conference also held a debate on the continuing need to ensure that the disabled members’ self-organised group was fully inclusive.
Audrey, from the Black members’ caucus, stressed that this was vital, as some members were not only disabled but also women or LGBT+ and therefore multiply disadvantaged.
Neil Adams from the LGBT+ group praised such a “celebration of intersectionality,” adding that “caucuses are the glue that holds self-organised groups together”.
For the Black members’ caucus, Elizabeth Cameron said that she “recognised the absolute need” to work in UNISON for the “fair representation that we all sign up to. In this room, we are all passionate equality warriors,” she added, praising the union’s self-organised groups as a way of developing activists.