Growth in union membership in Yorkshire – especially among young workers – has outpaced growth in the rest of the UK. That is important because after a crisis it is always workers and communities who are forced to pay the price.
In 2008, the bankers’ crisis resulted in 10 years of austerity for workers. They were not the ones responsible for the greed of millionaire bankers worldwide which brought it about.
Covid will be no different.
Contrary to what has been said in the past that “we are all in this together”, all the evidence shows it is workers and families who will pay for the pandemic in cuts in their wages and benefits.
So far, at the top, the Covid crisis has made many of those already rich into billionaires. Last year job losses in Yorkshire reached an eight-year high, the worst since the financial crisis.
That’s why the central slogan in my campaign for the General Secretary election in Unite is let’s get back to focusing on jobs, pay and conditions.
You may remember the long-running dispute at Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS), which was finally won in 2015 after more than two years. That was a bitter, difficult dispute which had reached an impasse.
As head of Unite’s Organising and Leverage department, I worked closely with our strong reps at YAS and within months we were able to get the employer back to the negotiating table. We won a new collective agreement which continues to protect ambulance drivers and patients today.
I don’t mean that this means we should always look back to the past but rather that the Yorkshire ambulance workers, and the action they took years ago, remains an inspiration to what needs to be done now.
The tactics we deployed in that campaign were first used to beat the construction blacklist in London. More recently, they have been used to take on the attack on wages and conditions at Go Ahead North West buses, when they embarked on a fire-and-rehire programme.
Hundreds of bus workers were under threat, with attacks on their wages and conditions. Working with our reps and members, we were able to stop fire and rehire. I am very proud to have the support of these workers as I run for the leadership of Unite.
Over the last 20 years, side by side with our Unite members, I have led major disputes with employers and won. I want to take that track record and experience into the leadership of Unite. I am rooted in the workplace. I have proved that it is possible to save jobs and protect terms and conditions in difficult circumstances.
That’s why we must focus on what it says on the trade union tin – fight for jobs, pay and conditions and take on bad bosses fearlessly.
Our Action on Amazon campaign, to fight for union recognition at Amazon, fits the bill. If Amazon’s union-buying is not challenged, the danger is their work practices will seep into the contracts of all workers.
We need to have a union that is strong enough to make sure employers and the Government listen to our voice. That includes the fight for a better deal for women workers.
The trade unions collectively have not stood up to the plate for women. I will.
One of my first priorities when I am General Secretary will be to find where women members are being denied equal pay and fight for a better deal to change that.
I’m proud to have been nominated by a large number of our members across Yorkshire. This election puts Unite, the largest trade union in the UK, at a crossroads. I believe it’s time for positive change. I believe that if we refocus on winning at the workplace, protecting jobs, pay and conditions, all else will follow. We have looked to Westminster to solve our problems for too long.
The pandemic proves that workers need strong unions now more than ever. We have already seen some employers, like British Airways and British Gas, become more emboldened. Only the trade unions can ensure workers and communities do not pay for the crisis.
That’s why I’m standing as the workplace candidate in this election.
Sharon Graham is campaigning to become General Secretary of Unite the Union.
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click here to subscribe.