Faced with Tory governments, working people have always had to fight for their rights
UNISON has a long and proud history of winning for people who work in our public services. And every day, union members, activists and staff defend, protect and support the 1.3 million people that work in our communities, our NHS, our local services and our schools.
UNISON and the wider union movement has a huge amount to be proud of but — understandably in these difficult times — we often dwell only on the difficulties, not the victories; only on the struggles, not the successes.
UNISON members are the champions of our public services. Whatever sector they work in, whether they’re working on the front line or behind the scenes — they are the backbone of our communities and of our nation.
Each day in the schools where our children learn, in the health service that keeps us well, or in the care homes that help us in old age — and in plenty of other workplaces — UNISON members make Britain tick.
I’m proud the union is still going strong despite a near decade-long onslaught against public services. It’s still providing support, education, legal advice, training and representation for our members (which include more than a million women) every single day.
So many of the great changes won in decades past are victories hard fought for by our union and our movement. Whether it’s the minimum wage or rights for agency workers, maternity pay or paternity leave, annual leave or holiday pay, they are all legal rights regardless of gender, sexuality or race.
Yet right now many of those victories — hard won by unions — are under threat as a result of Brexit and the government’s unwillingness to commit to their protection. Theresa May has stated that the rights of the British people — including employment laws — will be preserved once we have left the EU. And yet she and her party have opposed repeated attempts to meaningfully guarantee those rights.
Last month Labour MP Melanie Onn presented a thorough bill in the Commons which, if passed, would have enshrined all existing workers rights in EU law.
It was filibustered in Parliament. Tory MPs talked the bill out of time in a desperate attempt to ensure our rights can be diluted in EU negotiations.
And then last week, when the Prime Minister had an opportunity to make good on her promise and commit to ensuring our rights aren’t eroded or obliterated in those same negotiations, she whipped her party to vote against.
This was incredibly disappointing but not surprising.
The history of working people in this country is a story of fighting for rights when they were denied. It is a record, repeated time and again, of demanding change. Tory governments are not, it has to be said, prone to extending or defending our rights at work off their own bat.
So in the months and years ahead, unions will once again fight for the rights of our members and all working people. For the rights we currently have and the rights we deserve. There will be future victories for our movement that will make the lives of millions better.
There will be a great deal more to be proud of, and a great deal more about this movement to cherish.
So in this week when we remember the importance of unions, let’s celebrate our successes. But lets also prepare ourselves for the challenges to come.
Dave Prentis is the general secretary of UNISONSign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.