A time to celebrate

ON UNISON’s 25th birthday, general secretary Dave Prentis takes stock of the union’s achievements and of what lies in store in the future

This year, our union celebrates an important milestone: our 25th anniversary. Formed by the merger of three great unions – NALGO, NUPE and COHSE – we were told that our efforts were doomed to failure. We were told that UNISON would not work.

In the years since, UNISON’s downfall has been predicted on countless occasions by opponents who constantly underestimated our union and our members.

Of course, we all know how wrong the doom-mongers were.

As the people who heal us, educate us, keep us safe and ensure that we receive care, support and vital services every single day, UNISON people are special people, and the union we have built together is a special union.

And for this special union, this year is a special time. It’s a time to look to the future, but also a vital opportunity to reflect on what we have achieved. A time to remember UNISON’s core values. And a time to celebrate what makes UNISON the world-renowned union it is today.

This is a union led by members and where everything that happens starts and ends with the experience of our members.

That’s why we’re not just the biggest union, we’re also the best. The difference UNISON has made – and continues to make – is immense.

UNISON is the union that campaigned for and delivered the statutory minimum wage. For years – and in the face of real opposition, often from other unions – UNISON stood up for decent pay, especially for those who need it most. As we continue to do today.

We are the union that forced the end of Employment Tribunal fees, in one of the biggest employment law cases in UK legal history, one that will continue to help all working people in UNISON and elsewhere for decades to come.

UNISON is the public-sector union. Not because we’re the biggest public service union by far (although we are), but because we represent public service workers across such a vast range of organisations, professions and areas that no other union comes close.

More than that, we act not just as the voice of public servants but as the voice of public services – a vital bridge between those who work in public services and those who rely on them.

At a time of cuts, uncertainty and austerity, that role has been vital.

Through those years of austerity, we’ve not just survived but thrived, building a union that robustly defends our members at work and fights for the services they provide.

That’s why – despite hundreds of thousands of job losses in the public sector so far – UNISON’s membership remains stable year after year.

Last year, 160,000 people joined UNISON and 80% of them were women – further securing our status as the biggest membership organisation for women in our country.

We were also the first union to enshrine within our democracy the principle of reserved seats for women. As a union of a million women, we’ve done more than any other union to ensure that we’re led by women – and with women’s voices paramount.

That’s why from equal pay to equal rights, our union has always been – and always will be – the union which puts women’s voices first.

A union that always goes the extra mile

A union that is always working towards our next milestone

A union that cares about every single member

A union that marches forwards together – in UNISON

1.3 million members, calling out together for change. When we are together and united, our union is so powerful. And we use that collective strength to fight for every single one of our members. And whether using time-honoured campaign techniques or innovating, our union always leads the way.

That’s why we were the first union in the UK to advertise on TV and radio and why we’re the union that’s leading the digital revolution in union campaigning and organising.

That’s why when our movement takes to the streets – whether it was the 300,000 UNISON members who marched in 2011 or those who swamped central London only a few weeks ago – it’s our voices, our purple and green and our flags and banners that dominate proceedings.

And it’s not just at home where we make our voices heard. There is no more widely respected union in the world than this great union of ours.

From Cuba to South Africa, from Italy to Japan, our work is celebrated and emulated. And where our support carries most weight, UNISON works with our partner unions to save lives – as we did in West Africa, playing a vital role in stopping the spread of Ebola.

We’re not a union that shouts loudly in the media without throwing our shoulder to the wheel. When UNISON commits to a campaign, a project or a political ambition, we do so seriously, effectively and passionately.

That’s the kind of union we are – and that’s why we have such a proud track record of winning change for our members.

All of this and so much more should be an immense source of pride to all UNISON activists – these are your campaigns, your energies and your victories.

The union we built together was designed to serve its members. We have succeeded in that.

Yet while we can look back proudly on a quarter of a century of achievement, we owe it to ourselves and to all of our members to redouble our efforts and ensure that in the next 25 years we are a better union still: a union as fit for the next quarter of a century as we have been since our foundation back in 1993.

Ours is a young union and a vibrant union. So, while our proud history stretches back more than a century through our predecessor unions, we can be inspired by our past, not bound by it.

We can build on our legacy of inclusiveness, tolerance and caring, and use our collective power to demand so much more – from government, employers and society as a whole.

We can be proud that we’re a union that’s member-led, but go further still, putting more power in the hands of UNISON members, especially women members – the majority of our members – whose voices must never be drowned out.

And we can be confident that our traditions of openness, transparency and democracy can be deepened and strengthened, so that ours is the most accessible, responsive and visible union around.

In the years ahead we must continue to work together, united by a shared purpose to build that better union – not of a million members but millions of members.