Peter Kavanagh, regional secretary, London & Easte...

Peter Kavanagh, regional secretary, London & Eastern summer update

12 August 2014

Summer 2014 has been a busy, active and successful one for many of us in the region.

Our Union’s Policy Conference took place at the end of June in Liverpool.  London & Eastern delegates met on the Sunday morning, prior to the Conference, with the aim of encouraging maximum participation, instilling a sense of discipline, but also to de-mystify the proceedings. This all seemed to work well as our delegation’s full attendance and inspiring and memorable speeches and interventions testified. The general secretary’s key note speech set the tone for a united and determined Conference week, recognising the challenge facing us in the industrial, legal, political and organising areas, but also shining the spot-light on the roll call of successes achieved by our members and activists.

Delegates were “electrified” by two of our guest speakers. Ricky Tomlinson (better known by some for his role in the “Royale Family”) thumped his way through a barn-storming performance describing the events leading up to his incarceration and the conspiracy surrounding it following the building workers’ strike in the 1970’s. The great news is that Ricky is confident that the facts of the State’s involvement, right up to the top of Government, will soon be exposed. Aide Moreno Ibague from the Columbian Agricultural Workers’ Union, Fensuagro, inspired and moved us all with her account of the suffering and struggle being waged in her country.  Aidee, a trade union and human rights activist who has lost a number of her closest relatives through state sponsored assassination, demonstrated an iron will in the face of the worst  excesses of oppression and political violence. The Region will be re-doubling its efforts to inform branches of the plight of our sisters and brothers in the Columbian trade union movement and encouraging vital support and affiliation to the “Justice for Columbia” campaign.

Remaining on the theme of international solidarity and action, I am proud that so many of our Unite activists have been supporting the huge marches to demand an end to the slaughter in Gaza. I marched with members from London and Cambridge on the biggest march yet on 9 August 2014 – some estimates putting the crowd at 150,000. What struck me most forcefully was the youthfulness of the marchers (as well as the diversity) putting paid to the myth that young people are not interested in politics or activism.

On the industrial front, the growing confidence of our members in the region to take action on pay, defence of conditions, in support of victimised representatives or against bullying in the work-place, continues to grow. A phenomenal number of ballots are being demanded by members – and incredibly, in a half dozen cases, we have seen 100% votes for strike action. Our Local Government members have taken strike action on pay, along with members in the Docks, the Not for Profit Sector, Higher Education, Energy and Utilities and Argos. With the prospect of further strike action in October in Local Government, our members in the NHS and the MOD and Prison Services are now balloting and may well join them in what could be an even bigger Public Sector strike.   This is likely to be in the same week as the national TUC march – “Britain needs a pay rise” on 18 October 2014. The region will be mobilising fully across all of our workplaces for what is likely to be an enormous expression of anger against the years of the government’s and employer pay cuts, freeze and restraint. All across the economy workers’ wages have fallen dramatically in real value, while those at the top continue to see huge bonuses and profit margins.

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