At a time when hunger and want have soared in the UK and across globe amid the coronavirus pandemic, never has reaching out to our communities been more important.
That’s why Unite has set up its Christmas Appeal initiative, where both industrial and Unite Community members are working together to donate to local food banks, start collections and ask their employers to get involved as well.
Within days of launching Unite’s union-wide initiative, a huge number of members, branches and workplaces have already offered to help.
This week, UniteLIVE caught up with Unite rep and activist Ethnie Abbasali, who is one of many members contributing to and drumming up support for the Christmas Appeal.
As soon as Ethnie received an email about the Appeal, she wanted to get involved right away.
“I thought this was a great opportunity for me and my family to make a personal donation so I ordered a bunch of toiletries and hand sanitisers since I knew these items were in high demand. People don’t think about things like shower gels, body cream, and deodorant when they’re donating to food banks but people need these items too to survive and get by.”
Ethnie also collected numerous toys she had that she had bought over the year for her nieces and nephews that she hadn’t yet given.
“I realized that my nieces and nephews don’t really need them, and here was an opportunity to put a smile on a child’s face who may be going through a really hard time at the moment,” she said.
Ethnie then got in touch with her local Unite Community branch, who then in turn connected her with a new local food bank in her area where she could donate the items to in Brent, London, in the Chalkhill Estate area.
As chair of her Transport for London (TfL) branch, which covers professional services who are office-based staff and has about 600 members, she called a branch meeting so that they could discuss how they can assist with the Christmas Appeal collectively. The branch will now be making a donation through the Appeal as well, and Ethnie has also encouraged all reps and members to find a food bank or charity in their local area to donate to.
“I told them that it doesn’t have to be a large amount, even if it’s just £10 or £20,” Ethnie noted. “Anything, however small, that people can do will be a blessing to these families who are struggling right now. They’re comrades and members just like us. TfL hasn’t made any staff reductions – and I’m not saying that it may not happen in the future – but for the time being we are still getting paid and we haven’t had any redundancy notices yet. So we are in a position to help.
“It’s all about helping someone else who might not be in the same position as you. It doesn’t mean that they’re any less than anyone else – it just means at this particular junction in their lives they’re struggling and they just need some support.”
Ethnie said her industrial branch is now in discussions with her local Unite Community branch about how they can help further in their communities and also potentially affiliate to the local trades council.
“This sort of collaborative working is now at the top of our agenda as a branch. It’s vital that industrial members and branches work within their communities so we can brainstorm ideas to maximise our impact in helping others.”
Ethnie urges branches and members across sectors and regions to get involved in Unite’s Christmas Appeal too.
“When I donated the toiletries, hand sanitisers and toys to the food bank, I can’t begin to describe how good it felt – there really are no words for that feeling,” she said.
“I’ve been a member of the union for nearly thirty years and I have never seen a time like this, where so many people have been affected by the pandemic in one way or the other – both here and across the globe. So many people are suffering and the only way we are going to get through this is by helping and supporting each other.
“And it doesn’t matter what religion, race or gender you are – if you need help, we need to be there to help each other,” Ethnie added. “It’s not about saying, ‘Well I’m just going to help that individual because I know them’. If there is a need, we as a community, as a branch and and as individuals need to be supporting others.”
Ethnie said the Christmas Appeal is one part of the many ways that she believes Unite is supporting its members and communities during the pandemic.
“I’ve never been prouder to be a member of Unite – from all the online training we’re receiving as reps to the many communications we’re getting from the union to keep us updated and informed and much more in between, Unite is really going above and beyond at this unprecedented time. Even though we may be physically isolated from one another, I’ve never felt more connected to the union than I do now.”
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner, who is responsible for the union’s army of community activists, hailed the work Unite Community and industrial members and branches are doing to help those in need this Christmas.
“Up and down the country, Unite Community members are working with our branches and members in workplaces to help people get through these really tough times,” he said. “Together what a force they are.
“They’re organising collections for food banks; they’re organising for clothes banks. And they’re asking employers to show they care for their communities too, by donating cash, toys and gifts so that no child goes without this Christmas. This is Unite in action – dedicated, driven and standing up for our people.”
Find out more about Unite’s Christmas Appeal, and how you can help, on our web page here.
By Hajera Blagg