Addressing the union’s annual conference in Liverpool today (Wednesday), UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said:
“This year thousands of public sector workers in UNISON have voted for strike action. Environment Agency, CQC and university staff are still in dispute.
“Local government workers in England and Wales are currently voting for strike action, with others to follow in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“Council services are too often overlooked. It’s only when there’s no one to fill the potholes or empty the bins that anyone notices. When there are no urgent care packages available or no support for pupils with special needs that anyone realises the importance of local services.
“During the ballot there’s a simple message – vote for strike action. Not just for better pay, but to save essential services and shine a spotlight on their chronic underfunding.
“The strikes involving UNISON NHS workers captured attention and their action won the hearts of the public. The ‘yes’ votes piled pressure on mediocre ministers, who buried their heads in the sand and hoped the dispute would go away.
“The threat of strikes at almost every ambulance service in England, blood and transplant services, Great Ormond Street, the Tavistock and Portman, and Liverpool hospitals made clear the seriousness of the dispute.
“The government was forced to come to the table and put more money on it. Strikers braved freezing weather, standing up for what’s right. Not only for themselves, but for the future of the NHS. The public could see the importance of what they were doing.
“But it’s not just industrial action that changes history. UNISON sorts out wage problems that have persisted for years – for example, winning a low-paid healthcare assistant a life-changing £17,000 in back pay.
“There are also successful insourcing campaigns. At Barts Hospital Trust in London, 1,800 staff were brought back into the NHS. And in Lanarkshire, 400 staff are once more part of the NHS family.
“It’s happening in local government too. There’s a huge re-organisation in North Yorkshire, where UNISON’s leading negotiations to improve conditions. In South Lanarkshire, the union’s won a regrading for homecare workers, pushing their hourly rate to over £16 an hour.
“But wins like these don’t happen by themselves. Too often negotiations go unnoticed. Staff think their employer’s handed them a better deal from the goodness of their heart.
“If this government had a heart, there’d already be a functioning care service. UNISON’s just launched a roadmap to a national care service. The next task is to get a future Labour government to make this happen.
“This year is the year of black workers in UNISON. The Empire Windrush landed in the UK 75 years ago. And a few weeks later, the NHS was born. The NHS wouldn’t be celebrating its 75th birthday this year, if that ship hadn’t docked in Tilbury.
“This is a year for important anniversaries – Neville and Doreen Lawrence are being awarded honorary membership of UNISON, marking the 30th anniversary of the tragic murder of their son, Stephen.
“Today’s also the sixth anniversary of the Grenfell disaster, a tragedy that should never have happened. One caused by corporate greed and negligence and a government that put profit ahead of regulation and safety.
“The government is intent on restricting union power and taking away workers’ rights. But unions remain strong and defiant in the face of anti-union legislation, now making the UK one of the most difficult places in the democratic world to strike.
“This could be the last conference before a general election. It’s a chance to shape the future. Public services are a shelter protecting and supporting communities. Its workers are guardians, always looking out for others, making sure key services are working to protect everyone. UNISON will always be there to protect them and keep public services going, creating a kinder, fairer society.”
Notes to editors:
– Today is the second day of UNISON’s annual conference, which this year is in Liverpool. The event runs until Friday. Further details about the four-day event can be found here.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.
The article Public services can help create a kinder, fairer society, says UNISON first appeared on the UNISON National site.