by Jennifer Valentine-Miller
I was not only surprisingly overwhelmed by the ten to fifteen minute walk from Kings Cross station to the London Welsh Centre but rather damp with sore feet. I arrived feeling somewhat out-of-place in a building dating far back as 1920. However it had to be a warm welcome that led me to sit at one of the front row tables. Due to issues with Wi-Fi, this Black History month celebration (which was in capable hands of the Unison Black Members Association) took some time to get underway. Once the intros began I too was beginning to feel honoured to be part of the whole occasion. I no longer cared about the décor, I was now focusing on the Prime Minister’s statement which gave “enormous gratitude to the African-Caribbean community for their immense contribution to Britain, and how we can all look forward with great confidence about the future of our country.”
The day continued with great motivational speaking from the author Rasheed Ogunlaru, a wonderful lunchtime buffet, music by a legendary Jazz saxophonist and entertainment provided by a talented Harlem-style tap dancer.
However, there was more in store for us to savour and be a part of and that was the up-and-coming seven-day Unison strike action which was due on 24 November 2014.
That Monday morning was just as wet and cold, especially for the stewards who were stood outside from 7.00am. I received an email reminder about this event following the successful action in October. The posters reminded me that public sector workers like me need to keep pressure on the government and make them think again about low pay. The UNISON officials cried out “if you take part, this day of action will be even more successful”. The turnout was poor and the hostility from those crossing the picket line was made clear. I turned up to be told that I have a least an hour of action to take. So I walked over to nearest EAT bar for a wonderful cappuccino. How could I make the government think again, whilst I am sat here drinking a hot whisked coffee?
The thing is many people like me has, somewhere along the line, told a union rep that we felt undervalued and demoralised because of the lack of pay increases. Yes, I can afford to have a luscious coffee but I cannot afford not to be standing together with UNISON and not take action for fair pay for public workers. I returned back to work with an hour remaining from the four-hour strike. Unfortunately not many people were prepared to take up my hour in order to forget about work.
When I looked outside of my singular way of thinking, I heard there was a lot of public support for the NHS and public sector workers via radio phone-in programmes, on websites, and social media. A union spokesperson also added “If we don’t take more action things will just get worse. Your pay will fall further behind and patient care will continue to suffer as you get more demoralised and worried about making ends meet.”
Even though it seems that I can afford to take my breaks, what I cannot afford to do is to sit back and let services and working-officers disappear because my thinking thinks I cannot make a difference. Further actions will run on until Sunday 30 November and UNISON will plan more actions in the New Year. For more information contact your branch/ UNISON rep, at unison.org.uk or by calling free on 0800 0 857 857.
Picture from: Unison