'Where workers unite, we win'

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham convenes summit in East Midlands as part of wider UK tour

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Unite general secretary Sharon Graham convened a summit in the East Midlands on Wednesday (March 1) where union activists from across the region met to discuss Unite’s laser-focus on jobs, pay and conditions.

Nearly 200 union activists attended the meeting in Leicester from the region, including reps from Rolls Royce, Toyota, Nottingham City Council, Siemens, Stagecoach, DHL and E.on UK Plc, among others.

The summit marked the first of a number of meetings Sharon will hold as part of a wider UK tour of Unite’s regions in the coming weeks and months.

Speaking at the summit, Sharon Graham said, “Unite is 100 per cent behind workers across the East Midlands in their battle for fair pay. We won’t let the cost of living crisis take its toll on workers when bosses can afford to pay more.

“As we have proved where workers unite and take action we can fight and win – like in the East Midlands, in the last year,” she added. “Where our members take industrial action I’ll back them all the way. The government might make all sorts of threats trying to bully the unions but we’re not going away. In fact the trade union movement is being reborn. Mark my words.”

Unite East Midlands regional secretary Paresh Patel (pictured above) called the summit “absolutely fantastic”. He said some of the key issues raised by reps at the meeting included the suppression of pay and conditions by employers, an increase on attacks on reps, as well as the expansion of fire and rehire.

“Another key theme of the meeting was politicians from all sides wanting to take us down the road of austerity,” he added.

“But what was really critical in the meeting was not just the discussion of the issues we face, but how Sharon laid out a very clear vision and strategy about how the union has and will tackle these issues,” Paresh went on to say. “She spelled out exactly what needs to be done for us to fight back as a union.”

Paresh said he’s received nothing but positive feedback from the summit.

“What I’ve kept hearing over and over again from our reps is that Unite is now a fully fighting back union,” he said. “Sharon Graham has put the fight back into the union.”

Sharon also slammed the government’s narrative that inflation was being driven by wage and food price increases, when in fact it is excess profits. The continued suppression of NHS wages and other attacks on frontline public sector workers emerged as a key talking point at the summit as well.

But above all, Paresh reiterated that reps were especially inspired by Sharon’s emphasis on tangible, strategic action to improve workers’ pay, terms and conditions.

“We came away from the summit motived like never before to take that fight into our workplaces,” he added.

Commenting, Unite convenor at Rolls Royce Aiden Papworth said, “Sharon is a breath of fresh air and a force of nature.  All of a sudden, we have a union fighting for wages and winning, and it’s not only Unite members who are right behind Sharon – unions have become a voice for everyone. 

“People can feel the cost of living crisis and they can see the grotesque profits coming from big energy,” he added. “The government can let it rip for the City bankers but can’t pay the nurses; whom they clapped during the pandemic, a decent rise. Sharon tells it how it is and holds power to account.”

Unite has notched up a significant number of wins in the East Midlands since Sharon Graham became general secretary in August 2021. These include inflation-busting pay deals for members at Bakkavor Foods and Nottingham City buses, as well as for Wincanton warehouse workers at DHL.

Among the most recent wins in the region, members working at East Midlands Airport won a 10 per cent pay rise after industrial action. Meanwhile, Leicester bus workers, went on strike and achieved an historic 13 per cent pay deal.

Stay tuned on UniteLive as we report on Unite general secretary Sharon Graham’s tour of the union’s regions in the coming weeks and months.

By Hajera Blagg

Pics by Mark Harvey