New Year message: Rarely have we needed our union more

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 place.

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 skill economy.

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 strategies.

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 beings”.

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 surrender”.

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 on it.

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.

John Stevenson
Branch President