I’ve been writing messages at this time of year – thanking the amazing public service workers who keep our communities running – for more than 20 years – and none have been this difficult, or written in such extraordinary circumstances.
Although the same dedication and sacrifice is just as evident this Christmas and new year holiday as every year, this time, for me, it’s very different for two reasons.
Firstly, and obviously, 2020 is like no other year. This year’s Christmas holidays, such as they remain given the varying levels of restrictions we now face across the UK, come at the end of a year when UNISON members have worked under the most extraordinary circumstances vitally contributing to the most monumental national effort to fight COVID-19.
They’ve kept the country running and been recognised by the public as the amazing key workers that they are – something we’ve been saying for decades.
And their contribution now, as we encounter a new variant of COVID-19 and an explosion of infections in parts of the country together with increased restrictions on all our lives over Christmas and well into the new year – is as vital and as necessary as it has ever been since this all started.
Our public service workers are the key workers and they will see us through this latest crisis as they have done all the others that have come before.
For our UNISON branches and the thousands of lay activists who support our members and drive our union’s democracy, this year has also meant new challenges and new ways of working. I’ve been so proud to see how you’ve responded and how our union has stepped up to the challenge. And I know that they and UNISON, will continue to get us through this latest crisis.
And this Christmas, as always, in hospitals, care homes, police stations and thousands of workplaces around the country, UNISON members will again be working around the clock, under increased restrictions both at work and back at home, serving our communities and our loved ones as they always do.
The other reason this year is different for me is that I retire after 20 years as UNISON general secretary at the end of this month.
Meeting our members and our activists has always been the most rewarding part of this job. And at this time of year, when the days are shorter, the weather is colder and the rest of the country has multiple bank holidays to look forward to, the sheer determination, passion and commitment of UNISON members always shines brighter than ever.
I honestly believe you do not appreciate the invaluable work you do. And times like these throws that dedication into even sharper relief.
But after 20 years as your general secretary – and many more working for our union movement – it’s time for me to pass the baton onto someone else. But rest assured I leave you as your general secretary feeling as proud of you and this union as I ever have.
So for one last time, whether you’re able to see loved ones on Christmas Day, or you’re out gritting our streets, or driving around your community caring for those who can’t care for themselves during this awful pandemic, thank you.
Thank you for everything you do for all of us, today and the other 364 days of the year. You are the heart of this union. You’re the glue that holds our fractured communities together, and whatever comes down the road in 2021 your union will be here for you. There will be a new general secretary but the UK’s biggest union will always be on your side.
For the final time from me, happy Christmas and all the very best wishes for the new year to you, your families and everyone who relies on the vital public services you provide.