I have worn a number of different union hats over the years but
this is my first time as a Branch Secretary. It has been a bit of
a rollercoaster experience, especially since a few weeks earlier, I was also elected for the first time as a London Borough Councillor as well.
Two key events during the year were the Notting Hill Strike (see Chair’s report) - the first strike in our sector in decades and our first National UNISON Conference for the Community and Voluntary sector. Meanwhile our branch is one of the biggest in London and the Southeast and still growing. Our finances are in better shape than they have been in a long time. We are thinking about moving the branch office to somewhere central and accessible. While most of us will be bitterly disappointed at the election of this new government at least locally in London the BNP scourge were wiped out.
However, let us be in no doubt that all of us are facing a horrible year ahead. Most of you already have experienced zero or below inflation pay awards which has meant a cut in real terms. Some employers have even increased hours and cut basic pay. In parts of the housing and social care sector, we are facing a race to the bottom for staff terms and conditions. Of course we understand that decent employers are facing huge problems by being undercut by “minimum wage” cowboys. However, some employers appear to be using this as an excuse to do whatever they want. Amazingly some employers are even trying to de-recognise
unions. Collective bargaining is a fundamental human right. Full stop. Any employer that tries to de-recognise is not only anti-union but will also be condemned for attacking human rights and basic freedoms of association.
Our residents are also about to feel the full force of the Coalition cuts. We will be expected to be evicting not only the long term unemployed when their housing benefit is cut but also lone parents whose children have left home and are now deemed to be “over occupying”. New development is shot to pieces due to the Cuts while the proposed 80% market rates for new homes will mean in the future that there will be no such thing as affordable housing for low income families.
Meanwhile there are 5 million on the housing waiting list. Many living in appalling conditions. There is an alternative to all this. We must constantly remind ourselves that this recession was not caused by over paid public sector lollypop ladies but by entirely avoidable failures in the Banking system. Instead of massive cuts the deficit should be tackled by a fairer taxation system and government policies that promote growth. We also need to turn ourselves into a campaigning and organising union at all levels. The TUC have organised a national protest in Central London on Saturday 26th March. Please try and make sure that every union member possible (and their families) turns up to support this protest. We shall be there with the branch banner.
We desperately need to increase the number of union members in each employer to at least 50% of total and increase the number of trained stewards and safety reps. Our target is at least one rep in every workplace or area. We need to hold regular workplace meetings of members and reps. Reps from across the employer need to meet together and plan. There should be timetabled Joint consultative committees and joint health & safety committees with management. We need to communicate better with members and utilise both old and new media. Produce regular local newsletters as well as blogs. We want to research and develop practical, convincing arguments not dogma. We need to form alliances with other unions, with resident and community groups. We need to use our political funds to lobby Ministers, MP’s, Boris, London Assembly members, Regulators, Councillors and Boards.
Our UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis told Conference last year that “our time has come...trade unions were not created for the good times... but for the hard times”. We now live in hard times and the simple choice is that if we do nothing these hard times will just get much, much worse. We won’t win all our battles but by organising, by campaigning - we can help protect members jobs, we can successfully fight
to preserve our terms and conditions, we can build a momentum that will delivery on pay.
Please recruit a work colleague to the union, volunteer to become steward, write an article for a newsletter, help organise a local meeting – then with your family join UNISON on the TUC March in March.
John Gray (Photo on cover of Annual Report is of Branch Labour Link Members at our House of Commons event last year supporting the UNISON Million Voices Campaign)