31 December 2013
New Year message: Rarely have we needed our union
Rarely have we needed our union more than now.
The cost of living rises but our pay has plummeted
in real terms. The average worker will be almost
£2,000 worse off by next year but the top
earners will be millions richer. The country is
not broke, it is just the money is in the wrong
Even the CBI chief has said business needs to
provide “better pay and more opportunities”
for their workers. It is an unexpected, if welcome,
realisation that the economy will not pick up until
people are earning money they can spend in their
communities and pay taxes that will bolster services.
Amidst the ‘big lie’ about the economy,
there is a growing realisation that this is not
about what the country can afford, it is about an
ideology of planned poverty and a low wage, low
So far, the trade unions have been almost the
only mainstream voice speaking out against the wasteful
and failed policies of austerity. We are backed
up by the Nobel Prize winning economists who actually
predicted the crash, but all we hear in the media
are the economists and politicians who didn’t
see it coming and are continuing to push their failed
Who would have thought we would have seen tens
of thousands having to rely on food banks in 2013?
More than half of those in poverty are in work.
Why do we put up with mounting child poverty when
top executives are coining it in through the recession?
The political leaders who praised the legacy of
Nelson Mandela in 2013 would do well to heed his
words from 2005: “Like slavery and apartheid,
poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can
be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human
And at a time when unions are under attack for
speaking out, they might also consider another quote
from Nelson Mandela: “You must protect and
defend your trade unions. You must make every home,
every shack and every mud structure where our people
live, a branch of the trade union movement and never
Unions didn’t cause the problem. Public services
didn’t cause the problem. It was the speculators
and the profiteers that caused the problem and they
are getting off scot-free while our services, our
jobs and our wages are paying for it.
Unions, the biggest democratic voluntary organisations
in the country, are standing up against all that
and that is why our rights and freedoms are coming
under attack. The rich vested interests don’t
want anyone speaking up for you. Neither does much
of the big-business owned media. But we are still
here and we are still speaking up.
In Edinburgh, like everywhere else, UNISON is
working hard to defend our members from the results
of austerity cuts.
This year we have won free retrospective PVG checks
for 9,000 people in Edinburgh. We have won equal
pay victories. We have won deals that mean most
people who came to the end of pay protection did
not lose out. We are fighting on for the others
still affected and we’ve commissioned an equality
study to look at the whole pay system.
We have struck a learning agreement with the council
that will allow staff to access lifelong learning
and career development in their working time.
Then there are the hundreds of members getting
individual representation along with the members
UNISON backed with legal representation at the time
when they most needed it and their jobs depended
But pay is the big issue. Members voted by just
a whisker not to take action on pay in 2013 and
we need to build with each other to find the confidence
to campaign again in 2014.
We have a great team of officers, stewards and
support staff who give of their time and energies
to deliver the best they can for members. They could
do the job with a lot more influence and strength
if we had even more members.
So let’s all make it a New Year resolution
to recruit a new member each by reminding people
of all that unions have achieved and what we stand
to lose if they are weakened ... the minimum wage,
the living wage, safety at work, maternity and paternity
rights, sick pay, employment rights (under so much
attack now), paid holidays, and much more, especially
dignity at work.
A happy and peaceful New Year to you all.