I’m sure we all wanted to start January with hopes for a better year ahead, but that’s a bit difficult when Boris Johnson is still in charge in Westminster.
What that means for working people, and all trade unionists – especially our members in UNISON who the government relies on to deliver almost every part of their pandemic response – is that they will continue to carry the burden of politicians’ failings.
Despite Boris Johnson’s years spent in politics, and the decades that some politicians have spent walking around the corridors of power in Westminster, they continue to take the work of public service workers for granted, and undermine the work of trade unionists.
We have over 1,200 branches covering thousands of workplaces, and hundreds of organisers working with our activists to mobilise, recruit and campaign. When COVID-19 has allowed me to travel around the UK, meeting members in our branches, I am always inspired by their dedication to public services and their commitment to supporting our members.
Their conversations with me are about their workplace issues, their pay and on how to get organised to win. When I stand on picket lines with our members, or when I reflect on our tenacious organising campaigns, or the millions of pounds won for members in compensation, it’s very clear why they are so misunderstood by many politicians. It’s because they always put others first.
Our members are pretty tied up in the business of saving lives, serving communities, and supporting and representing other UNISON members to make workplaces safer and fairer. Unlike Boris Johnson, wasting his time trying to cover up sleaze, our members are genuine, well-informed about their sectors and about our union, and are getting on with the real work to improve lives. More of our politicians should learn from them.
Sadly, it’s politicians’ failings that have caused the cost-of-living crisis that hits our members. This crisis is made worse by poor pay offers from governments and employers. Uncertainty about safety at work because of Omicron, and failure by governments to guarantee the right funding to get us past years of damaging pay freezes and under investment in public services, represent a daunting to-do list for our union to campaign and organise on. That list is made more daunting because of restrictive and divisive trade union laws.
But our hard-working activists, along with our sister trade unions, have always been up for the fights ahead of us and have always met new challenges that have been thrown at us. UNISON has always been able to respond, because our actions are dynamic. We’re industrial when we’re focused on organising in workplaces and in our bargaining and negotiating. We’re political when we influence parliament and devolved governments. We show our knowledge and experience when we take on legal battles. We offer a service when we represent members in the workplace, and we support our members with our There for You charity and our UNISON Direct helpline. There is space for all this work in our great union, to make sure we deliver for every single member, and to make sure we grow.
When you look at the state of the government now, and the awful trade union legislation we have in the UK, that’s all the motivation our movement needs to get united, recruit more trade unionists, mobilise our existing members, organise to win and to get rid of this government of sleaze and cronyism.