Speaking to delegates at UNISON’s annual health conference in Bournemouth today (Tuesday), UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:
“The UK is four days away from a catastrophic no-deal Brexit. The future of the country is in the hands of Theresa May’s flying circus, the clowns and the somersaulting politicians. It’s absolute Mayhem, from indicative votes to meaningful votes, from barneys with Barnier to rucks with Tusk.
“The Prime Minister’s circus would be comical if it weren’t so serious. This last year has witnessed the demise of our politics, and the rise in division, anger and distrust.
“To UNISON, the Good Friday Agreement and peace in Northern Ireland is paramount. While the result of the referendum must be respected, the UK must have a grown-up relationship with Europe.
“There’s no such thing as a left-wing no-deal Brexit. That’s a contradiction in terms. A no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for public services, and if the only choice is a bad deal or no deal then it must be for the people to decide.
“But more than anything what the UK really needs is a general election. That would clear the deadlock and the Conservatives from power. An election would allow the country to deal with austerity, homelessness, grinding child poverty, universal credit and the indignity of the two-child limit, with devastating cuts to care services and to the NHS.
“Across the country UNISON health members have been at the forefront of the battle against subsidiary companies – in Leeds, Leicester, Mid Yorkshire, Tees, Esk and Wear, Rotherham, Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh – they took them on and won.
“NHS managers, politicians and big business must learn, health staff want to work for the NHS, not Rentokil or Carillion. They’re proud to work for the NHS, they don’t want to be part of an offshoot, a tax loophole or a sub-co.
“Elsewhere in the NHS, other UNISON health members are fighting to keep services in-house – the cleaners at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, and others now employed by private companies taking industrial action to secure the NHS wages they deserve.
“These are the people who work for Sodexo at Wythenshawe Hospital, IFM in Bolton, and OCS at Liverpool Women’s Hospital. Thanks to their efforts those workers employed by private companies are now earning an NHS salary for their NHS work.
“They’re making a stand for what is right and what’s fair. That’s why I want to make it crystal clear to the next Labour government that all privatisation and outsourcing of the NHS be ended immediately. That on day one, all services and all people are brought back in-house, back where they belong, back in the NHS.
“UNISON is the UK’s biggest union and the fastest growing in Europe. Last year it helped secure a living wage for tens of thousands of low-paid workers in the NHS – a life-changing pay deal for cleaners, cooks and carers.
“Now the fight is on to restore in full the thousands of pounds NHS staff lost under years of pay austerity and to achieve the same pay deal that everyone in our NHS has earned for health workers in Northern Ireland, and those working for private contractors. They will not be left behind.
“The government may have ground to a halt but UNISON hasn’t. It has marched on, leading the fight against racism. Since the EU referendum, attitudes everyone thought were fading are now back with a vengeance, with new faces spouting age-old hatreds.
“Sometimes the fight against bigotry, racism, xenophobia, islamophobia and anti-semitism can feel like an uphill struggle. But if we are bold, strong and have hope we can win.
“But if we keep our heads down, keep it safe, bow to the wishes of the rich and powerful the result will be dire. It will be narrow-minded nationalism and a no-deal Brexit.
“UNISON has always opposed hate and always will. It tackled Nick Griffin’s BNP, the rise of UKIP and the EDL, and now it’s time to deal with the hateful violence of the Football Lads Alliance, and the toxic Tommy Robinson. When they take to the streets, so will UNISON. It will stand in their way and stand up for what is right.”