It’s time for our union to reflect our members

UNISON General Secretary Election 2015

Many of you will not know me, I have no national profile despite being a vocal activist and the proud Branch Secretary of the Southampton Local Government branch. Our branch continues to fight against the threat of privatisation, redundancies and cuts to terms and conditions on a daily basis. One of our key values is listening to our members and being active through self organisation and engagement.

You will hear two things regularly repeated from those at the top of our union, firstly that UNISON currently has a membership that is over 75% women, and secondly that we are a lay led union. It is not enough just to make these statements, this needs to be at the front and center of how we organise and campaign. Our leadership should be reflective of our trade union, and this needs to go beyond simply having reserved seats. UNISON needs to look at the particular obstacles and challenges to the voices of Women, Young members, LGBT, Black and Disabled activists being heard in our union and do something about it.

As activists, we often complain that the concept of being member led is being lost when making decisions within UNISON, which is why I believe the next general secretary must be a lay member. I know the difficulties in organising in a shrinking workforce, have cuts to facilities time, be asked to deliver more with fewer stewards and fewer financial resources. Branches need to be supported both politically and financially.

We need to modernise our union, but not through recruitment materials that sell us as an insurance company, as a strong union, listening to members, standing up for our jobs, terms and conditions but also fighting for our public services that the community but also our members also rely on. When home care and parts of the NHS are privatised, our members don’t only lose their jobs and pay, they lose out the services we and the rest of society need.

Our union needs to reach out and embrace those inspired by Jeremy Corbyn and all those communities who are being devastated by the cuts. We need to work with these grassroots campaigns such as Keep Our NHS Public, and the People’s Assembly to show that trade unionism is about community, collective action and fighting back. Jeremy Corbyn shows that there can be an alternative for our country and I believe there can be an alternative for our union. I was proud to have supported Jeremy before he made it to the ballot paper, and I am even more proud to support his nomination for Labour leader.

The Tories are coming for us, they will ramp up their attacks on us as unions as well as employees, we face an onslaught of cuts to public services, but also an onslaught of attacks on our rights as trade unionists, whether or not its our right to strike, or our rights to collect subs through DOCAS. We need to be a strong, collective force against the tide of right wing politics, the media and a government hell bent on destroying the public sector.

I believe what is missing at all levels in our union is a combination of fighting back politically and industrially. We need a union that listens to and supports members on the ground. It is too often a battle to get UNISON to support members who want to fight back, take industrial action or who have a legitimate legal claim, instead we have layers of bureaucracy and attempts to stifle branches.

I became branch secretary at the age of 29 after becoming more involved within UNISON during a two year dispute with the Tory administration in Southampton over a 5% pay cut. At the heart of this campaign was the idea that we needed a strategy of political, legal and collective action. We ran a highly successful campaign, which led to our members having their pay restored, and the Tories being removed from power. Although the scale was different, this fight is the same one faced by our union now on a bigger scale. We should be encouraging branches and championing successful campaigns so that other branches have confidence to fight.

If elected I will ensure campaigning in defense of our NHS, Education Service, Local Government and that the protection of all our public services is central to our unions daily activities and not just lip service. We will organise collectively rather than in sections of our union, coordinating our attacks and defences and think strategically about how we can hit hardest.

A few of the principles I will be standing on are:

• A strong and coordinated plan to stop attacks on trade union activists and facilities time that is adopted by the union as a whole.

• Work with Self Organised groups to become active within all levels of their union and work with them to identify and remove obstacles. Making sure their voices are heard loud and clear.

• Promoting a campaign that sells union principles over cheaper car insurance

• Listening to branches and members and delivering resources to help them fight against cuts. I believe in working with the great ideas that our activists and members have, and taking them forward.

• Invest and give more resources to our young members, they are the ones left with the heavy burden of Tory attacks and cuts and are our future as a union.

• Modernising the trade union, investing in campaigning tools and using social media to be more effective and organise more successfully

• Talking with branches and members about the issues they face and responding to this with action.

Trade unions were born out of disadvantage, exploitation and the fundamental believe that things had to change. These principles are still with us today.

Our union is built on a foundation of fantastic people and groups who work tirelessly within the public sector despite constant attacks.

I will need all of that enthusiasm and support if we are to win a General Secretary election from a lay activist position. I recognise that this is going to be extremely difficult to do, but when has that ever stopped us? We have been through hard times and still come out fighting and that is what I intend to do for you and our union.

Please help me do that,

Get in touch if you wish to help.

Hayley Garner

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Twitter — @hayley4unison

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