September/October 2014 - Peter Kavanagh's column

September/October 2014 - Peter Kavanagh's column

31 October 2014

The annual Burston Strike School rally is always a big event in the Labour Movement calendar, but, this year, on 1 September, saw the biggest gathering for a long while, as Britain’s longest strike held its centenary celebrations. I was delighted to open up the rally and speak about the importance of remembering our history, learning lessons from it and drawing parallels with the struggles of today. The sun shone and Unite led the traditional march around the Norfolk village. The strike in support of the two sacked teachers who championed the rights of rural working class children, has a special place in our Union’s heritage and one that our Region will continue to support. I would like to pay special tribute to recently retired Regional Officer, Ivan Crane, who played such a big part in making the celebrations such a success.

From rural Norfolk to a very different environment, together with Chair, Jim Kelly, and our East London Community Membership Co-ordinator, Monowar Badrudduza, I travelled to Dhaka, Bangladesh, at the end of September. It is 18 months since the horrendous industrial slaughter of eleven hundred workers in the collapse of a building housing a garment factory, producing clothes for the Western market. Following discussions with our rapidly growing Bangladeshi Community membership and the Major of Tower Hamlets, Lutfer Rahman, we made a solidarity visit to the Garment Workers’ Union and other organisations working to ensure such a disaster never happens again. We met women who had jumped out of fifth storey windows to escape and who were now striving to build a union organisation that will demand a healthy and safe working environment and a living wage. We also travelled to rural Sylhet where 95% of Bangladeshis, living in East London, originate from, meeting the Tea Pickers Union and addressing a specially convened conference of 60 local trade union leaders.

It was an inspiring experience, but, importantly, we now want to consider carefully how we can build links with and support the developing union organisation in this hazardous and exploitive sector in one of the world’s poorest countries. We intend to meet with NGO’s here and maintain our contacts in Dhaka to explore how Unite, in this Region, can link up with the Bangladeshi Community in East London and our Branches to make a small contribution to this critically important work.

I was delighted to report to the Regional Committee that our 100% Organising campaigns are going from strength to strength. In 2014 we have recorded over 10,700 new Joiners in our 100% campaigns, which represents a real improvement across the board over the two previous years. Our membership and organisational growth has been matched by increasing readiness to take action to improve conditions or fight off employer attacks. We have seen a whole raft of strikes in the last quarter across the Docks, Local Authorities, Health, Not for Profit, Logistics, the BBC, London Underground, TfL and the Defence Support Group. Ballots are regularly returning “Yes” votes in excess of 90% and many of these are leading to the resolution of disputes without the need to take action.

Finally, I would like to thank all those activists who worked so hard to ensure such a fantastic mobilisation for the 18 October “Britain needs a Pay Rise” march and rally. It was excellent to see so many London & Eastern banners among the sea of red, which was Unite’s enormous contingent at the head of the 100,000 strong march.