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TUC March and rally 2018
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Jess Hurd

HeartUnions Week: celebrating what unions have achieved for workers and why we need them now more than ever

Published date
Today marks the beginning of HeartUnions week, our celebration of trade unions and the work they do to make our workplaces and communities fairer.

This week we’ll be highlighting the good that unions do every single day. But we’ll also be thinking about how to strengthen our movement for the future.

Because if we’re to keep winning for workers, we need strong unions that will stand up for their rights, give them a voice at work, and secure the new deal they deserve.

That means explaining to people what unions do and encouraging them to join our movement.

It means fighting to stamp out exploitative working practices such as zero-hours contracts and working with politicians who will restore and protect trade union rights.

And it means doing all we can to get more union reps into workplaces and helping them organise to win the better deal working people deserve.

That’s what HeartUnions week is all about.

Strong unions, better workplaces

A key aim of HeartUnions is to remind people what trade unions can do for them.

After all, unions have done more to improve the lives of working people than any other organisation – and we’re not afraid to say so.

Over the last 150 years, unions have fought for and won sick pay, the eight-hour day, the weekend, paid holiday and parental leave, the minimum wage, protection from discrimination, equal pay and healthy, safe workplaces.

It’s easy to take these things for granted, but it’s important to remember just how much we all owe to those campaigning unionists who went before us.

Challenging times

But there’s a problem. Since its peak in the 1970s, union membership has declined from 54 to 23 per cent of the work force – and less than eight per cent of workers aged 16-24 are currently in a union.

On top of the demographic challenge, unions have come under sustained attack by successive Tory governments in recent decades.

This started back in the 1980s, when the Thatcher government used the transition from a manufacturing to a service economy to weaken workers’ rights.

Many workers lost their jobs and communities were torn apart, but anti-union legislation made it difficult for unions to respond.

Things improved when the Conservatives lost power during the 1990s, but progress was undone by the 2008 financial crisis and the election of the Tory-led coalition in 2010.

Since then the government has renewed its attacks on our movement, passing the antidemocratic Trade Union Act in 2016 and stopping unions using new technology to organise in workplaces.

An economy that doesn’t work for workers

This all matters because the double whammy of declining union membership and restrictions on union rights has made it harder for unions to secure workers a fair deal.

Wage inequality has shot up over the last forty years, with those at the top getting a bigger and bigger slice of the pie.

And wage growth has stagnated, with real wages today worth £24 a week less than they were before the 2008 financial crisis.

In fact, by the time they're forecast to return to their pre-crash level in 2025, real wages will have been in decline for 17 years – the longest period since the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The last 10 ten years have also led tohave also seen a huge rise in insecure work, with at least 3.8 million people trapped in agency work, zero-hours contracts or low-paid self-employment.

780,000 people are stuck on zero-hours contracts alone – with our research showing they’re paid £4 an hour less than contracted workers.

Change the rules

The last ten years of rising inequality, falling wages and an explosion in insecure work show why people need a stronger voice at work.

That’s why we need to change the rules around how unions operate in the UK.

That means repealing the unfair and undemocratic Trade Union Act that makes it hard for unions to organise in workplaces.

And unions must also be given access to every workplace – especially in the gig economy where so many workers are denied basic rights.

We also need sectoral collective bargaining so that every worker has the right to organise and negotiate a better deal.

And workers on company boards to make sure decisions at the top take everyone into account the entire workforce.

Join a union

These are just some of the things that need to change to restore the balance of power in the workplace.

And to improve workers’ rights and pay, we need an outright ban on zero-hours contracts, the abolition of Universal Credit, and more cash for our vital public services.

But more than anything we need more people to join their unions, organise their workplaces and support the fight to restore and protect trade union rights now and into the future.

Because the lesson from history is clear: strong unions win for workers.

And that’s why we all ❤️ unions.

Ban zero-hours contracts Too many workers are being denied job security, sick pay and holiday pay - and insecure work is out of control.