This year was dominated by the independence referendum, pay, and the continuing savage cuts to local government. UNISON City of Edinburgh Branch played a major campaigning role in all three.
We ran a hustings early in the referendum campaign and activists on both sides campaigned to ensure that public services and social justice were at the forefront of the debate. Independence, or even the new powers under devolution, are worthless unless politicians are prepared to use the powers to tackle poverty and inequality.
Nowhere does that stand out more than in local government. 40,000 jobs have been lost across Scotland with services cut to the bone. People outsourced by local councils to care for the most vulnerable are paid poverty wages. Even more cuts are to come with more jobs lost and those left behind facing intolerable stresses to keep services going.
It is a disgrace that, amidst all that, politicians line up to criticise local councils while at the same time starving them of the funds they need. The fact is that, independence or enhanced devolution aside, the powers are there to do something about these cuts now. All it takes is politicians with the will to use them.
But there have been successes. We have won the living wage for council staff and the campaign goes on to win the living wage for workers in procured services.
In her first year as branch secretary Amanda Kerr has shown great leadership and built a new outlook on organisation in the branch with members’ surgeries and a ‘member benefits day’ that saw a surge in recruitment.
Lead officers Tam McKirdy, Tom Connolly, David Harrold and the others in the team held dozens of workplace meetings to campaign around the pay claim. Members voted to accept new proposals arising out of the action threat. The importance of winning a return to proper collective bargaining cannot be over-estimated.
In May we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the hugely significant and successful nursery nurses strikes in 2003/2004, with leaders Agnes Petkevicius and Barbara Foubister returning for the event. At the same time we marked 30 years since the miners’ strike along with activists like Rab Amos who had been part of that historic year-long action.
Led by Health and Safety Officer Dave McConnell, we also took part in events marking the 30th anniversary of the Bhopal industrial disaster that killed 25,000 and continues to damage generations.
The branch has had a host of issues to deal with. Examples include holiday pay cases, job evaluation at Edinburgh College, roadworkers’ dispute, lobbies against cuts, a victory on electronic monitoring, home care rotas, pre-retirement issues, overtime and equality, reviews and reorganisations, health and social care integration and hundreds of individual cases for members in their time of need. My thanks go to the whole service conditions team for the unsung work that they do.
UNISON needs to be a campaigning union, not just one that represents individuals, but one that speaks up for public services and the people who deliver them. A key to enabling us to do that is UNISON’s unique political fund and members realised that by voting by a huge majority in 2014 to keep the fund.
As UNISON members, you are the people who stand up for public services and you know how important they are to the people of Edinburgh. At a time when so many just selfishly look out for themselves – then moan when the services they and their families need are not there – you are the people who hold the high moral ground and work for and defend the services that hold a decent society together.
On behalf of UNISON City of Edinburgh Branch I thank you all in the council, associated bodies and voluntary and community sector for all that you do for the people of Edinburgh. Please have a happy and peaceful New Year.