February 2014 - Peter Kavanagh's column

February 2014 - Peter Kavanagh's column

13 February 2014

Len McCluskey editStanding on the shoulders of giants
Everyone knows what a strain moving can be and I’m delighted to say our regional office is beginning to feel like, not just home, but a fully functioning organising centre. We had a big occasion last month when general secretary Len McCluskey unveiled a plaque naming our building Ron Todd House (pictured, left).

As well as honouring Ron, we also have an iconic image of the T&G general secretary with Nelson Mandela in the reception area. I know I’m not alone in finding that an inspirational image. It’s also a reminder that, over time, with determined organisation, great advances can be achieved.

We will be having another dedication ceremony early next month when our top-floor meeting room will become the Tina Mackay Boardroom. The region wants to commemorate Tina and her work as a Unite regional officer and in the wider labour movement. Her death in 2011 was a shock and an enormous loss to us. We know that reps, members, officers and staff who Tina worked with want to see her contribution remembered.

Our website
I hope you have noticed how we are developing our L&E section of the union website. Our aim is to use the website to keep activists and members informed of all union activities in the Region.
At the heart of all we do, are our 800 branches.  

It is to reflect this democratic spirit that we have renamed this section of the website, ‘Heart of the Union’. It is the new home for my regular column and, more importantly, I hope it can provide useful materials for effective organisation and campaigning in all our branches.

We are launching Heart of the Union with some key building blocks.
•    ‘Build Your Branch’ is intended to build into a practical guide to doing just that. We start with an interview with Regional Officer, Dave Turnbull, explaining how the London Hotels Branch is organised to unite hundreds of often isolated members.         
•    People are at the heart of everything we do at Unite, so we are now dedicating web pages to news and views of members and officials. We welcome a new Regional Officer, Neal Evans, in Chelmsford and we have a contribution from Mary Chapman, who reflects on what she herself has gained from working as a Union Learning Rep in Norwich.
•     ‘Regional Diary’ does just what it says, concentrating on RISC meetings from March to August.
Plus, there’s the first in a regular column from our chairman, Jim Kelly. I like to think it’s ‘The Thoughts of Chairman Jim’ but he tells me it’s called Kelly’s View because he’s looking at the wider political landscape our union inhabits. Some will think it should be called Kelly’s Heroes (and Villains) after reading his first column.
Joking aside, why are we investing in the website in this way? Because we believe it can help us build stronger branches and a stronger union.

Build Your Branch
We want all our branches – new and old – whether they be workplace, employer, industrial sector,  sub-sector or retired members’ branch, to become centres of organising and campaigning excellence. Branches should communicate effectively with members and encourage active rather than passive support for Unite policy.

Branch meetings should be inclusive, accessible and, above all, relevant. Members need to feel that the branch belongs to them. It should be somewhere they can have wide-ranging discussions on deeply felt issues.  Our members should be confident that they will receive support from the branch when they do raise an issue.

Branches should also communicate what is happening elsewhere in the union and in the wider movement.  It should mobilise support and solidarity for other members’ struggles and for community campaigns such as defending the NHS.
I would like to thank the thousands of elected branch officers who are the very fabric of the L&E Region and of our union. I wish you all well in developing and sustaining a strong and supportive branch for your members.

I hope the ‘Heart of the Union’ webpages  will help. It is open to your news and views, meaning a chance for all our members to make a contribution. Don’t hold back.

Peter Kavanagh
Regional Secretary, London & Eastern region