Getting the public on our side – a crucial role for retired members

John Stevenson
John Stevenson

UNISON will use our members’ experiences, evidence and expertise to win over public opinion in support of properly funded public services, building on the very successful UNISON public services champions’ campaign.

This campaign harnesses members’ voices from the front line to highlight the valuable work they do and the pressures they face and delegates backed further action across the union to defend public services.

City of Edinburgh’s John Stevenson supported an amendment from the National Retired Members’ Conference which highlighted the crucial role that retired members can play in these campaigns.

He told delegates that after 30 odd years – and some of them very odd, said John – this was probably his last contribution to Conference as a delegate, “so I have a wee bit of a vested interest as I am likely to be a retired member in the next wee while.”

“I’ve also got a vested interest because the massive cuts faced by Scotland’s local authorities mean we have lost 2,000 jobs in the last three years – and 1,000 members,” added John.

He pointed out that many of those members were long term committed members – some of them in reasonably senior positions – always ready to turn out when needed.

“They are a resource we must not lose,” warned John.
He added that we need to find new ways to engage our own members in campaigns and reminded us that they are the public too.

“And there’s no better time than now when we see an awakening to the austerity lie that we have been trying to expose since 2010.

“We have of course had mixed success in campaigns. I go way back to NALGO and our carefully crafted not party political election slogan of ‘Vote Wisely’ – only to find there was a Tory candidate in the North East called Wisely,” said John to laughter.

“But I’m proud of some of the public campaigns my branch has succeeded in.”

John spoke of the campaign won in Edinburgh against housing stock transfer; the ‘our city’s not for sale’ campaign in 2011/2012 that saw the branch fight off a massive privatisation attempt by the Lib Dem/ SNP council that would have sold off 4,000 jobs.

“And our most recent campaign when privatisation reared its head again under the Labour/ SNP administration. We called that ‘our city’s still not for sale’ and we won that one too.

“We won these through research, argument and lobbying. We won through political pressure and being prepared to front up our politicians.

“But we also won because we got the public on our side. We won because activists went out to community groups and engaged with them and worked with them.”

John warned that with all the pressures on activists at this point in time, there may not be enough legs on the ground to do that if we faced the same challenges today.

“And that’s where we need to capitalise on our retired members.

“Retired members sections should be a campaigning arm of the union – getting out and leafleting workplaces, lobbying council meetings and getting active in local and national politics.

“And after this amendment is passed today, our retired members section can expect a wee lists of tasks they can be getting on with,” said John (or would have if he’d managed to finish his speech!)

Conference Home | Conference Guide | Service Group Reports | Archive | UNISON UK reports