“UNISON women have always been my inspiration. Whatever path we take, I will always walk with you.”
Dave Prentis was addressing the union’s women’s conference in Bournemouth as Heart Unions – and Heart UNISON – week neared its conclusion.
And the general secretary was full of heart for the 1,000-plus representatives of the union’s million-plus female members.
He said “I can’t think of a better place to spend Valentine’s Day than with all of you!” to warm laughter and applause.
“Over a thousand women here today … our women’s conference growing, year after year. This, the biggest yet,” Mr Prentis told them.
“You who give us our heart,” he added, before scoffing at the old view that “unions were only for men – didn’t you prove them wrong!”
Expressing his pride in how the union’s women have shaped the wider agenda, he noted that UNISON’s colours of purple and green – the colours of the suffragette movement – had been chosen deliberately to “remind us that UNISON is a union of women”.
And it was women taking action around the regions – battling back against subcos in the NHS; fighting for Agenda for Change terms in health in Northern Ireland. Taking action at hospitals from Bradford to Blackpool to St Helens; care workers winning in Birmingham, Addaction workers, Glasgow equal pay strikers … and so, so many more.
Mr Prentis chuckled as he recalled his speech being interrupted by an exploding Mr Blobby in St Helens.
He had praise too for Josie Bird – “an incredible president of our union,” combining that with being a mother with two young children; only two years on from having to be a carer for her own mother coming through cancer, not to mention having a busy local government job in Newcastle.
He also praised Vice president Sian Stockham – working long shifts, caring for her family and still finding time to give to the union.
They were “special,” he said – “but not unique”.
On the opposite side of the coin, Mr Prentis lamented the re-emergence of laddism, with Donald Trump and Boris Johnson as its boorish cheerleaders.
December’s election result was a “terrifying Tory victory” that will “hit our union hard,” he said.
Yet even as the enormity of the result sank in, there were “rays of hope” – with UNISON women winning seats for Labour, following in the footsteps of UNISON member Angela Rayner.
“Hopefully, she’ll soon be Angie Rayner, the deputy leader of our Labour Party,” he added.
“We need a Labour Party in power. We have a mountain to climb, but what I won’t accept is that this election means that we have to abandon our values.
“We will not abandon our fight,” he pledged.