Heart Unions week: 'Being in a union made the difference'

In Part 5 of our Heart Unions series this week, we speak to Unite members about why being part of a trade union now has never been more important

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In the last part of our Heart Unions week series, we look at why being part of a trade union has never been more important than now amid an unprecedented cost of living crisis. While working people’s living standards are being squeezed like never before, many companies’ profits are breaking records.

The only sure-fire way to fight back is through your trade union, which many of our members have successfully done. Today we hear from members who spoke to UniteLive at a cost of living People’s Assembly demonstration in Manchester. They told us why being part of a trade union now is indispensable.

‘Being in a union made the difference’

Unite branch secretary and First Manchester bus worker Sohail Khan (pictured below) and his colleagues only just won their pay dispute last week. Through their efforts, they’ve secured an 8.9 per cent pay increase for the workers.

“We’re just gone through a strike,” Sohail explained. “What we got offered before the strike and what we got offered after the strike was like night and day. What made the difference was being part of a union and taking a stand collectively.

“Otherwise the company would have totally ignored us and they could have run over us rough-shod and done what they liked,” he added. “We would have no right to strike without being in a union and would have no power in the workplace. To not be in a union at the moment, you’ll get badly burned. It’s absolutely essential, especially right now.”

‘When you stand together, you tend to get what you want’

Unite rep Andy Aspinall (pictured below), who works for Manchester-based pallet makers Chep UK, is now in the midst of a pay dispute alongside his colleagues, who are fighting for a significant pay rise to reverse years of wage stagnation.

“Our jobs at Chep used to be decently paid but our wages have massively stagnated over the years,” Andy told UniteLive. “Year after year they’ve offered typically derisory pay offers – one per cent one year, when inflation had been at three per cent, for example.

“Over the last seven or eight years, we’ve had maybe only a six percent pay increase in total so in reality that’s a pay cut,” he added. “And now the impact of years of stagnating wages has being keenly felt especially with the cost of living crisis now. This is why we’re taking a stand.”

Although their fight is still ongoing, Andy and his union comrades are confident that they’ll win their dispute. So far, they’ve had widespread support from their local community, with a well-attended rally held just this week for their cause. They’ve been on strike since December for the last eleven weeks.

Andy urged everyone to join a trade union now.

“It’s always been important to be part of a union,” he said. “When you stand together with like-minded people, you tend to get what you want.”

‘It’s only through collective action that we’ll get anything from the bosses’

Unite member and flight attendant Mikey (pictured below) told UniteLive that he came down to the People’s Assembly demo to make sure his and other people’s voices were heard over the cost of living crisis.

“I work every single day because I cannot afford even a basic standard of living if I don’t – I literally don’t have a day off,” he said. “My biggest fear is that things are only going to get worse – if prices keep increasing then we’ll be right on the breadline. If that happens, I don’t know how I’m going to pay the mortgage or the bills and feed my children.

As bleak as the future looks, Mikey said the only way to get through it was to join a trade union.

“The only way you’re going to get a pay rise in the near future is if you join a trade union,” he told UniteLive. “It’s only through collective action that we’re going to get anything from the bosses these days, especially when they’re using Covid and Brexit as an excuse to keep wages down. The only way we can fight this is if we stand together and organise.”

‘Join those fighting to drive up wages’

A range of speakers from the union movement and other campaigning organisations spoke at Saturday’s demo, including the striking Chep workers as well as Unite political officer Laura Smith, who is also a Labour councillor for Crewe South.

Laura explained why it was vital that everyone join a union now.

“I say people should get themselves in a trade union, and join those fighting to drive up wages,” she said. “It is a fact that those who are in a unionised workplace will earn more than those who are not.”

Well there – you’ve heard it straight from our members and officers: the best thing you can do for you and your family is to be part of a trade union now. And what better week than Heart Unions week to join? You can find out more about joining Unite here. If you’re already a member, you can share your union story on social media using the hashtags #HeartUnions and #EveryWorkerNeedsaUnion.

By Hajera Blagg

Main pic by Mark Harvey

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