“We cannot sit by whilst our communities are under attack – we can & must combine forces to take action & support each other.”Ruth Hayes
By Ruth Hayes
Many thanks for the invitation to speak this evening – such an exciting line up and at a time when Trades Unions are really setting the agenda and offering hope to our communities.
I represent workers in the Community, Youth Work and Not for Profit sector on Unite’s Executive Council, and I am part of the campaign to defend London’s bus services.
Unite has members in almost every sector of the economy, and we are seeing huge levels of activity around pay and conditions – in the last year, we have been involved in over 302 disputes affecting over 50,000 members. Unite is winning around three quarters of disputes, and that’s despite the anti union legislation that makes it so difficult for people to organise.
In our recent rounds of internal elections, we saw a number of younger workers from diverse communities come forward to take up committee roles, and there is a new energy and willingness to campaign which reflects the unprecedented situation we are in.
I won’t list all the disputes, but our health workers are currently being balloted – as with other groups, these are workers who were lauded during the height of the pandemic, and who are now being offered a real terms pay cut. We have a dispute at Felixstowe docks which is very significant, with high levels of international solidarity, and of course there is action on pay across many industries.
The bus campaign shows how it is possible to bring together communities and trade unionists and engage a wide coalition in fighting for decent services. As a result of the lack of investment from Government, there are threats to axe 250 London buses, and 16 routes across the capital, with devastating impact on jobs and services.
London wide, Unite members have contacted their local MPs, written to the local press, talked to passengers on buses, organised marches and told people about how to respond to the consultation. Locally in my area, our Council’s Labour Group has set up a petition and produced materials which local party activists have used in doorknocking and at street stalls, and we had a very well attended public meeting – we brought together older people, young people, disabled people and those who rely on the bus for essential journeys, as well as trades union reps and politicians, and had some great contributions from people who spoke out at the meeting and who have put up their own posters at bus stops. These were not people we have seen at previous meetings and there has been huge public support.
The Unite campaign across London has seen great engagement by Unite Community members, as well as from disabled people’s organisations, and there was recently a rally and march which ended up in a protest at Transport for London’s offices. There is another march on Saturday and a rally on 6 September – please do come along! The deadline for responding to Transport for London has now passed, and there has been a very high level of response, but people can still contact Grant Shapps to tell him their views.
The Tories have tried to divide striking workers from the wider public, but obviously, in reality we have common cause and it is vital that we build practical solidarity with disputes. The general public can now see very clearly that there are huge profits being made in a number of industries whilst workers are getting real term pay cuts and customers are paying higher and higher prices. We have a rare opportunity to hear strong trade union voices on the news and the reception for people like Mick Lynch has been amazing.
Decades of austerity have already cut services to the bone, and meant that real wages have fallen and so we are in a worse position than we have been in living memory. Many young workers have high levels of student debt, rents are rising and our social security system and pensions no longer offer any security.
There is real fear as well as anger in communities at the moment – I was recently elected as a Councillor and along with many other councils, we are having to look at how we provide spaces where people can keep warm during this autumn and winter. Food banks are struggling as donations are dropping whilst demand is escalating – there is a need for radical solutions which offer genuine change and which are focused on how we ensure that everyone has the basic essentials for a decent life.
It’s extremely encouraging to see trade unions and community groups coming together, and the focus on inclusive campaigns such as Enough is Enough which defend the working class in its entirety.
We cannot sit by whilst our communities are under attack – we can and must combine forces to take action and support each other. As Jeremy Corbyn said “I want a society where everyone cares for everyone else and an economy that works for all” – that’s a prize worth fighting for, and one which we can win.