Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail supported a motion on local government stating the need to support people from the cradle to the grave – by highlighting the plight of the Unite Lincolnshire health visitors in particular – on strike for the first time ever.
She explained the background of health visitors. “In 1896 the Women’s Sanitary Inspectors’ Association was founded. It was renamed the Women’s Sanitary Inspectors’ and Health Visitors’ Association in 1915.”
Moreover it was “the first health union to affiliate to the TUC in 1924.
“These pioneering women supported women’s suffrage working in slums shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Sylvia Pankhurst – fighting appalling deprivation – the hallmark of capitalist greed and exploitation.”
Cartmail continued, “Today in Unite, health visitors have held on to their emblematic colours of green, white and violet – and slogan of ‘give women the vote’.
“They have a proud history of independent advocacy – now as many have been transferred to local authorities, they are at the sharp end of cuts.
“Those that remain struggle with dangerously high caseloads. In Lincolnshire, Unite health visitors have been at the receiving end of a three year pay freeze. These 58 health visitors have, since they were transferred from the NHS, been robbed of more than £2,000.”
She explained that, “Apart from this accumulative pay cut they are seriously concerned about the downgrading of the health visitors’ professional status – resulting in fewer staff doing the specialist health visitor role.
“Alarmingly they have been told health visiting is not a “life and death service” – tell that to a health visitor who has the harrowing duty of giving evidence to a child death inquiry. And Congress they have said enough is enough.
“Their strike is unprecedented in the health visiting profession,” she said.
Cartmail introduced the three visiting strikers to the conference, “Claire Bradford, Hayley Carter, Nicola Stimson. Congress this motion calls on all of us to support a high profile campaign to reverse the cuts.”
She asked, “that we salute the Lincolnshire Health Visitors and their campaign to achieve just that. As the women’s suffrage movement demanded, ‘action not words.’”
The motion was carried.