Dear UNISON Member,
I am UNISON’s Assistant General Secretary for Bargaining, Negotiations and Equalities. I’ve worked for UNISON members for over 25 years, negotiating better pay and conditions for you across all sectors.
I grew up in Drumchapel, a big council housing estate in Glasgow. It was a daily struggle for my mother, working as a school cleaner and dinner lady, to rear me, my two brothers and sister. My father worked mostly as a general labourer, and after he left when I was 11, it was my mother who brought us up.
Most people in Drumchapel, near Clydebank, worked in the shipyards or factories. As a community, we helped each other out. Often my neighbours would bring round a pot of soup, because they had “made too much”, or the ends of bread, when they knew my mother was short of money to buy food.
That life experience shaped my beliefs. I understand to this day the hard graft that goes into working, to raising a family and the desire for everyone to have a better life. It gave me the determination to persevere even when things seem bleak and gave me a great sense of community and the power of solidarity and strength in trade unions to make life better.
I left school at the age of 16. I was interested in politics and when I heard Jimmy Reid, of UCS fame, speak at a rally for 2 hours without notes, I was inspired to join the Communist Party. So it was socialist Sunday school for me and selling copies of the Morning Star outside Maryhill working men’s club. Some years later, I left the CP, and joined the Labour Party - I’ve been a member for 30 years.
My first jobs were in the civil service, in the NHS and in shops, and when I was 22, I went to university and got a degree in English and history. I am married to Robert, who has worked in adult social care for more than 30 years; we have a daughter and a son.
After university, I worked at Glasgow city council as a housing officer, followed by a few years at the GMB representing workers at industrial tribunals. I then moved to a legal assistant job in the union’s head office in London, where I became involved in the first equal value case. I also picked up other equalities work, introduced training courses for women and subsequently moved to NALGO to become their Women's Officer.
At NALGO, I ran the first three national women’s conferences for the union and set up and ran training courses for activists. When the merger came and UNISON was created – it was a fantastic move, a really exciting time – it gave me access to a whole range of other women members and activists. The union created a strong industrial base in the public services, with equality built right into the heart of the union.
All my working life, I’ve taken action to improve the lives of our members and working people. In UNISON, I’ve worked across all sectors, representing members and handling equal pay and equality issues. I have negotiated national agreements in universities and college sectors, for school staff, for police members, in local government and in the NHS, as well as with national private and voluntary sector employers.
I’ve stood up to governments and employers; given a strong voice to UNISON members, defended public sector pensions, forced the Government to back down on ending national pay rates and introducing regional pay, and made sure the most marginalised workers are never forgotten. I have fought and won national disputes.
From the first equal value case in Liverpool to the recent victory for thousands of members in Glasgow, I have put words into action.
During the current Covid-19 crisis, I have been speaking up for our members across all sectors. I have taken our demands for PPE, safe working conditions, risk assessments and safe reopening of workplaces to the heart of government. I have fought to ensure the appalling risks faced by Black workers, disabled workers and other vulnerable groups are addressed by employers and political leaders across the UK.
I have been speaking up for our health and social care workers, highlighting the crisis in care and the dreadful working conditions our members have been facing. But the pandemic has been fought by hundreds of thousands of public service workers - in the police service, in energy and water companies, in schools and in transport, by refuse collectors, welfare rights advisors and environmental health officers - in the huge range of jobs in local government that keep our communities safe and well.
I represent UNISON on the European Public Services Union and Public Services International health and social services committees. I led the campaign for standards and training for health and social care assistants, negotiated with EU employers on safe staffing levels in hospitals, and on a wide range of health and safety initiatives. This collaboration between international unions is critically important in the fight for universal access to free healthcare, decent pay and conditions and safety for the workforce across the globe.
The world of work has changed drastically over the past 25 years, but the change will be more marked post Covid-19. We need a modern, organising union fit for the future. Whether our members are on the road, or across different sites, working in people’s homes or in the community alone, in a school, a call centre or in a library, UNISON must be there to support and represent them and to give them a voice in the union.
I will make sure UNISON is a campaigning union, responsive to members’ needs, supporting branches and activists, fighting for workers’ rights and better pay and conditions. I will always speak up for public services and the amazing people who provide them.