IT HAS been just over a year since my appointment as the regional secretary for Unite South West — a region that I am proud to lead.
Over the last 14 months I have seen the dedication and strength of members across our communities who are standing together, remaining strong and fighting back against the government attacks on trade unions.
It is this devotion and belief in our movement that has at times taken my breath away, and with your continued support we have a voice to use and stand tall against those that choose to battle against the freedoms we have fought for over the years.
January 2016 marked a difficult start to the year for many of our members, their families and communities across the region. The systematic barrage of obstacles imposed upon us all by this Tory government has dampened spirits and left the bitter taste of betrayal in our mouths.
It would be an understatement to say that over the last few weeks the current spate of industrial action and the sad news of both mass redundancies and site closures across the south-west has been challenging. Employers across the country are leaving our members with very little option but to strike, and across the region members are facing the crisis of losing their jobs and dealing with the negative impact that this will have upon their families.
The announcement of the closure of Shepton Mallet Cider Mill in Somerset has deeply affected our workers and their families in a town steeped in history and proud of its world-renowned cider-making heritage. Nationally, junior doctors are still battling with the Tories to stabilise their future contracts within the NHS, while the steel industry is being decimated and an uncertain future looms over British manufacturing. And yet it doesn’t stop here.
This year will also see the repugnant Trade Union Bill become law. The Tory ideology to strip workers of their rights is not only draconian; it is dangerous and calculating.
However we must not let the hard times detract from all that is good about belonging to a trade union, and the positive results that we are seeing.
Let’s not forget the great work that we carry out across the region and the victories that we have won. We took a stand against Kier in Keynsham and as a result gained better working terms for our members — a fantastic result and one that couldn’t have been accomplished without the strength and support of unions and our members.
The south-west is a region to be celebrated and this weekend’s TUC AGM is a time for unions to stand together and work as one against an Establishment that is fracturing our societies, workplaces and workers livelihoods. It provides us with a time to unite and share our objectives across the region in order to protect our manufacturing industries and farming that have been hit hard in recent months in an unfolding economic crisis.
We have to remember that together we really do make a difference and we need to recognise and celebrate the great work carried out by unions, union reps and members across the region. Every day, Unite is winning better pay, improving skills, caring for the public and striving to improve health and safety in the workplace.
It is my ambition to see more young people join Unite in the south-west so we can protect our future generations.
By getting involved we can take a stand against a government that is determined to shift the balance of power in the workplace in favour of bad bosses and get the Trade Union Bill through Parliament with as little scrutiny as possible. We must not let them get away with it.
Now is a time for us all of us to unite and stand strong. If we don’t fight, we can’t win — and Unite will fight for you every time.
Together we really are stronger.
Peter Hughes is regional secretary of Unite South West.