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LAST January I was invited to Blythe Valley’s Constituency Labour Party meeting at the Terrace Club to talk about our UCU branch period-poverty campaign at Newcastle College — the first at a college in England.
I found myself speaking against the backdrop of bingo night in this traditional social club in the old mining community of Seaton Delaval.
I never expected this redbrick cornerstone of the Labour red wall to fall to the Tories, least of all to an MP who recently voted against key protections for migrant children.
And I had no idea that this would be the last time I would see stalwart socialist, friend and humanitarian Cllr Bernard Pidcock, who that evening loudly declared: “Sanitary protection should be provided free in every workplace.”
A week later and the last posting on Bernard’s Facebook page was an announcement that he had convinced the social club to provide free sanitary protection for all colleagues and customers. Bernard could do that: he could convince and he could make things happen.
An internationalist and socialist firebrand, Bernard had been planning, before the tragedy of his aneurysm struck, to raise funds to send young people to volunteer on the ground in Calais — a cause important to him and his family for their work in providing care and dignity to people in need.
Labour activist Tony Pierre spent time volunteering in Calais in 2016 with Bernard, his wife Mary and daughter Laura Pidcock.
Each afternoon we were out distributing humanitarian aid and Bernard connected with every single person he met — he took their hand, shook it, looked them in the eye, smiling all the while and told them: “You are welcome, my friend.”
Monies collected through Bernard’s funeral and fundraising activities organised by his wife and friends, have enabled four young Labour members to be sponsored to volunteer with the charity Care4Calais, accompanied by a group of self-funded local activists, from April 9-14. A fifth young person sponsored by North West Durham Labour Party will also be joining the convoy.
“Being able to learn from the experience and the people I will meet, I am looking forward to finding out for myself just what is happening on the ground in Calais — the emphasis of this opportunity, for me, is on learning,” said Rohan Cook, 20.
Our Caravan of Care trip has been kindly sponsored by Newcastle College, which has agreed to the use of the college minibus, which will transport our five young people, together with humanitarian aid. Taking guidance from the charity on what higher-cost items are needed, we are now raising funds to be able to deliver these.
Valentine’s Day during Heart Unions Week is an auspicious date for our Caravan of Care4Calais fundraiser, which takes place on Friday February 14 from 7-11pm at Tyneside Irish Centre in Newcastle and entry is free.
An evening of music and spoken word, we have a superb line-up with “Door to Door Poet” Rowan McCabe, folk musician Bethany Elen Coyle, protest singer David McAllister and speakers including the very wonderful Laura Pidcock and PCS president Fran Heathcote.
Hosted by former UCU Newcastle College branch officers myself and Kerry Lemon, we have received fantastic cross-union support from PCS Northern Region and we are grateful to Unison Northumberland Branch which supported a previous event back in November.
“This is such an important event to get behind and support — not just in supporting the memory of a local comrade but the importance of sustaining an anti-racist narrative on migration, as well as building the wider labour movement by pulling young people through,” Fran Heathcote said.
This event is also testament to the legacy of our former TUC president and UCU general secretary; the pertinence Sally Hunt gave to internationalism, to protecting migrants, children, the vulnerable and her intrinsic kindness for humanity: those lessons learned live on in activism beyond front-line trade unionism.
Online donations direct to the Bernard Pidcock fundraiser for Calais can be made here: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/AnyaCook. Heart Unions Week runs from February 10-16.
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