October 2013 update - Peter Kavanagh's column

October 2013 update - Peter Kavanagh's column

17 October 2013

The end of an era

October marks the end of an era for our region – and the dawn of a new one.

“Woodberry”, Unite’s London & Eastern regional office (and previously the T&G’s regional headquarters) will be closing after 78 years as a centre of trade union activism, organisation and administration. The building will hold fond memories for thousands of members, activists, officers, staff and organisers.

The offices were officially opened in August 1935 by, amongst others, Ernest Bevin (general secretary) and Ben Tillett (leader of the 1889 Great Docks Strike and one of the founders of the Labour party). The union’s publication of the time, the “Record”, reported the following: “Brother Bevin contrasted the new building with a room lit by an oil lamp, in which he sat in conference in the early days of the movement. What with the smell of the oil lamp” he said” and the smoke from the shag, it was a wonder we came to any decisions at all!”

In addition brother Ben Tillett was also in reminiscent mood.  He and other pioneers, he said, used to build castles in the air, but “Woodberry” was a castle which had been built on the earth

The building and grounds which were purchased for £16,000 replaced the previous premises at City Road, London EC1, ironically, just a stone’s throw from our new regional office in Moreland Street (more on this later).

Thirty-five years later in 1969, further major works took place, modernising and extending the building and installing the “computer room.” This time general secretary Frank Cousins oversaw the Opening Ceremony with Jack Jones, general secretary-elect commenting: “As the largest region, you have a vital role to play in all of this. The future growth and achievements of our union will be greatly determined by the success of this region.”

Further refurbishment took place in the 1980s with staff and officers being temporarily relocated to Tottenham.
The old building has now run its course and demolition crews will be moving in at the end of the month. A sad day for many of us, but we now move to our fully modernised and fit for purpose offices at Moreland Street, which were previously the national headquarters for MSF. Our new regional office, incorporating the north and central London district offices, is something we can all be proud of – bright, light and modern with excellent meeting room, educational, IT and canteen facilities.  I am confident that it will quickly become an inclusive centre of trade union and organising excellence and will help the London & Eastern region become an even more powerful organisation for representing the interests of working people.

Art with a messageWoodberry art project

The last weeks of “Woodberry” have been marked by an innovative and spectacular art form. Almost all of the exterior of the front of the building has been covered by 400 huge portraits of Unite members together with the message “Unite against NHS cuts”. Artist and Unite member Karen Whiteread, working with the Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority Committee and activists from the health sector, photographed hundreds of Unite members from all different sectors and workplaces, who are opposed to the cuts. She then pasted these all over the outside of the building creating a powerful message to the thousands who pass by the building on foot, in cars and buses. Incorporated within this is an even bigger portrait of Jamaican nurse, Mary Seacole, who is currently the subject of a growing campaign for the recognition she is due, for her heroic efforts during the Crimean War. This is part of a global art project known as the Inside Out, the creation of artist JR. We will be posting photographs of the “Woodberry” mural on our site in due course.

October action

Following the trek to Manchester for the NHS demo, the region sent a coach to Liverpool to support our union’s national march, organised to demonstrate against far-right extremism and celebrate diversity and multi-culturalism. Many thanks to our women and equalities officer Mel Whitter who organised this and to all those activists who joined her to fly the L&E flag.

On the industrial front, the DP World leverage campaign continues with the numbers involved in the regular demonstrations on the increase. For more information con

tact Paul Constable.

Our members in higher education have voted ‘yes’ to strike action to end five years of pay drought that has seen real wages shrink in value by 13 per cent. Our officers, staff and representatives in the region have done a magnificent job in organising the ballot in a complex sector and we now hope the employers’ side responds positively to the powerful message delivered by our members as well as those in our sister union, the UCU who have also voted for action.

In aviation our 1,000 members working for ground handling company Swissport, have voted by 94 per cent in favour of strike action in a dispute over pay. This covers L&E members at Heathrow and Stansted, as well as those in Manchester and Gatwick. The company has now requested talks and we hope that they clearly understand the determination of our members to keep up with the rising cost of living after an 18 month pay freeze.

Finally, the “People’s Inquiry into the NHS in London” hits the road this month with a number of public sessions arranged to provide people with the opportunity of giving evidence of their experiences within the health service, either as a user or worker. Below are the details of these public sessions and all members are urged to take part.

People's Inquiry ident

The People's Inquiry

Over the next few years our NHS is going to undergo radical change due to the policies of the present government. We are heading for a privatised se

rvice where the ability to pay rather than need will increasingly be common place. The People’s Inquiry into London’s NHS has been established with support from Unite and headed up by a Panel of Health professionals. Its aim

s are to:

  • Speak to people from around London, to find out the state of  NHS locally
  • Provide an overview of the changes which are taking place to London’s NHS 
  • Analyse these changes on a pan-London basis  
  • Produce a report on the State of our NHS

The inquiry and its finding about the NHS future concerns you! What you can do to get involved and support the inquiry: 

Attend your local public hearings. Come along to one of five local Public Hearings, these are taking place at: