My year as a Community activist

An exhilarating year as a Unite Community activist

22 July 2014

By Bernadette Horton

It’s almost 12 months since I decided to join a trade union. Up until that point people like myself — full-time carers, the disabled, the unemployed and the self-employed — couldn’t join a union as we did not work in the traditional unionised workplaces.

One of the most innovative, bold decisions ever made by a union general secretary was when Len McCluskey decided to open up Unite to the community. Len instinctively knew that people in communities were suffering under the Tory imposed austerity.

He knew that people were fighting to stop community facilities from being closed, the disabled were fighting against Atos fit-to-work tests, carers were struggling on their £61.35 per week and needed a voice to get their reasonable demand for recognition and an increase in the paltry carers allowance, unemployed people were suffering due to job centre sanctions, and many working-class people were losing their homes under the bedroom tax.

So Unite Community was born to join up communities with workplaces and give people in the community a voice, education through training courses and the linguistic tools to fight back against the dark Tory forces seeking to return working-class people to a bygone age.

I grabbed my chance of Unite community membership with both hands, relishing the opportunity to play my part in changing the narrative on austerity, telling people in my community and beyond that we really do not have to take austerity on the chin, and that ordinary people like myself have the power to change this government in 2015.

So what have I learnt? One of the first things I quickly found was that I am never alone. The Unite family are always there to help. I am part of Unite Community in north Wales and my community officer Jo is always there should I have a query or require training.

She has encouraged me to embark on training courses, and to have self-belief that carers like myself have a huge role to play in shaping not only our communities but also the wider national political picture.

From community activism to public speaking courses, Unite tutors have encouraged me all the way. I have used the Unite website as a useful educational resource, and campaigned on various issues both online through social media and also out in the community.

My self-belief that I can play a part in changing things has soared and, even though I have limited mobility, I have recently taken part in campaigning against job centre sanctions on a picket line and represented Unite Wales at the Durham Miners Gala — proudly holding a banner!

Unite Community have supported me to travel to hear inspiring speeches and to learn from the likes of MPs Ian Lavery, Katy Clark and Tom Watson, and many people involved in the campaigns to save our NHS from the TTIP global corporate stitch-up.

Passing on these messages to my local community, getting more people to be involved in local campaigns and speaking out publicly myself is the only real way to tackle the rancid policies this government is foisting on the working class and the most vulnerable.

I know that myself and other proud Unite Community members will be instrumental in the task to get the Labour Party elected in 2015 and the coming months will be tough.

We expect the Tories to do the only campaigning they know best — smear the Labour Party, play on the politics of fear and talk a dirty fight.

But Cameron and his cronies are up against us now — ordinary people who are equipped to not only counteract his Etonian rhetoric, but to have real knowledge and the power to change the narrative that for the past four years has set neighbour against neighbour, poor against working poor, British-born against immigrant.

There is a growing awareness and hatred in the very communities so despised by the Tories that austerity, privatising our NHS, making zero-hours contracts the norm, producing generation rent, and ensuring wages are so low that working families are visiting foodbanks is what the Cabinet millionaires and the bankers want us ordinary people to put up with in life.

Yes, being a community member is as much about politics as it is about trade unionism for the simple reason that if Labour are not elected in 2015 we get five more years of even worse Toryism as Osborne seeks to cut billions more from the likes of us.

I like to tell Labour waverers — don’t think about the leader of the Labour Party, think about the policies he is promising: stopping the bedroom tax, making sure our NHS remains public, part-renationalising our railways, giving our kids a future with technical apprenticeships, giving 25 hours of free childcare for three and four-year-olds, putting an end to zero-hours contracts and pressing employers to pay the living wage.

Isn’t that preferable to five more years of huge cuts, making zero hours the norm and ensuring even renting is beyond our kids’ dreams? That is Toryism post-2015 — organised spivvery in action.

My first year as a Unite Community member can be summed up as exhilarating, educational, dynamic and — the most wonderful aspect that Tories will shudder at — empowering.

Unite have given me the tools to effect change and enabled me to become a real activist. Isn’t that something you would want too?

This article was originally posted in The Morning Star

Bernadette Horton blogs at