'Let our heroes be the collective'

Thousands of Unite members take to the streets in London at TUC cost of living march and rally

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Unite members joined tens of thousands of demonstrators at a TUC march and rally on Saturday, June 18, to send a loud and clear message — that ordinary workers will not be made to pay for the cost of living crisis.

The protest, which set off from Portland Place in central London, culminated in a rally at Parliament Square, where several speakers, including Unite general secretary Sharon Graham, addressed the massive crowds.

It was the first major trade union march since before the pandemic, and several Unite members who we spoke to said they were determined to make sure their voices were collectively heard over the cost of living crisis.

Unite shop steward Sudarshan Dhanda (pictured below), who works at London Heathrow Airport, said that it was becoming more and more difficult to keep on top of his household budget.

“Fuel prices have gone through the roof and so have food prices – everything is going up and you worry about being able to put food on the table,” he told UniteLive.

Sudarshan highlighted the chaos now engulfing many airports including Heathrow, with employers struggling to maintain staffing levels as pandemic travel restrictions have eased.

“People just don’t want to come back because pay is so poor, especially now with the cost of living crisis,” he explained. “My message to employers at Heathrow today is that they need to increase wages and bring back good terms and conditions so that workers will want to come back to work for them. They will not survive as a business without us the workers.”

UniteLive also caught up with Unite young member Charlotte Chapman (pictured below), 26, who works in admin for a bus operator.

Like Sudarshan, she said the rising price of everything has really worried her.

“The cost of living has just really gone through the roof. Just the fact that my gas and electric bill has gone up by 50 per cent or more – it’s really extortionate and wages aren’t keeping up,” Charlotte noted.

Charlotte hailed the work of Unite as it now has re-focused its energies on the workplace under the leadership of general secretary Sharon Graham.

“It’s all about being united and standing together,” she explained. “You as an individual can’t change much in the workplace on your own, but together we can make a big difference.”

Ultimately Charlotte said she came out to the march to send a clear message to the government.

“Wages need to keep up with the cost of living, it’s as simple as that,” she said. “Wages need to match up so that everybody can live comfortably.”

For local authority worker Ty Denton, wages haven’t kept up with the cost of living for many years, he noted.

“I’m here today to protest the rising cost of living,” he said. “As a local authority worker we’ve been living under austerity for 15 years now. We are now having yet another attack on local authority workers and it’s severely impacting us.”

Ty said the cost of living crisis has hit him and his family “across the board”.

“The cost of living crisis has meant going into work I’ve had to spend a lot more money on fuel,” he said. “Even going to the shop, our grocery bill has increased significantly. Gas and electric now costs a fortune. The government have hardly done anything to help.”

Ty said it was important for him to bring his partner and two young children to the march (pictured below).

“We just really wanted to make sure our voices are all heard – to show that this cost of living crisis is affecting everyone,” he said.

He urged the government to think of the many millions of families like him who are now struggling.

“Our most recent pay offer was 1.75 which is shocking,” he said. “It doesn’t even come close to touching the sides of inflation. After 15 years of not having had a decent pay rise, 1.75 per cent is just adding insult to injury. In real terms it’s like having a massive pay cut.”

Ty’s thoughts on pay were echoed by many of the union members who took to the stage at the rally in Parliament Square to speak, including Unite branch secretary for Tata Steel Shotton Kieron Stonely (pictured below).

“I’m a steel worker in North Wales and I am angry – angry about the rising cost of living; angry that workers are facing wage cuts,” Stonely said in his speech. “Together with collective bargaining we can make this world a better place. We demand better.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham (pictured below) was among the speakers at the Parliament Square rally and she called on trade unions to stand strong as she highlighted how ordinary families are being shafted by rampant profiteering – the true driver of present inflation.

“We need a national conversation,” she said. “The economy is not working for everyday people. Politicians have failed; they do not represent the interests of workers. That is why we must now take action ourselves. We are not going to get change by lobbying in Westminster. The only way we are going to get change is by doing this ourselves.

“Let our heroes be in number – let them be the collective,” Graham added. “This is what matters now, and we cannot forget it. The baton has been passed on to us — workers and their communities are watching. So it’s time to stand on our own two feet, stop apologising, be proud of who we are and do our job and fight for working people.”

You can watch a video of Graham’s full speech on UniteLive here.

By Hajera Blagg

Pics by Mark Thomas

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