A landmark verdict

The conviction of Derek Chauvin must be the first step towards positive change to tackle racial injustice

The world watched this week as Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd in May last year. This horrendous crime was seen around the globe, thanks to the video footage of an onlooker, and triggered worldwide protests and renewed energy for the Black Lives Matter movement. This landmark verdict must be the start of positive change towards tackling racial injustice and not some isolated event.

UNISON has and always will be at the forefront of challenging racism at work and in wider society, which is why we are working with the TUC in leading the trade union response to the discredited report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. The report claimed that the UK is no longer a racist society and ignored several well researched and evidenced submissions, including UNISON’s very own submission. The past year has highlighted stark inequalities for Black workers, who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, with racial and health inequality exposed for all to see. Now more than ever, we must renew our commitment to challenging racism in all its forms.

Next Wednesday, we will come together to mark International Workers’ Memorial Day, and we will remember in particular those workers who have lost their lives in the past year to COVID-19. Whilst unions have always worked for safer workplaces, this has been at the forefront of everybody’s minds daily, none more so than the UNISON members who have been unable to work from home as they deliver vital public services throughout the last 14 months. I encourage you to come together, in a safe way, to remember those who have died at work next Wednesday at 11am.

With less than two weeks to go until the most important local elections for several years, we hear almost daily reports of cronyism at the heart of the Government. From former prime ministers and their ‘direct line’ to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to PPE contracts awarded via the ‘VIP fast lane’, chums of the Government have come to expect and receive special treatment. This is not how public money should be spent, and at a time when local councils are facing huge budget deficits, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth. I urge you all to exercise your democratic rights on May 6.

UNISON has its own important elections coming up, with NEC ballots due to arrive with members from May 4. Please encourage members in your branches to vote for their NEC representative.

The combination of sunshine, lighter evenings and the reopening of outdoor hospitality is bringing positivity to many. Combined with the continuing vaccine rollout, things are starting to feel a bit better, and we hope that the cautious steps out of the pandemic are permanent steps forward. As we move forward, we must do so considerately. Many of UNISON’s retired members have been shielding for the majority of the last year, often unable to connect digitally or living alone, isolated from their families. Older people have been disproportionately affected both by the virus and the restrictions imposed on them. For many, their first steps out will be very cautious indeed.

We hope that we are now coming out of the other side of this nightmare, in the UK at least. However, we do not have to look very far to see other countries, in Europe and beyond, still struggling with a virus out of control. It is clear that travel abroad is a long way off. Whilst we hope that we can resume limited face to face events later this year, the convenors group and I have agreed to postpone our BIG Weekend event until May 2022. In the meantime, the region’s Education Team continue to offer a fantastic range of webinars and online courses and has recently announced a programme of online Branch officer training, taking place in June of this year. Be sure to book your place early if you are new in your role.

Thank you, for continuing to support members and the wider community through this time. Let’s cautiously and optimistically look forward to brighter, sunnier days ahead.