Heroes and zeroes

UniteLive highlights the latest ‘heroes and zeroes’ amid coronavirus epidemic

Reading time: 9 min

Every Friday here on UniteLIVE we bring you more heroes and zeroes amid the coronavirus epidemic. Here are this week’s latest.


Protestors in the US and around the world standing up to racism

The protests in the US in response to the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police has sparked a global movement calling for an end to police brutality and the systemic racism that breeds it.

This week, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey hailed the protestors who are standing up to racism even in the face of state violence and said Unite is behind them all the way.

“Unite stands in solidarity with all those protesting in response to the senseless murder of George Floyd, and the appalling racism both here and across the world,” he wrote in a comment piece this week.

“The labour movement must be clear in its opposition to racism at all levels. Those of us who have a platform must speak out against yet another killing of a black man by the police. This abuse of power must end now. “

Unite’s housing members

As UniteLIVE highlighted today, homeless people previously housed in hotels amid the pandemic are now being thrown back out on the streets after a government scheme to protect them ended.

Unite members in the housing sector, many of whom work directly with homeless people who now face a return to streets, are calling on the government to extend funding to avert a rough sleeping ‘disaster’.

Unite’s housing activist Paul Kershaw explains in his powerful comment piece.

Dr Ron Singer

Another hero on our list this week is Dr Ron Singer, a GP and former chair of Doctors in Unite (DiU), formerly known as the Medical Practitioners’ Union (MPU), who sadly died last week.

DiU current chair Dr Jackie Applebee said, “Ron was an inspiration to so many people. He was passionate, principled, and a loyal friend, who never shied away from the front line fighting against injustice.

“He was an uncompromising defender of the NHS as Nye Bevan intended, a comprehensive health service, free at the point of delivery, publicly funded and provided for all.”

Transport workers

We’ve featured bus and other transport workers on our Heroes and Zeroes list before, but they again deserve another salute and they continue to risk their lives as passenger numbers are set to inevitably increase amid an ease of the lockdown.

This week, Unite secured a win for its transport worker members after the government agreed to implement a major ask from Unite – that all passengers wear face coverings as a mandatory measure.

Unite national officer Bobby Morton explained why this measure was so vital for transport, and specifically bus, workers.

“Throughout this pandemic bus workers have understandably been extremely anxious that they will catch the virus, or else bring it home to their families. Dozens of their colleagues have died from the virus, and every day for them is an emotional battle as they turn on their engines wondering if they will be next.”

“If mandatory face coverings can offer even the slightest bit of confidence to bus and other transport workers, a daily reminder to them that people care; that the government is taking definitive steps to protect them – then it is a worthwhile measure.”

CSEU – fighting for post-pandemic change

The Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU), of which Unite is a part, has long been fighting for shorter working time. The pandemic has given rise to huge possibilities on this issue, and so CSEU has redoubled its efforts to fight for better work/life balance among other aims.

“One common feature will be workers spending more time at home, possibly forced to stay away from work,” explained CSEU general secretary Ian Waddell. “New ways to deliver work, to communicate and to co-operate are being found.” 

“This ‘quiet revolution’ may well be the key to unlocking a new drive for a better balance between work and home; a fairer division of time. It is the next step in a campaign for shorter working time.” 

Find out more in our comment piece from Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke here.


British Airways

For the third time running on our zeroes list is British Airways. The airline is again under the spotlight this week as MPs across parties lined up to condemn BA’s behaviour towards its loyal staff during an aviation sector debate on Wednesday (June 3).

As UniteLIVE has highlighted before, BA has pledged to axe 12,000 jobs permanently and sack the rest of its workers and rehire them on worse contracts which will see their pay plummet by 70 per cent. No other airline has gone this far to destroy people’s livelihoods and cause needless suffering.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey spoke out against BA this week on various television programmes. Watch McCluskey’s most recent intervention below:

Hospitality bosses

We have previously featured various companies in the hospitality sector on our zeroes list. This week we highlight how the entire industry is lobbying to reduce social distancing measures from two meters to one. This is despite the fact that new research has shown that reducing social distancing guidelines from 2m to 1m could double infections.

Unite also slammed the Northern Ireland Executive’s decision to rush to open up the hospitality industry amid unsafe conditions at the behest of hospitality lobbyists, after it said it would allow hotels and other tourist accommodation to re-open from July 20. Find out more here.


Car manufacturer Nissan this week makes it on our zeroes list for announcing it would end a defined benefit pension scheme for hundreds of its members at the Sunderland plant.

Unite slammed the decision as opportunistic.

“Unite warned last week that proposed efficiency savings at the Sunderland plant must not be used as an excuse to attack staff terms and conditions,” said Unite national officer for automotive Steve Bush.

“Due to the timing we see this as an opportunistic attempt to push through long sought-after changes that will have a damaging impact on our members’ plans and financial security in retirement. 

“Unite will not stand by and let this happen, especially when Nissan has signalled that an industry standard lump sum provided in return for accepting the closure of defined benefit schemes is also off the table.”

Finance sector bosses

As Unite highlighted last month, our members in the finance sector, from bank branch workers to call centre workers and others, are among those on the frontline in the coronavirus epidemic.

But management has badly failed these workers – a new survey of call centre workers has shown that the vast majority of them fear that they will contract coronavirus, while nearly half said they believed management has been ineffective in maintaining social distancing in their workplace.

“The scale of the fear among call and contact centre staff is stark to see from this report,” said Unite national officer Rob MacGregor. “Workers in the finance sector are calling out for their employer to do more to keep them safe during this public health emergency.

“Employers from banks and insurance companies must consider this report urgently and re-double their efforts to keep their workforce safe,” he added. “Urgent discussion between employers and trade unions must be stepped up.”

By Hajera Blagg

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