It was an inspiring event. Entitled “The People’s Recovery – Organising for a Fairer Future,” there was a clear and essential focus on equalities – especially important as equality groups have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was the first Congress with Rozanne Foyer at the helm as general secretary – the first ever woman to hold this role. In her report Roz reminded us that strong women have always been to the fore in our trade union movement. However to support women to leadership roles, “we must address the sticky floor as well as the glass ceiling.”
Responses to the crisis
UNISON’s Charmaine Blaize spoke movingly and powerfully about the disproportionate impact of Covid on our Black workers.
She told Congress that a UNISON survey of Black members discovered a culture of fear – fear for themselves and their families from Covid, fear of going off sick and not being paid, fear of a lack of PPE and a fear of raising safety concerns.
“It showed that Black workers were over-exposed and under protected,” said Charmaine.
She told Congress, however, that this is a “moment of opportunity” and called on unions to do more to tackle racism. She reminded us that “race equality is everyone’s business”.
“Hopefully we will soon have a vaccine for Covid… After 400 years we are yet to find a vaccine for racism”.
A people’s recovery
UNISON Scottish secretary, and general council member, Mike Kirby called for massive investment to support the country out of Covid.
“Investment in public services is the quickest way to put money into the pockets of ordinary people,” said Mike.
“Putting money into essential services creates long-term economic benefits and promotes community resilience.”
He slammed “the systemic deficiencies in social care” exposed by the pandemic and demanded an end to “for profit” companies in its delivery. “Time to prioritise social value ahead of price,” urged Mike.
A Scotland fit for the future
Depute convener, Stephen Smellie told Congress that UNISON supports the right of the Scottish people for self-determination. “That isn’t the same as saying we are in favour of independence,” he said.
However he called for the unions to be directly engaged in trying to shape what independence (or greater devolution) would look like if that’s what the Scottish people vote for.
“We want the options to be at least more in tune with what our vision of a Just and fair and Green Scotland should be.”