Rights at work: Crying out for a better Britain

07 November 2019

General secretary of Unite the Union Len McCluskey took aim at the government in his address to the Unite-CPHVA Professional Conference.

What a privilege it was to address conference this year, those members of an organisation with such a proud history – the first women’s trade union, formed at the time of the fight for women’s suffrage and taking its colours from that movement. In such extraordinary and polarised times in British politics, the hope and new life represented by that green is something that working people desperately need right now.

Divide and rule

Working people like our brave Lincolnshire health visitor members, who the local authority has refused a pay rise for the last three years. Such is the council’s determination to deny them what is rightfully theirs, it has escalated the dispute with divide-and-rule tactics, insisting Agenda for Change is left behind, with skilled practitioners not receiving the recognition they have earned.

No worker takes strike action lightly, not least those in healthcare, but it’s little wonder the Lincolnshire HVs have taken an unprecedented 32 days of industrial action and are balloting again for further strikes.

These are highly qualified professionals, looking after our children, our young people and their families – all our futures – and are dedicated to achieving a healthier future for our society. They ask only for fair pay, to be treated with respect, yet this Tory council seems incapable of giving them either.

It beggars belief that any local authority is willing to allow families with young children suffer the consequences of a reduced service, rather than getting around the negotiating table to end the dispute, including by agreeing to pay those long overdue cost-of-living pay rises.

Alternatives to austerity

Unite will support our courageous, dedicated, hard-working HVs every step of the way. We are stepping up the campaign for pay justice, and we will win.

Our Lincolnshire HVs are a symbol of why our country is crying out for an alternative to austerity, those cuts that force the majority to suffer while the rich get richer.

Because whatever the government may claim, austerity is not over, and never will be while the Tories are in power. The damage and destruction they have imposed on public health has been devastating.

It includes 500,000 children living in relative poverty since 2010, public health funding cut by 25% in real terms and £850m since 2015, and HV posts cut by 32% in England – that’s over 3200 posts.

More than 730 school nurse (SN) posts have been lost in England since May 2010, while community nursery nurses are being forced to go beyond their professional competencies because they’re seen as cheap labour.

These are savage cuts that are leading to infants and toddlers missing out on vital health checks in their first years of life.

People before profit

A general election will soon be upon us, and we need a government that will genuinely invest in decent homes, jobs, wages and public services, rebuild our NHS, and increase mental and community health spending.

That government is a Labour government, which will increase the numbers of HVs and SNs, fund their training, and bring back bursaries for nurses and midwives. Above all, a Labour government will put public health before private profit, creating a better and fairer Britain.