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Unions are more relevant now than at almost any time in history

Amid job insecurity and rising racism it’s more important than ever to come together in unity, says STEVE PREDDY

THIS weekend it is my honour to gather with friends and comrades at Tolpuddle in my inaugural year as Unite regional secretary for the South West, which also marks the centenary of the Landworker Magazine from the Agricultural and Rural Workers sector.  

The South West is a huge and diverse region, additionally incorporating the Scilly Isles, Channel Islands and Gibraltar. 2020 will mark my 40th year as a representative for workers in the region.

This past year has provided significant challenges, many ongoing, for our membership and communities. 

It is my proud assessment that Unite under Len McCluskey and our national executive have provided vanguard leadership for our movement.

The challenges facing all of us are planetary both in scale and perspective — environmentally, politically, industrially, economically and socially. 

Humans create these problems and it remains within our gift to resolve them through the decisions we take together. 

The rise of the far right coincides with the cynical exploitation of displaced refugees and migrants, often driven by fear of brutality or death and the continued economic failings of capitalism more widely. 

Martin Luther King Jnr once commented: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

When the President of the United States tweets that four congresswomen of colour “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, and they should go home,” he is reflecting the fact that he is a racist. 

Every one of us must call this out for what it is. What was their “crime”? The four insisted that healthcare, gun violence and, in particular, detentions of migrants on the US border with Mexico should be in focus. 

We must stand together and as one in our battle to end the vitriolic rhetoric of division and hate. 

Jeremy Corbyn and Labour openly criticise those in British politics and abroad for their populist hate-filled attacks on the weak and vulnerable. 

The Labour leader is no racist. If motivations for the attacks on him can best be described as dishonest, the recent assault on Labour’s magnificent general secretary Jennie Formby is unforgivable and cowardly. 

Combined they appear reflective of a narrative that’s seeking to derail Labour’s positive policy ambitions to unite, reinvigorate and make our nation fairer. They will fail. 

Unions are more relevant now than at almost any time in history. Wage depression is at its greatest since the 1930s. 

Job insecurity and zero-hours contracts are all part of the escalation in exploitation of workers and British employment law offers meagre protections.  

There is much to do. Organising workers is needed to help bring balance at the bargaining table — including restoration of sector-wide negotiations. 

As a movement confronting the challenges now and those ahead, including through the advance of artificial intelligence and further associated economic inequality, is more important than ever. 

Our political and economic systems must change for the many, not the few — not just a single election slogan, but simply put, reflecting the global necessity to address universal challenges of wealth and social inequality and injustice.  

Locally, Unite South West has increased its numbers of accredited workplace companions fivefold in recent years. 

A focus on succession planning through education and personal development will help ensure the next generation of leaders in workplaces and the wider movement.

We offer members employment and affiliate legal services, which lead the way in our movement. 

Above all else, we continue to focus on supporting Unite members at work and through Community membership more widely. 

Campaigns to support our NHS and wider public services; winning for members on pay, including the recent success at Trelleborg Bridgwater; fighting back against the States of Jersey in its attack on public-sector services and our  members’ terms and conditions; winning for Avara/Astra Zeneca members in securing millions in threatened payment entitlements; negotiating agreements on the Unite Construction Charter across the region as part of Unite’s continued effort to ensure agreements are honoured, challenging the supply chain and improving safety standards; campaigning to protect manufacturing through future commitments and investment in British industries including ship building, aerospace and motor manufacture and development.

Politically as a region, we now fully engage across trades councils, including activity in Jersey and with Reform. 

Unite regional sponsored events have recently included an occasion to celebrate  the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, and on July 5 I was honoured to host three Latin American ambassadors to Britain from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, all women and truly enlightening contributions on the impact of US imperialism on their respective nations.

I work with truly remarkable and inspirational people every day, from across the movement, in politics both domestically and internationally. 

I must, however, reserve special humble appreciation to those connected with Unite South West, working tirelessly in support of our membership; staff, officers and our truly amazing elected lay activists. It has and continues to be my pleasure to work with all of you on our common goals to help bring about a fairer and more equitable society.                                 

Greetings and solidarity to everyone attending Tolpuddle 2019.

Steve Preddy is Unite South West regional secretary.

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