Unions aren’t at the end of their journey – they still have so much more to give

Dave Prentis

In recent years, unions have come under attack. Successive Conservative Prime Ministers have systematically targeted our movement. We’ve seen the Trade Union Act limiting unions’ ability to take action and campaign on behalf of their members. There’s also the Lobbying Act, which has hit legitimate campaigning organisations like UNISON far harder than the lobbyists who were assumed to be its target. Everything from strike action to unions’ political funds has been affected.

The Conservative Party is without a shadow of a doubt an opponent of trade unionism. That’s why working people need a Labour government committed to ending these attacks on their cherished rights. Yet despite this inhospitable climate, it is still possible to do the vital work of standing up for working people. In fact, when faced with such a government, it’s more important than ever that unions have the strength to fight back.

That’s why I’m so proud that UNISON continues to have a track record of delivering for working people – both for our members who work in public services and more broadly. UNISON is the union that defeated employment tribunal fees in the Supreme Court – and the union that will be returning to that same court to fight for the rights of sleep-in care workers in the coming months. We led the fight for a statutory minimum wage, against opposition from employers and even some in the union movement – and now we lead the fight for a real living wage for all.

UNISON negotiators ensured last year’s NHS pay deal lifted more than 100,000 low-paid workers above the real living wage – the largest single rise in history. We were also the first union to back Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to become Labour leader, and we continue to work with him to deliver the policies that will revitalise public services into the next manifesto.

From universal credit to equal pay, we continue to fight on the issues that matter to our 1.3 million members, a million of them women. Campaigning for respect and equality for all, tackling racism and anti-semitism wherever it arises. I’m proud of those achievements – but to keep on winning for working people, our movement needs to grow. That’s a historic challenge and one that UNISON has shown to be more than capable of meeting.

Despite everything that has been thrown at it, UNISON is the biggest union in the country and continues to grow. It makes me incredibly proud to say that, because I know what it means. It means despite a decade of austerity, pay cuts, job losses and attacks on the public sector, UNISON has remained strong.

It hasn’t been easy – far from it. But it shows that the doom-mongers and naysayers who claimed trade unionism in this country was on its last legs are wrong. There is a vibrant future for organised labour in the UK, though we have to work hard for it – in our campaigning, our representation, our lobbying, our industrial action and our recruitment.

The Tories aren’t going to make life easier for working people. They never have done. Every victory our movement has won has been hard-fought, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. However, the tales of woe that often get repeated about unions are false. Our movement is more than 150 years old. Unions aren’t at the end of their journey – they still have so much more to give and achieve.

And with our collective shoulders to the wheel, we can win – with Labour – for working people, for public services, for our communities and for our country. UNISON is determined for that to happen as we work together to build a better future for us all.

This piece was commissioned by Labour Together, which is guest editing LabourList this week.

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