UNISON assistant general secretary Roger McKenzie told the annual Merthyr Rising trade union rally today that victory in the Irish referendum to repeal restrictive abortion law was an object lesson for trade unionists.
“This was a massive statement by the people of Ireland. People got up and organised themselves, their families and their work colleagues. This is the start of a process, not the end,” he said.
Recalling the racist insults he endured on starting school 50 years ago just after Enoch Powell’s infamous “rivers of blood” speech, the trade unionist said he still heard claims that the NHS is under pressure because of the scale of immigration.
“You wouldn’t have an NHS but for all the migrants who came to these shores to work in it,” he observed.
“People are still struggling to defend it. We have to stand up, organise and demand that we have the kind of NHS we want.”
Teachers’ union NEU (NUT section) general secretary Kevin Courtney, whose family background is in the south Wales coalfield, expressed anger on returning to see nieces and nephews condemned to insecure zero-hours employment.
Mr Courtney highlighted governments’ lack of an industrial strategy and of skills policies, together with attacks on trade unions and privatisation.
“That’s the politics we have to turn back,” he declared.
He pointed out that cab firm Uber takes 25 per cent of drivers’ wages, mirroring the practice of teacher-supply agencies, saying: “It’s not big, it’s not clever, it’s not efficient — it’s just bullying.”
TUC deputy general secretary Paul Novak greeted Merthyr for keeping the red flag flying since 1831, noting that today’s task is to make trade unionism relevant to the 21st century.
He disagreed with the idea of Valleys communities being “left behind,” insisting they have been “abandoned by governments” before adding: “We need an end to austerity and a real industrial strategy.”
Mr Novak celebrated Ryanair’s submission over recognition of pilots’ union Balpa, declaring: “If we can get it at Ryanair, we can get it anywhere.”
In similar vein, he welcomed the success of lecturers’ union UCU in defeating employers’ efforts to close its members’ defined-benefits pension scheme, saying: “If they can defend pension rights, we all can.”
Earlier, hundreds of trade unionists had paraded through central Merthyr, headed by the Lewis-Merthyr Brass Band and the Merthyr TUC banner.
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