Trade unions fighting for workers during the pandemic and leading demand for a People’s Recovery

Mary Senior
Mary Senior

In an inspirational speech that didn’t miss and hit the wall, STUC President Mary Senior stressed the key role of the trade unions in ‘saving lives’ in the pandemic, leading the campaign for a ‘People’s Recovery’; and fighting against employers taking Covid as a green light to exploit workers.

The role of “our vibrant and democratic trade union organisation has never been more important”, she said. “In the face of this incompetent, crony-ridden Johnson Government at Westminster, and with the challenges we face in Scotland – where at times flags, egos and borders seem the focus.

“It is our trade union movement that has been fighting for workers, protecting them, literally saving lives, this past long year. It is our trade unions that have been holding the politicians to account. And it is our trade union movement that is presenting the blueprint for a People’s Recovery.”

Underpinning it all was the unions’ key role in addressing economic injustice, poverty and inequality. And, importantly, the lessons of the pandemic included the need for self-care as she hailed the ‘Our Workers Taking Care’ campaign and called for workers and trade union activists to ensure a proper work-life balance.

Mary, University and College Union Scottish official and one-time UNISON staff member, spoke of the: “honour to be part of the first all-female leadership of the trade union movement in Scotland” alongside general secretary Roz Foyer.

She called on us to get our message of the need for “radical change” across loud and clear in the coming weeks because she was not convinced our current political leaders “comprehend or are committed to the scale of the change that our movement is demanding, that people and the planet desperately need.”

“Our politics and our economics need wholesale upheaval – transformation on the scale last seen in the 1945 post-war era”, she told delegates.

That was a time when “our collective endeavour created the National Health Service, built houses, and invested in education. Building back better today, cannot be empty rhetoric from the architects of austerity. It has to embrace our People’s Recovery.

“A bold, radical plan to increase pay, create good jobs, and a National Care Service of which we can be proud. Real investment in people, and in clean economic growth.”

And she stressed there could be “no return to the pre-pandemic Scotland, with its chronic underfunding of schools, hospitals and other vital services, No return to low pay and wage inequality. No return to the structures which compound systemic and institutional racism, and fail to tackle the discrimination facing so many of our women, black, disabled, young and LGBT+ citizens.”

She praised: “GMB’s British Gas workers, EIS’s college lecturers, USDAW’s Tesco members, Unite’s Saica workers – all fighting back to defend their professionalism, their rights, and their negotiated terms and conditions.”

Mary recalled inspiration from the pioneering Irish trade unionist and UNISON member, Inez McCormack who said: “our job is to put the people who are excluded at the centre of our economic and social planning and show that we can actually tackle the unjust and unstable conditions”.

Mary said Inez was clear that placing women’s rights, equality and human rights at the centre, could break through the challenges faced by people in Northern Ireland.

“And so to Scotland”, said Mary. “The STUC will always uphold the rights of the people of Scotland to determine our own future. Our organisation played a pivotal role in Scotland’s Constitutional Convention a generation ago. We’ll debate our next constitutional steps later this week. And we’ll do so in the context of the open, equal and discrimination-free Scotland we demand.

“But Congress, there are inherent dangers in the manner in which those who ride roughshod over the rights of women – or indeed any human beings – are now pursuing their own personal political agendas.”

Mary added: “As a bullied witness in a botched sexual harassment investigation 20 years ago, I’m absolutely appalled at the prospect of workers who’ve complained of being harassed and bullied by Salmond, having to work alongside him again after 6 May. The Scottish Government’s disastrous errors in its handling of women’s complaints continue to haunt.

“While I experienced the worst of our movement back then, I’ve also seen the best of it, and never lost faith in its purpose for good.

“I’ve been inspired by the amazing people that make up our great movement”, she said as she paid tribute to the support from STUC colleagues, her own union and her family. She missed having them around her in person for the Congress that had been planned for Dundee and, like us all, looked forward to a time when we could have that personal contact in the future.

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