‘Let’s show the government our anger – and our strength’

UNISON General Secretary’s speech to Local Government Conference 2022

General secretary Christina McAnea tells UNISON’s local government conference to get their branches ‘strike ready’ and ensure a big turnout at the TUC demo on 18 June

Christin Macanea
Christina McAnea speaking to UNISON National Local Government Conference Photo Steve Forrest/Workers’ Photos

“Please, please join us this Saturday, 18 June in London. Join the whole trade union movement – and let’s show the government our anger, our outrage, but above all, let’s show them our strength.”

That was the clarion call from Christina McAnea today, as she addressed UNISON’s local government service group conference in Brighton.

It was the first live conference for the sector group since the pandemic began and she used the opportunity to convey a message of hope but also to issue a strong challenge to activists in “every single branch – go back to your branch and do everything you can to be strike ready”.

Greeted by cheers around the hall, she opened by telling delegates that it was “great to be back. To be here with the workers whose labour keeps our communities going … while a useless Tory government parties in the corridors of power”.

Saying that her highlight of the week will be “being here tomorrow to celebrate our local service champions”, she went on to develop her theme of the range of vital roles that local government workers had carried out since the emergence of COVID.

On that theme, Ms McAnea highlighted the absurdity of Prime Minister Boris Johnson behaving as though he were responsible for the successful vaccine rollout. She said: “You were essential for the rollout – though seldom acknowledged – the glue that helped that whole process together.”

Local government workers were undervalued and undermined, and, while the Conservative government is “the architect of the cost of living crisis”, now they want to blame public service workers, she noted.

“Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have stood by and allowed the fuel and energy crisis to grow.

Saying these workers are “forgotten is too kind – these are deliberate choices”, when we’re in the middle of the biggest fall in living standards in decades.

Many councils are in serious trouble after years of cuts.

But there is hope. The general secretary reminded delegates that Barnet in north London had gone from a Tory council to a Labour one in May, after many years, during which the ‘Easy Barnet’ model, which saw “anything that moved was outsourced”. The new council faced a real challenge, but as neighbouring Enfield, which has insourced 17 services in the last four years, has shown, it can be done.

Ms McAnea applauded some of the union’s victories: by Sandwell leisure workers – first against their employer’s fire and rehire policy, and then for a return to national pay terms; – of Perth and Kinross, where members time back for term time workers who developed COVID in school holidays; for a new, recent strike ballot at Glasgow City Council that has seen the council back down again on equal pay.

She mentioned too, next week’s action at St Monica’s Trust in the South West, where care workers will walk out in a new dispute over fire and rehire.

But the general secretary was also concerned as to why so many ballots have low turnouts.

“A low turnout is exactly what the Tories wanted when they introduced [anti-union] legislation”, she said. “We need to look honestly at how that happened.

“We will back future strike action in this cost of living crisis … let’s make that disappointing turnout a distant memory and let’s make Saturday’s demonstration a massive show of strength.”