Dave Prentis: In an era when Theresa May holds Trump’s hand, let’s remember the vital work done by trade unions every day

Dave Prentis

 

The trade union movement is over 100 years old, and has much to be proud of.

So many of the great changes won in decades past are victories hard fought for by unions, the Labour Party and our whole movement. Whether it’s the minimum wage or rights for agency workers, maternity pay or paternity leave, annual leave or holiday pay and legal rights regardless of gender, sexuality or race – all were won in the teeth of stiff opposition from the establishment of the day.

Yet too often there can be a tendancy to look backwards to what has already been won, when there is so much to fight for today and in the future.

We’re living in a dangerous time for our politics and for our society. The historic successes of our movement are under threat while the forces of hate and division are on the rise. For those with labour values, that’s difficult to watch.

In America a man of grotesque vulgarity – who has broken all of the rules of politics, honesty, decency and morality – has been elected as president.

At home, we’re dealing the the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. UNISON backed Remain. Not because we’re a pro-European union, but because we knew that staying in Europe was the better option for our rights at work, and the services we work in.

Yet like in America, brazen lies won the day – and just as in America, intolerance is on the rise.

The years ahead will be difficult – but the years ahead are where the next battles of our movement can be fought and won. It’s when we’ll see the value of trade unions and the Labour Party. The importance of representing working people and building an alternative vision and an alternative government.

Recent weeks have shown so clearly the difference between the Tories and Labour. While Jeremy Corbyn was willing to speak truth to power on Trump, Theresa May held his hand and appeased him.

Meanwhile, on Brexit – the aftermath of which threatens to cast a shadow over the coming decade – Labour has fought to defend our rights, secure the funding promised for the NHS and ensure EU citizens have the right to remain.

The Tory Party – despite its warm words to the contrary – voted against all three.

This is why trade unionists need a Labour government; a government with our values of solidarity, compassion and equal rights for all.

Of course that’s not all we need.

We also expect assurances on the proper funding of our public services, ending the public sector pay cap, halting privatisation instead of selling off our NHS to the US health companies – and we expect our rights at work to be not just defended, but extended outside the EU.

By working together – Labour and the labour movement – we can deliver this. But the role of the union movement is about so much more than supporting and working with the Labour Party, despite that being an all too popular perception.

Despite an unprecedented onslaught against public services, UNISON still provides support, education, legal advice, training and representation for our members every single day.

In the courts we’ve won increased rights. Across the country we’ve won better pay, terms and conditions. And we’ve organised and publicised opposition to some of the most damaging attacks this government has unleashed upon our communities.

So this week, when so many have come together to say they are proud of unions and proud of the movement that built the Labour Party, let’s celebrate our joint successes and the successes to come.

Let’s remember why we fight together to change our government and our country for the better. But let’s also remember the great, often unseen but absolutely vital, work that unions and trade unionists do unheralded each and every day. Those acts of representation, support and campaigning are the foundations on which our union is built. And there is so much of it to love.

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