2017 was another challenging year for the branch, and thanks must go to all North Somerset UNISON members who have got involved in the branch, either by becoming branch officers, reps and contacts, or by simply standing up and attending lobbies, marches and rallies.
In January we held meetings for members in Libraries and Children’s Centres who were affected by the Community Access Review. Also in January long standing Rep and Branch Officer Eve Wilson retired from her job at North Somerset Council and from UNISON. She is greatly missed.
In February UNISON members were joined by members of Weston Labour party to demonstrate at North Somerset Council’s budget setting meeting. On the agenda were £10 million of cuts to council services including £2.5 million of cuts to Adult Social Care and almost £2 million to Children's Services. The council also debated and passed a motion expressing their concerns about the NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan for the area – a 5 year plan to cut millions of pounds from local NHS services, including potential cuts to Weston Hospital’s A&E department.
In March, a few North Somerset UNISON members travelled to London for a national demonstration for the NHS called by Health Campaigns Together. After the demo we had a drink in a local pub, where Len McCluskey, UNITE General Secretary, was also having a drink!
In April we had a very successful Bake Sale for Workers Memorial Day. We raised about £150 for Labour behind the Label, who campaign for better conditions in garment factories in developing countries.
May was spent helping Labour campaign for the General Election on 8th June – a close result which no one predicted.
In June Eve Wilson and Jakob Wollmer were the first recipients of the Jean Long Rep of the Year award, given to North Somerset UNISON Reps who have made a significant contribution to the branch. The award is in memory of long standing UNISON Home Care Rep Jean Long who died in 2016. The branch organised an event at the Salvation Army Hall in Weston super Mare, to which all members were invited. Lunch and some non-alcoholic fizz were provided, as well as an amazing cake made by Pat Barrett. Eve and Jakob were given their awards by UNISON Head of Local Government Heather Wakefield and UNISON South West Regional Secretary Joanne Kaye.
In July Members of North Somerset UNISON, along with members of Protect our NHS, Weston and North Somerset Constituency Labour parties, North Somerset Green party, Weston and Bridgwater Trades Councils, other unions, and members of the public demonstrated at Weston General Hospital as the Hospital Board met to approve the temporary overnight closure of the hospital's A&E department. This was to be the first of many demonstrations against the so called temporary closure.
Also in July the branch took a coach load of UNISON members to the Tolpuddle Festival in Dorset on Sunday 16th July. Tolpuddle is the annual Trade Union festival, and it’s a weekend of music, film, comedy and political debate. This year Jeremy Corbyn was the star attraction - as well as speaking he led the procession of trade unions with their banners – members of North Somerset UNISON joined this procession through the village of Tolpuddle. The weather was hot and sunny, and a good day was had by all.
August is traditionally a slow month as many members and Reps are on holiday.
In September UNISON members joined colleagues from Protect our NHS North Somerset, Weston & North Somerset Trades Union Council and Weston Labour Party at a Candle Lit Vigil and Demonstration to mark 2 months since the overnight closure of Weston's A&E Dept. Also in September North Somerset UNISON members joined the End Austerity march and rally in Bristol The demonstration was called by Mayor Rees to send a message to central government that local councils need funding.
Also in September North Somerset UNISON members and friends attended an evening of music and politics. The evening was compered by Richard Capps, Secretary of Weston and North Somerset Trades Union Council. Our guest speakers were Steve Timmins from the Save Weston A&E Campaign, Nigel Costley South West TUC Regional Secretary and Joanne Kaye UNISON South West Regional Secretary. The speakers were followed by a brilliant performance by Steve Knightley, who performed a selection of songs especially for us.
September was a very busy month and we ended it with a couple of Pay Up Now Recruitment events and members meetings at Castlewood and the Town Hall, along with a lobby of North Somerset Council’s meeting on 29th September, where Labour councillors took a motion supporting the Local Government pay claim. A few UNISON members came to lobby the councillors as they arrived for the meeting. Sadly due to the massive Tory majority the council voted against it.
In October a few members went to meet with the MPs for Weston super mare and North Somerset John Penrose and Liam Fox to talk about the Local Government pay claim. Also in October we held a branch planning day, to put together our priorities for 2018 and review our progress in 2017.
In November over 300 lovely people, including UNISON members, turned up for the Save Weston A&E march and rally. It was the biggest and best event seen in Weston since Banksy's Dismaland. Red Notes Choir sang, and the guest speakers were Ant from Shepton Mallet Hospital Campaign, Richard Lawson from the Green party, Karen Passmore from DPAC, Dave Townsend from the Labour party, Mike Bell from the Liberal Democrat party and Tanya Palmer from UNISON South West.
In December North Somerset UNISON members joined colleagues from Weston Labour party and Weston and North Somerset Trades Union Council at a Candle lit vigil at Weston Hospital to mark 5 months since the overnight closure of A&E. The Rhythmic Reds choir sang carols, including a version of the 12 days of Christmas especially written for Save Weston A&E. We were joined by Labour MP for Workington Sue Hayman who was visiting a relative in Weston Hospital.
Also in December we ran some awareness and recruitment events around the pay campaign, with Reps wearing Santa hats handing out chocolate coins and pay leaflets outside the Town Hall and at Castlewood.
As usual throughout the year the branch has been involved in numerous service reviews and consultations on policies, including lots of Schools transferring to Academies and Multi Academy Trusts, the Community Access Review, the outsourcing of the START team, new job descriptions for Care Coordinators, and cuts to honoraria payments for social workers. The branch has also represented almost 200 members in individual cases. We have also sent delegates to a number of UNISON conferences and regional councils.
2018 is likely to be another challenging year. There are another £10 million of cuts to come at North Somerset Council - we will be holding our usual budget lobby at the council meeting on 20th February at 5.30 pm outside the town hall. Weston Hospital's A&E department remains closed, and the hospital's funding situation remains dire. There will be further demonstrations organised by the Save Weston A&E campaign. Brexit negotiations will continue and we will need to ensure that there is no negative impact on workers rights as part of any deal. On a brighter note the public sector pay cap has been lifted, although the government has not provided any extra money to fund increases above 1%. On 12th May the TUC have organised a march and rally in London calling for a new deal for working people - watch out for announcements about a coach from Weston!
Finally, again this year we continue to lose experienced UNISON Reps and we need new people to step up to replace them. If you are a UNISON member in a team without a Rep please make it your New Year's resolution to either become a Rep or encourage one of your colleagues to become a Rep.
HAPPY NEW YEAR