December 2013 update - Peter Kavanagh's column

December 2013 update – Peter Kavanagh’s column

23 December 2013

unite members marchingA year of progress, in spite of the Con-Dem government
It is only human nature to reflect back over the past 12 months as we approach the year’s end. It’s been a year of continued progress for Unite, despite repeated attacks on our union by the Con-Dem government.

If you only took your news from the mainstream press and broadcasters, you might imagine the year was dominated by a setback for Unite at Grangemouth. Of course, there was much more to the story than was reported in the media. Few reports drew the true picture of the situation - a business group, intent only on maximising profit, holding thousands of workers to ransom.

A great many other battles have been won on other fronts, particularly in our London and Eastern region.     
Unite won a resounding victory for blacklisted workers at Crossrail. We are continuing to work to put an end to blacklisting in the building industry once and for all. The union is involved in legal actions in support of victimised workers and to hold employers to account.

We made a significant advance in our struggle to gain recognition for Unite at the new port, London Gateway. After six months’ sustained, imaginative campaigning, we have been given access to dockworkers in the port. It shows how Unite’s leverage campaigns can be stunningly effective and bring employers to their senses.

There are hundreds of other examples - some of them reported on our news pages - where Unite members have stood firm and gained victories. In the week before Christmas, our members at the State Bank of India, found that simply calling for a ballot persuaded the company to pay long overdue bonuses.  

In the same way, at the UPS depot in Camden, a threat to strike on the Friday before Christmas, finally persuaded management to sit down and talk. Meetings at Acas in the new year will, I hope, put a stop to unacceptable working practices.

Our growing membership
Underlying all those individual signs of progress, Unite’s 100% Strategy for Growth has been flowing like a river, bringing in new members.  Our London & Eastern total for new joiners stands at over 20,000. Thank you to all who have contributed to this!

People's Inquiry identAll this has been happening against a backdrop of the Con-Dem government intent only on imposing austerity and worse, punishing the weakest and most vulnerable. That’s why our region is defending our health service through its backing for the People’s Inquiry for London’s NHS, seeking a Fair Deal for Public Services and campaigning against the changes in Council Tax Benefit.

In-work poverty
If there was one recent event which makes me want us to redouble our efforts in 2014, it was the Labour Opposition debate on foodbanks just a week before Christmas. Up to one-and-a-half million people have been referred to foodbanks in the last year, many of them in work. Is there a better reason to back Unite’s call for an immediate increase in the Minimum Wage?

It all adds to the evidence of growing in-work poverty encouraged by the Con-Dem government’s backing for a low-wage recovery. That can only add more weight to London & Eastern’s campaign for cleaners, maintenance workers and everyone who works to keep London operating to receive at least the London Living Wage. Expect to read more about that in the New Year.

In the meantime, I wish the entire Unite family a Happy Christmas. Have an enjoyable holiday and let’s hope, too, for a more prosperous New Year. In fact, let’s do more than hope for it - by continuing to work together through Unite, we can make sure that more of our members earn a decent standard of living. Best wishes to you and yours.      

Peter Kavanagh
Regional secretary, London & Eastern region