The Socialist 28 October 2020 |
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Why I am backing Hugo Pierre for Unison general secretary
"The anger over NHS pay is enormous. Hugo has a strategy to win"
Socialist Party & Unison NEC member Hugo Pierre (centre), alongside others, taking part in the 8 August health workers' protests for a 15% pay increase. Photo Sarah SE (Click to enlarge)
An NHS worker and Unison member (personal capacity)
We need change! Change at work, change in how we are dealing with the Covid pandemic, change in the political system that gives millions of pounds to cronies of the cabinet while millions of people struggle on reduced incomes, not knowing if they will have a job next week, next month or next year.
We need change in our trade unions too. Currently the general secretary of Unison is paid around £138,000 a year. It is obscene that a union leader representing mainly low-paid workers should be given a lifestyle most of us can only dream of - out of our membership money! How can someone on £138,000 understand the struggles of low-paid members?
That's why I am voting for Hugo Pierre to be the next general secretary of Unison. Hugo is different. He isn't in this for the positions or the perks. If Hugo is elected he will stay on his current salary, and donate the rest (well over £100,000 a year) to Unison members' campaigns, strike funds and welfare.
Missing in action
When the government announced no pay rise for the vast majority of NHS staff, where was the Unison national leadership? Missing in action, as they have been through much of the pandemic.
Where were they when the grassroots pay campaign began, expressing the burning anger of NHS workers? At first nowhere, then they spent their time arguing over exactly what pay rise should be demanded, and telling branches not to support the campaign with Unison resources.
They totally missed the point, which was that a movement was happening in front of their eyes that they could have supported, in the interests of members. The anger over NHS pay is enormous.
Reps who have been around for years say they are getting a much more enthusiastic response campaigning on pay than ever before. This is a huge opportunity to take the fight to the government, but Dave Prentis, the current Unison general secretary, and the people around him have been so slow to respond that they risk waiting till the mood of anger passes.
As we go headlong into the second wave of Covid-19, with staff who are still traumatised and exhausted from the first one, how will the public, who clapped for carers and the NHS so enthusiastically, react to a government refusing to give a penny more to the NHS workers who are risking their lives to keep the NHS going?
A proper pay rise for NHS staff can be won. The Tories are unpopular and divided. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has become well known for his U-turns. A determined fight by the unions could add a U-turn on NHS pay.
Hugo is the only candidate with a serious strategy to win a proper pay rise for all NHS staff. He has supported the grassroots NHS pay campaign from the start, and has pledged that, under his leadership, branches will not be left to fight alone. He is campaigning for national action, including a national ballot for industrial action. He is fighting for a minimum wage of £15 an hour, which would help lift millions out of poverty, inside and outside the NHS.
His call for paid union officials to be elected, instead of appointed, would be a huge change for the better.
Hugo would lead the fight to renationalise our NHS. The privatisation of testing and tracing has been a disaster. Millions of pounds of public money have been handed over to private companies like Serco, who have failed time and again to provide proper test and trace services.
Hugo is fighting for all privatisation to be reversed, the scrapping of private finance initiatives in the NHS, and all NHS services to be run publicly. Huge numbers of NHS staff are employed by private companies, on worse terms and conditions. Private companies charge huge amounts for this, and in the long run are more expensive than providing the services publicly, because with them their profits always come first.
Unison has 1.4 million members. Thousands have joined during the pandemic because they understand that their best chance of protecting themselves is to be in a union. They are right - if we fight for the unions to back them. Hugo is campaigning for health and safety reps to decide whether it is safe to work, and full pay for any worker who cannot work due to Covid restrictions.
Hugo works in education, in Camden Council. He fully supported the National Education Union (NEU) campaign to only reopen schools when it was safe to do so, with real safety measures in place and the NEU's five tests passed. He knows how to work with other unions, and with service users, to build campaigns that can win.
Hugo has a fighting record on preventing school closures, defending members, saving jobs, winning better pay and conditions for workers, fighting racism, prejudice and division. He has been endorsed in his campaign to be general secretary of Unison by the union's black members' committee. One of Hugo's supporters, until his untimely death from Covid recently, was Raph Parkinson - the first to be elected to Unison's reserved black members' seat on the union's national executive council.
Hugo is campaigning for Unison to stop giving members' money to support Labour candidates who back cuts, privatisation or austerity, and to only support council or parliamentary candidates who put Unison policies into action.
Where I live, Labour councillors are making Unison members redundant and cutting the services local people rely on. I agree with Hugo - if members of Unison (and other unions) want to stand against them on a pledge to implement Unison policies of opposing cuts and protecting public services, they should get the backing of our union.
Trade unions were set up by people like Hugo - class fighters and socialists who fight for the working class. He understands the power workers have to change society for the better. He is one of us.
When workers are deciding whether or not to go on strike, or to declare they are not willing to work until proper safety measures are put in place, they are often risking their jobs as well as losing vital pay. They need to know they have a union leader who will back them, and fight alongside them. Unison members now have a chance to elect a general secretary like that - vote Hugo Pierre!
- Rules introduced by Unison to clamp down on democratic debate in the union mean that candidates for union elections cannot 'invite or accept' support 'in money or kind' from any entity which 'is not provided for in Unison rules'. These articles are produced without the authorisation of Hugo Pierre, in order to comply with these requirements.