Why I am backing Hugo Pierre for Unison general secretary

Women workers need strong trade unions to defend their jobs, pay and services

Tower Hamlets workers striking against the Labour council's 'fire and re-hire' policy

Tower Hamlets workers striking against the Labour council’s ‘fire and re-hire’ policy   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

A probation hostel residential worker and Unison member (personal capacity)

“It’s bedlam at the care home”, said one care worker, my neighbour and Unison member. She went on to say: “They admitted three more patients at the weekend. We have never been so full. Some residents are not dressed and brought downstairs until the afternoon, because there aren’t enough chairs for them to sit on. And they haven’t taken on any more staff. We’re exhausted and we’ve had enough.”

She clearly expressed the pressures on staff, mainly women, across the public and private sector. NHS workers reeling from the first Covid wave are battling the second wave with inadequate resources. They are exhausted and war-weary. The government can’t even promise nurses a decent pay rise.

All workers, and particularly women workers, given their roles in capitalist society as both caregivers and workers, need strong trade unions to defend their jobs, pay, conditions and services.

Unison has over a million women members. The general secretary election in Unison gives women members the opportunity to vote for a candidate that will mobilise members to defend pay and conditions, to fight for more resources, and against any further cuts in services.

Failed leadership

The preferred candidate of the outgoing Prentis leadership is Christine McAnea, aiming to be the first woman leader of the union. But that leadership failed to seriously fight austerity, which meant big numbers of women workers lost their jobs and livelihoods and the services they relied on.

Only Socialist Party member Hugo Pierre has pledged to fight on a platform against austerity and to defend the jobs, pay and conditions of women workers in Unison.

The burden of over a decade of austerity in Britain has left women in an increasingly precarious position. Cuts to public services have had a disproportionate impact on women. Amnesty International estimates that between 2010 and 2018 women shouldered 86% of the burden of austerity measures. Add to that the impact of the Covid pandemic, and women have been placed on the front line at home, at work and as service users.

And there will be worse to come, with an economic crisis exacerbated by the pandemic, unless an effective resistance is conducted by the trade union movement.

Single mothers and women from ethnic minority backgrounds have been hit particularly badly by austerity. Even before the pandemic, black and Asian households were expected to see drops in living standards of around 19-20% from 2010 to 2020. And it was forecast that the income of single mothers would drop by 18%.

The nightmare of domestic violence has been made worse by cuts in services, refuges, and lockdowns, with no way out for vulnerable women.

The hospitality and other sectors worst hit by government Covid measures also employ a majority of women, so they are likely to suffer huge cuts in pay and hours, and job losses.

However, women have shown that they are amongst the most determined fighters when a call to action is made.

The Glasgow equal pay strike demonstrated that. Trade unions and lawyers representing 13,000 Glasgow council workers reached an agreement worth around £500 million, to end the equal pay injustice suffered by low-paid women workers for over a decade.

The city shook

The decisive catalyst for this breakthrough was the impact of the 8,000-strong 48-hour strike, by the workers and their trade unions in 2018, which shook the city. This was an historic turning point in the fight for equal pay. Determined action recruits members like nothing else. Trade union membership grew in the dispute and a new energised layer of shop stewards and activists emerged from it.

This Tory government, despite its large majority in parliament, is weak and divided. It has already done so many U-turns, it must be dizzy. With a fighting, campaigning leadership, prepared to oppose all cuts, Unison members could play a vital role in forcing major concessions to defend workers’ jobs, wages, and conditions.

Hugo Pierre has a proud record of fighting on issues of concern to women. As a Unison schools convenor in Camden, he successfully helped organise the campaign to save Hampden Nursery. Hugo worked alongside parents and staff to demand that the Labour council refuse to cut its Early Years’ budget by £600,000.

Hugo also organised with school kitchen workers in Camden in a successful 18-month long campaign where they won the London Living Wage. This victory came after unanimous votes for industrial action forced management to negotiate – without a single strike day becoming necessary.

By actively campaigning and involving members, Hugo helped take the struggle into all the school kitchens. Building union membership and recruiting keen and energetic shop stewards was an important part of the strategy.

Hugo has fought alongside others for Unison members to take national action against school funding cuts.

He would organise a national fight against further cuts from ‘Covid austerity’ in local councils. He stands for no cuts to services, jobs, pay and conditions, and calls on Labour councillors to refuse to vote for cuts.

As a residential worker in a probation hostel, I have experienced the detrimental impact of contracting out services to the private sector. The system is inefficient and expensive, and puts the health and safety of workers at risk, when essential maintenance work is not done. Hugo is campaigning to bring public services back in-house, with full collective bargaining, and national terms and conditions.

Hugo also stands for

  • A real fight on NHS pay, an immediate pay rise of 15% and a reversal of the cuts
  • For a renationalised NHS and social care sector
  • No to education privatisation and full funding for Early Years and schools, FE and HE
  • End Low Pay. A £15 an hour minimum wage
  • Safety first for all staff
  • Full stocks of PPE. Renationalise the equipment supply chain. Bring test, track and trace into public health
  • Union health and safety reps must decide if it is safe to work
  • No fees for training. Bring back healthcare student bursaries and end tuition fees for all