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Confident we can rise to new challenges

Delegates representing 800,000 workers in north-west England will meet for the first time in three years at the annual conference of North West Region of the Trade Union Congress in Liverpool today. Regional secretary JAY McKENNA looks at some of the big issues coming up

IT’S great to be back in person and getting unions together from across the movement at our conference.

Conference takes place against the backdrop of the P&O dispute, the latest in a long line of employers seeking to exploit staff and loopholes in employment law. 

We’ll be hearing about this from RMT and showing our full solidarity to the campaign as we have done at demonstrations recently.

There are a range of important issues we’ll be discussing at conference — from devolution and levelling up, on which we will hear from Lisa Nandy and our unions about what we want to see, through to protecting jobs and the climate in a just transition. 

And, importantly, how we stand up against the government — protecting jobs, raising pay and tackling legislation like the Nationality and Borders Bill.

There will be a strong message from the North West conference — unions here are standing up and fighting back in workplaces and communities to protect jobs and we’ll be on the front foot in the coming year.

Once again, the past 12 months of our work has been against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. While our trade union members have found themselves on the front line still, and our communities impacted, we’ve shown the importance of trade unions and the issues we fight to change.

The pandemic has been a seismic moment in all of our lives. And while it has shone a spotlight on the issues that existed before the pandemic and continue to be prevalent such as low pay, insecure work and inequalities across gender, race, class and more, it’s presented new challenges for our movement to respond to. 

How do we shape a recovery to ensure we have decent jobs for all? How will new ways of working — more flexible or remote — be done fairly, well, and allow for unions to still grow and organise?

Our annual conference will gather to debate some of these issues. But it’s important to reflect that much of the change will be seen and felt first hand in our workplaces and communities. 

Our trade union reps, and their role, has been shown to be important in keeping workers safe and the country moving during the pandemic.

As we emerge from this, they’ll be playing an important role in facing up to the new challenges. We should be confident we can rise to these. In the last year, we’ve seen big wins in our region from our trade unions. Whether winning a pay rise for care workers, standing up against discrimination or defeating fire and rehire on our buses, or defeating redundancies in universities, our unions are fighting back and winning.

It isn’t a time to be complacent, but we should be encouraged that we can act collectively and make a difference. We know the year ahead is going to require it of us.

The north-west and the rest of the country is facing a cost-of-living crisis, with rising bills and costs made worse by frozen or falling wages. 

Workers need and deserve a pay rise and we’re going to have to all we can to win that, fighting and campaigning industrially and politically. 

We’ll be ready as the TUC in the north-west to support affiliates in their campaigns as we have over the past year.

We’ll continue to fight for decent work, a right to flexible work, tackling the gender pay gap and the ethnicity pay gap. In our work on employment charters with metro mayors we continue to help set the standards of what is good and we hope to link this to procurement and commissioning to improve working conditions for more workers and reward good employers.

In and out of the workplace, and in our own trade unions, we need to ensure we reflect the diversity of our membership. 

Our commitments as anti-racists, fighting for gender equality and against the discrimination faced by many can’t just be statements but actions. 

In the year ahead, we’ll be active in this work, taking forward work from the TUC’s Anti-Racism Taskforce and the work in the motions at our conference.

To do all of this, to change the world of work for good, we need to be a strong, growing and well-armed trade union movement. We’ve seen the benefit of our webinars, education and training through trade union education, our #MentalHealthMatters webinars and online meetings on health and safety and more.

I’m confident we can continue to support our reps and unions to win and grow across the region.

I hope, like me, you are proud of the work we as a TUC — our regional staff, our affiliates and most importantly our reps, activists and members — have done to make a difference for working people and the wider north-west. 

And, like me, I hope it encourages you, that we can and will win where it matters.

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