Arriving at the Oxford Bus picket line on Monday I was hit by a wall of sound, as passing car drivers – many of whom would usually use the city’s bus service – and HGV drivers at the neighbouring depot joined the Unite pickets in sounding their horns in support of the strike.
The backing for our members, who walked out for two days over a total breakdown in industrial relations, has been phenomenal. They are fighting a deeply hostile employer which has refused to give its low-paid workers a pay rise.
It gave me great pride to announce that Unite would, immediately, double strike pay for our Oxford Bus members so they can continue their fight for fair treatment without the fear of being starved back to work.
That’s an unequivocal message to send to an intransigent employer. The Oxford Bus boss was quick to agree to restore the ripped-up recognition agreement with Unite when I crossed the road to visit him in his office.
Though I made it clear to him that unless he restores facility time and starts treating our members with respect I will have no choice but to take the dispute to every Go Ahead depot in the country.
My intervention in the Oxford Bus strike, followed by talks with BMW management about the threatened closure of its defined benefit pension scheme, are just two examples of how, under my leadership, Unite is a union that always puts members first and wins in the workplace – protecting jobs and securing better pay and conditions.
During the previous weekend I addressed an incredible 250,000 people in Parliament Square, who marched to save our NHS and I spoke again with the business secretary Greg Clark and the chief executives of Peugeot and General Motors as part of my fight to secure a future for our Vauxhall plants.
These actions demonstrate how Unite’s commitment to delivering the protection and support at work that our members pay for are not just words. Our members in the NHS, in local authorities, at Vauxhall Motors, Ford, Tata Steel, British Airways and many more know that our union delivers.
Since launching my re-election campaign I have met hundreds of members in Britain and Ireland and across all sectors of our union. I’ve visited workplaces and attended many member and activist meetings. I have heard our members’ concerns about the impact of Brexit on their industries and communities, the government’s failure to invest in their regions and the threat that automation presents to their jobs. I have talked to them about how the government’s austerity policies and cuts are affecting the daily lives of their families and I have joined them in marching to save public services.
While one of my opponents in this election believes there is no point in arguing against a hard Brexit to protect our members’ jobs, and thinks that leaving the single market is a price worth paying to reduce immigration, I have consistently lobbied the government for support for British industry and called on the Prime Minister to stop making the European Union exit strategy a competition between strong borders and the economy.
Perhaps this is what this opponent means by “keeping Unite out of politics” but it shocks me that he says Unite’s only response to Brexit can be to “face reality”. Unite members are experiencing first-hand and in real time what happens when companies feel uncertain about future investment.
The fact is I am on the front-line fighting to save our members’ industries, jobs and rights from the consequences of a “Tory Brexit”, demanding assurances from the bosses of Ford, PSA group – the new owners of Vauxhall – and countless other employers in the auto and other manufacturing sectors about their commitment to the UK.
People look to Unite to give leadership in this, not to throw in the towel and hope for the best. I know that significant numbers of our members voted to leave the EU, but they didn’t vote to lose their jobs.
With Theresa May pursuing a hard Brexit it is more important than ever that Unite, under my continued leadership, continues to press for a deal that supports jobs, preserve workers’ rights and conditions and provides continued access to tariff-free markets, investment and a positive forward industrial strategy for decent jobs.
I have championed a new approach to the free movement of labour, stressing the importance of safeguards for workers and communities, and the need for union-negotiated standards. This is how we protect jobs, eradicate the greedy bosses who abuse migrant workers and change our race to the bottom culture into a rate for the job society.