Today, delegates at UNISON’s national conference in Manchester received a heartfelt message of thanks from Burmese pro-democracy campaigner, Aung San Suu Kyi – who was given lifetime membership of the union at conference six years ago. You can see the full message here.
Even in troubled times, trade unions have a long history of stretching their hands across international waters in solidarity with our brothers and sisters fighting for fairness and democracy overseas. As citizens of the world we ‘are all together in our struggle to survive as human beings and fellow workers’ – as Aung San Suu Kyi said in her message. And fighting for the freedom of political prisoners is central to this struggle. There are still thousands in Burma, many of whom are trade unionists and labour activists, who we will keep campaigning for.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s video message paid tribute to the support given to her by UNISON, and trade unions all over the world. Over the last fifteen years, members have signed petitions, marched, lobbied MPs, protested, and raised much needed funds, and have even met with refugees and trade unionists on the border with Thailand.
Her moving speech also reminded us that protecting workers rights are fundamental to creating a decent society. Her experience is a reminder of how far we have come in the UK – we take basic rights for granted, such as the right to form a union, the protection of the minimum wage, and now paternity leave for new fathers.
And her courage, strength and determination are an inspiration to us all in the fights that we have on our hands now – fighting for the NHS, for dignity in retirement, for workers rights, and against the Tory’s hard and fast cuts that threaten the institutions that bind us together as a society.
Aung San Suu Kyi expressed hope that she will one day be able to join us in a protest – and I join her in hoping that we will one day be able to share in her victory.
I also ask you to join me in paying tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as to all those who campaign for justice and fairness across the world.