New Year message from John Stevenson, Branch President: Is it too optimistic to say we began to turn the tide in 2012? Well, maybe you have to be an optimist to be a union activist, but there has been much for the Branch to be proud of in 2012.
It was a year that saw the last of the mass privatisations thrown out following a fantastic UNISON and community campaign. The importance of that victory for Edinburgh and the whole of Scotland cannot be overestimated.
After years of hard work and legal action, UNISON achieved equal pay compensation offers for almost 3,000 workers in Edinburgh. These are still being paid out and will continue to be for some time yet.
We won a Living Wage of £7.50 an hour from 1 January 2013. The new Labour/SNP coalition was as good as its word when it responded to our campaign and the Living Wage will benefit many low paid workers. The next step is to campaign to get the same for contractors’ staff and in the community and voluntary sector. Why stop there? We need to take the argument out to encourage all employers in Edinburgh to come on board.
And let’s not forget one-to-one representation. Hundreds of members have been represented by stewards and officers over the year, often in very difficult circumstances and sometimes in the face of media misrepresentation.
We also looked beyond our local issues. The Branch has been honoured to work with our colleagues in the London Borough of Barnet who are facing almost the whole council being sold off. Our international links continue and, for example, Matthew Crighton’s work with the Edinburgh World Justice Festival is highly valued.
With a new outlook from the Council, the branch is re-visiting the partnership policy it set back in 2000 to try to involve workers more, improve services and stave off the worst effects of the cuts facing us.
And at home we need to get involved in Scotland’s constitutional debate. Not on the basis of flags, borders or lists of powers in Edinburgh and London. But on the basis of what politicians intend to do with these powers to protect public services, improve rights at work, build full employment and make Scotland a more equal place. If we miss the opportunity to put those things at the top of the agenda, whether people vote yes or no may make very little difference to building a fairer Scotland.
The progress in 2012 is all the more encouraging because we have a relatively new officer team in place. Two seasoned leaders and negotiators left in 2012. Agnes Petkevicius took well-earned retirement and Kevin Duguid went on to a well-merited full time job with the union. Irene Heggie left the Recruitment Officer post after putting so much energy and commitment into it.
No branch can lose all that skill and experience without an effect. But those who have stood up to the mark have shown a great talent for organising, for willingness to learn, for bringing skills and knowledge to the task and for real commitment to the union and its members – and most of all for trying to instil a real team culture.
It has been a huge transition for the branch support staff too who, as usual, show year in year out that this is not just a job, it is a cause they are committed to.
Austerity isn’t working – spread the word!
Amidst this progress, times are still hard. After three successive cuts of £90 million over three year periods, the Council does not have its troubles to seek. Austerity measures from Westminster and Holyrood are destroying services and livelihoods but they are not making the economy better. They are making it worse.
It is all the more reason we need to urge the Council to stand up for the essential local services we all rely on – and work with us to ensure there is something there to build on when times get better. The alternative would be services lost to a generation or forever.
UNISON warned that cuts would bring a double dip recession. We were right. We warned that job cuts in the public sector would damage local economies and would not create growth. We were right. The fact is that the country is not less wealthy than it was, the money has just polarised with the gap between rich and poor widening.
We all need to take those arguments into our families and communities to put an end to the myth that public services were the cause of the financial crisis. On the contrary, investing in good public services is a major part of the solution.
We face many challenges in 2013. The living wage is welcome but a 1% offer is not going to make up for years of pay cuts. It will help, but it will not solve the problem of the men and women set to lose out in October when ‘Modernising Pay’ protection runs out. Many of those people are the very ones keeping our services going over the festive holiday.
Officers and stewards are working hard on a ‘Dignity at Work’ initiative among other plans to improve conditions at work. We are also working on ways to better represent the voluntary sector and other bodies.
On the evidence of 2012, Edinburgh UNISON is well placed to meet those challenges. But that will depend on members’ support and on them becoming active in their union – and signing up new members.
A Happy and Peaceful New Year to you all – and why not make this year the one when you decide to become a UNISON steward!
See also UNISON Scottish Secretary Mike Kirby’s New Year message at http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/news/2012/novdec/3112.htm