This year I have been very pleased to receive invites to attend the first meetings of three different campaign forums.
First there was one for branches in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. Last week the Essex Campaign Forum met for the first time and this week the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Forum had its inaugural meeting.
Each campaign forum allows branches to come together and share ideas, pool resources and plan campaigns on issues that are important to their members. Regional staff also attend and support the roll out of the campaigns.
The forums are great examples of why our union is so strong. UNISON is far greater than the sum of its parts. We are not a loose federation of branches. We are one union that has collective strength because our activists and staff work so well together to deliver the priorities democratically agreed by our members.
Unsurprisingly, campaigning against the public-sector pay freeze has been identified as a top priority.
Ten years of pay freezes and pay cuts meant that our members’ pay has not kept pace with inflation. In the last 13 months, workers in the NHS, local government, education, and emergency services have kept us all safe and kept the country on its feet.
The government cannot credibly tell these workers how much they are valued while refusing to give them a pay rise.
But pay wont be the only focus. There was a real enthusiasm to run broader campaigns in defence of our public services.
In UNISON, we don’t only want well-funded public services because they employ our members: we campaign for them because we know how vital they are in our members’ lives.
When Essex County Council tried to close nearly all its libraries or Suffolk County Council proposed to slash their children’s centres we launched powerful campaigns against them – not just because our members would lose jobs but because we knew our members and their families relied on these crucial services. We recently led the campaign against Cambridgeshire Constabulary making half its PCSOs redundant because we knew it made the communities less safe for everyone.
Public services – and the workers that deliver them – face a multiplicity of challenges. The good news is that we are a strong, growing union with a clear commitment to fight for a fairer society.