Trade unions and Labour: ‘two sides of the same coin’

Liz Twist is a former head of health for UNISON’s Northern region, turned member of parliament, who now chairs the union’s group of Labour MPs

                                                                                                                 Image: Office of Liz Twist MP

As the daughter of a union steward and granddaughter of a miner, it’s no surprise that Liz Twist has spent most of her working life in the trade union movement. Now the Labour MP for Blaydon and shadow minister for local services and communities, she sees her political career as a natural extension of union values.

“I understood from a very early age that people deserved to be treated properly and Labour was the party to represent them”, she says. “That’s just how my family was.”

Her first step into the labour movement was over 40 years ago, when she became an assistant branch secretary for NALGO, one of the unions that later merged to become UNISON. She would go on to work for UNISON’s Northern region for 12 years and was its regional head of health.

Liz sees trade unions and the Labour Party as “two sides of the same coin”, something she encapsulates herself: she is still a UNISON member and since 2021 has chaired the union’s group of Labour MPs in Parliament.

For her, one of the most important UNISON achievements is to bring “the voices of the people on the frontline” into Parliament. Most often, these are women’s voices.

“I’ve seen first hand how many decisions at local and national level really impact women, and I’ve seen how many women do jobs that keep our society going. Women’s voices need to be heard, and I’m glad the UNISON colours are the suffragette colours.

“I remember UNISON ran a campaign years ago called ‘I don’t do politics’, because so many people say that. But if you’re interested in the education of your children, or how older people are cared for, or any other aspect of public utilities, then you’re interested in politics.”

Should Labour get into power, Liz wants to work in partnership with local government at all levels, to make sure she understands what’s happening on the ground, as opposed to simply issuing directives from on high. “As a constituency MP, I know how important it is to just listen to people,” she says.

“Blaydon is a group of towns and villages brought together”, Liz continues. “It’s an area where a lot of people are finding life hard, where people don’t have enough income and aren’t treated properly. The north east has the highest suicide rate in England; that’s not a league I want to be top of. And I know that socio-economic deprivation is a key contextual factor in many suicides.”

Suicide is a matter close to Liz’s heart. Her husband took his own life in 2000, and in her maiden speech to Parliament she stated her commitment to using her role as an MP to prevent suicide. She’s a trained Samaritans listening volunteer and has chaired the all-party parliamentary group on suicide and self-harm prevention since 2019.

“I’ve met so many people who have been personally affected by suicide and want to make a change,” she says. One day, when she has more time, she hopes to get back onto the Samaritans phones. Until then, she’s committed to making the most of her position in Parliament to do all she can.

“Having a union background means I understand what people’s lives are really like and how work affects all of our lives. Politicians in other parties just don’t get that.”

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