At no time in our lives have public service workers been asked to give so much, on behalf of so many, as they are being asked to give now. NHS staff, social care workers, police staff, staff in schools and across all essential services, are once again, putting their lives at risk to keep us safe and the country going. These are unparalleled times, as we head into the second lockdown in England this week. I‘m sure that many UNISON members are still feeling physically and mentally exhausted, having had little reprieve since the first wave of the virus.
I have nothing but admiration and absolute pride in our UNISON members across all sectors, throughout the region. Risking their lives, daily, to help save and keep safe others.
As the health service and care homes find themselves once again on the frontline, UNISON will continue to be there for all of our members. This has been an incredibly difficult year, but we have led and will continue to lead the way, calling for appropriate PPE, action on sick pay, and demanding that the government ensures local authorities have the funds they need to protect their communities that they know so well. We continue this week, to campaign for a pay rise for all NHS staff of at least £2,000, which is the very least they deserve.
As we head into the second lockdown, there is a sense of despair that it has come to this, and uncertainty about whether it will end, as Johnson promised, in four weeks. There‘s no doubt that the government should have acted sooner, having ignored SAGE advice six weeks ago that a short sharp ‘circuit breaker‘ was necessary to curb the spread of coronavirus around the UK. If they had acted earlier and coincided with the school half–term break, many lives would have been saved. And, with schools and colleges remaining open this time around, there‘s no doubt that this four–week lockdown will be less effective and, have a greater cost to the economy, and subsequent jobs losses. The extension of furlough is welcomed, but how many jobs were already lost before this hurried announcement at the weekend? And why were the cities in the north–west rebuffed when their requests for 80% furlough were turned down only two weeks ago? Are workers in the north of England worth less than those in the south? That seems to be the Government’s underlying message.
November is Young Workers Month, and we are reminded that young workers have really borne the brunt of the economic impact of Covid-19. In May-July 2020, the number of young people (16-24) in employment fell by 156,000 compared to the previous quarter. Government figures show that 291,000 more young people were claiming Universal Credit in August 2020 than were claiming in March. As we call on young members in the South East to tell us their story, we must all work together to ensure that after the pandemic, young workers have secure jobs, training and support at work and that they don‘t pay the long term price for the pandemic.
At the time of writing (Thursday morning), The US Presidential election looks too close to call. Trump has already signalled that he does not want postal ballots counted when the polls close. This is beyond absurd and a sign of the desperation he has for clinging onto power. Depressingly, his popular vote looks to have remained high, despite his controversial last four years and the chaotic handling of the pandemic in the US. The lawyers look as though they are going to fight this one out in the courts, circa Florida 2000 all over again. My real fear is the potential for rioting and civil unrest in the US, and of right-wing paramilitary groups taking to the streets if Biden wins.
We do of course, have our own election taking place in UNISON, hopefully a more civilised affair than the one across the pond. Ballot papers for the general secretary election began to arrive with members last week, so please do all you can to encourage participation in this important vote, that will determine the next leader of your trade union. You can find out more information for activists and there is a newly updated information page for members on the national website. Please encourage members in your workplace to have their say.
As Remembrance Day approaches, this is a time to reflect and remember those who sacrificed their lives on behalf of others, in order for us to live in a free, fair and tolerant society. The fight against fascism is as important today as it has always been, and I am sure that many branches will be taking part in virtual events both on Sunday and on Wednesday 11th November.
Finally, as we brace ourselves to ride out this second wave, thank you again, for all that you do to keep our communities safe and well.
Please look after yourselves and your families.