I have been fortunate enough to have held the post of Branch Secretary for Barnet UNISON for 13 years and during the last seven years we have been organising our fight against a mass outsourcing ideology which now calls itself a “Commissioning Council.”
The last seven years have provided me with a ‘coal face’ experience of organising a broad based community campaign with limited resources. Despite the odds we have managed to maintain a positive approach to these serious challenges. Our branch has learnt from other branches and embraced innovative ways to mobilise and publicise our numerous campaigns.
I know just how it feels when wave after wave of cuts and/or outsourcing land at the door of the branch office and members & reps look for a response.
I know from talking to UNISON branches across the UK just how hard it is to try and mobilise a workforce that feels powerless in the face of the ongoing austerity measures.
Since the general election our worst fears are starting to materialise. The recent Osborne budget has targeted public services for extinction and on top of that the government has submitted the Trade Union Reform Bill designed with one end – to finish off the trade union movement.
It is clear to me that the government still believes the trade unions are their final obstacle to ending public services.
We have a government committed to the destruction of our National Health Service and all our public services. This is also a government ruthlessly committed to dividing and ruling the working class by encouraging racism, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant prejudice. I believe that UNISON must stand against this Government, in support of public services and equality and against all forms of discrimination.
The odds may not seem good, and perhaps that is because our union has not yet woken up to the potential that exists amongst the rank and file activists within UNISON. But I genuinely believe we have great talent and experience within our union to organise a positive and coordinated successful response to the austerity agenda.
We are organising in a world which is very different from when UNISON first emerged and our union needs to change, and change quickly, if we are going to be able to defend our members and public services. One of things that needs to change quickly is to encourage branches to talk to each other and share experiences to become more effective.
I believe the experience of this year’s UNISON conferences, including the recalled Local Government UNISON conference, and the incredible numbers of people who turned out to the June Anti-Austerity demo show that a large number of our activists understand we are living in desperate times.
One example of this quickly changing mood is the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leadercampaign – it has captured the mood across the country showing that people have had enough of the politics of despair and really believe that there is an alternative to austerity.
Organise or die
It is the simple realisation that if we do not organise now, very many of us will not be around in the next couple of years, nor will the services we are so passionate about. Public services are buckling under the strain of continued austerity attacks and the communities we are part of, and which we serve, are suffering. The Tories have declared war on the public sector and on working class people in general. I believe this means our union has to radically change its tack – we need to start telling the Labour Party what we want and, while as a Labour Party member this is something I have been doing locally, we need to do more of it nationally.
From my experience of fighting for our members in Barnet I know we need to fight back seriously when we are under attack. We need to do the same thing nationally – not just call a token day’s strike and then back down. UNISON hasn’t done as well for its members as it should have in the last five years – as a General Secretary with experience at the sharp end at branch level I will give a stronger lead.
I want to increase the confidence of our lay activists to lead the campaigns we need by releasing the support and resources they need.
It is patently clear branches need more resources and in particular a greater share of the subscriptions. Branches need to have the resources to be able respond to the relentless assaults on our members in the workplace & the attacks on facility time and office accommodation costs.
We also need a change in culture in terms of support. We need to look at what we can do for branches rather than what we can’t do.
In Barnet I am used to fighting and organising against the odds, building alliances with our community and across other trade unions.
I want to encourage and promote a coordination of fight backs where possible, both within our union and with other unions and campaigns. In Barnet we were able to do this with Bromley UNITE and UNISON and the PCS at the National Gallery so that in spite of our separate issues we all came out on strike on Osborne’s budget day.
With a hostile Government encouraging rogue employers to victimise our activists, UNISON also needs to stand up for our people like never before. As a General Secretary who knows what it is like on the front line, I will make sure UNISON uses all its strength to defend every activist facing victimisation.
This is why I believe we need to elect a UNISON lay rep for this challenge which is why I am standing as a candidate for UNISON general secretary.
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