Today (2 June 2018) marks the 150th anniversary of the first Trades Union Congress (TUC). The congress brought the trade union movement together for the first time. Councillor Mary Locke describes the positive impact unions have had in our society and why they remain vitally important to creating a fairer future for us all.
A lasting force for good
Since that first meeting, the TUC has helped men and women work together to change the world of work for good. Many of the things we now take for granted, like paid holidays for all, the National Minimum Wage and the NHS (not to mention the Labour Party), were secured by the tireless campaigning of trade unionists and the TUC.
As a committed trade unionist, I’m proud of the contribution I have made to improving the lives of ordinary working people. When I first started working for the NHS, I joined NUPE, which went on to become UNISON, the UK’s largest public service unions.
What I gained from being in a union
Through my union I gained confidence and went on to become a workplace rep, helping other people to get on at work. As a TUC learning rep, I highlighted the need to improve access to education for low paid women workers like me, who have often been out of formal education for many years. I am also proud of the contribution I made to ‘Agenda for Change’ under the Labour government in the 2000s. Agenda for Change led to improved terms and conditions for low paid staff working in the NHS. Sadly, the improvements achieved under Labour are being reversed by the current Tory government.
Here’s to the next 150 years
As a trade unionist and a Labour councillor, I know the fight for a fairer world never ends. While the Tories may talk about making life better for ordinary working people, their actions prove otherwise. Eight years of austerity has slashed our public services. Working people and the poor have had to shoulder the brunt of these cuts, with women and disabled people particularly badly hit. At the same time, the Tories have made it harder for people to work together to improve their pay and conditions. The Trade Union Act 2016 deliberately placed unfair restrictions on unions , making it harder for people to organise, campaign and protect their jobs and quality of life.
Despite the Tories’ best efforts, unions are still campaigning hard to improve the lives of ordinary people. Earlier this year, university staff from across the country went out on strike to oppose cuts to their pensions, forcing their employers to come back to the negotiating table. Last month, the TUC brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets of London to demand a new deal for working people, including a £10 minimum wage, a ban on exploitative zero-hour contracts and properly funded public services . And as I write this, staff at TGI Friday’s are on strike for the first time ever to secure fair pay and tips.
A fair deal at work under Labour
All these examples show what can be achieved when people work together. I’m proud to say Labour is firmly behind these efforts. A future Labour government will offer a fair deal at work, strengthening workers’ rights and using public investment to upgrade our economy and create high-quality jobs.