Category: Unite Community

Arthur Scargill’s NUM inspires trade union drop-in centre

This article by Matthew Taylor originally appeared in the Guardian.

The Barnsley HQ of the 1984 miners’ strike is buzzing again, as host to a Unite scheme aimed at empowering the community.

Joe Rollin, Unite member

Joe Rollin, pictured in the Barnsley NUM hall, says Unite wants to bridge the gap the coalition has made between the employed and others in society. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian.
The small wood-panelled office, where piles of “Coal not Dole” stickers vie for space with posters decrying the government’s bedroom tax, has already seen its fair share of history.It was from this room in the Barnsley headquarters of the National Union of Mineworkers that Arthur Scargill fought the 1984/85 miners’ strike – one of the most bitter industrial disputes of the 20th century.Now most of the mines are closed and the union movement is a shadow of its former strength. But Scargill’s old office is buzzing with activity once again.Unite has started up a community scheme, launched two years ago, that offers membership of the union to those not in work – unemployed people, students and pensioners – and the cost is just 50p a week.

Blending practical support, on issues ranging from welfare cuts to housing, with often radical direct-action campaigns, the union has attracted 7,000 members spread across 70 local groups in the past 24 months.

“It is about reaching out to people who might not even know what a trade union is and making it relevant to them and the struggles they are facing in their own community,” said Joe Rollin, as Unite community volunteers offer advice and support to a steady stream of Barnsley’s unemployed going into Scargill’s old office.

Rollin, 36, is one of 10 regional coordinators and the Barnsley office was  a donation, given free of charge, by the NUM. He says that with the economic slump and increase in short-term, zero-hours jobs, the idea that trade unions should only help those in work is outdated.

“We are saying the union is not an exclusive club. If you find yourself out of work we can’t be saying ‘oh sorry we haven’t got a place for you any more’. It is about that duty to our members and crucially bridging the gap that this government is trying to create between people in work and the unemployed.”

At 7am that morning Rollin and about 15 other Unite community members had been on a local picket line at an Argos factory to support a dispute and then staged a protest outside the company’s store in the town centre.

Other volunteers help out at a local food bank and soup kitchen before opening the doors to the drop-in centre at around 10am.

“We are trying to link more radical direct action type stuff with practical support for people in their communities,” said Rollin. “It is about offering help first, then education and organisation … that mixture seems to be creating quite a buzz in Barnsley.”

The Barnsley group has been at the forefront of the anti-bedroom tax campaign and has initiated scores of challenges against the government’s benefits sanctions. Its members have also been involved in Unite’s wider direct action, or leverage, campaigns. Other groups scattered around Britain have launched hundreds of similar grassroots campaigns, from saving women’s refuges to opposing youth club closures. Some have teamed up with migrants’ rights groups to fight discrimination and others have successfully secured apprentices for young people.

Rollin says that the activism gives people who have often felt ignored and isolated a feeling of empowerment and of being useful again. Just as important were the growing links between community members and those in work.

“We want to give workers the confidence to take industrial action because bosses are constantly telling people ‘if you don’t like it there are millions out there that do’. But if we can show that unemployed people are supporting workers on the picket line that is a really powerful thing to do.”

The small team working out of Scargill’s former office are all volunteers, some of whom became involved after going to the centre for help.

Rollin said: “When the government are saying unemployed people are lying in bed until 2pm with the curtains drawn we can actually say, no, they are down on the picket line at 7am in the morning, then volunteering all day helping other people, as well as desperately searching for work.”

One of the campaigns the Barnsley community membership union has backed is the effort to protect free bus and train travel for elderly people and people with disabilities in the region.

Hundreds of protesters, many Unite community members, have taken part in weekly Freedom Rides – a tactic made famous by America’s civil rights campaigners – refusing to pay for tickets as they travel en mass from south Yorkshire towns to weekly rallies at Meadow Hall station near Sheffield. Unite has provided transport, printed leaflets and offered legal support to the campaign.

The protests, which organisers say have had widespread public support, have forced a partial U-turn by local transport chiefs, who have agreed to restore free travel for disabled people and offered half-price tickets for elderly citizens. But the campaigners say the protests will continue until full free travel concession are restored.

Unite says that, across Britain, its community membership scheme has helped tens of thousands of unemployed people, students and pensioners, the membership growing all the time.

With British trade union membership hovering at about 6.5 million (compared to its 1979 heyday of 13 million) it is thought the union movement can do with all the fresh thinking it can muster.

As he shows off the NUM’s meeting hall festooned with colliery banners recalling that union’s past industrial might, Rollin says Unite’s effort to reach out to those without jobs is breaking new ground and could be the start of a significant chapter in Britain’s labour history. “It is reconnecting our community with trade union values. People who might never have come across a trade union, apart from what they read in the papers, suddenly see what we are about and see that together we can stand up and be counted.”

Community empowerment

This article by Rae Passfield originally appeared in Unite Live.

Unite Community is really making a difference.

Hopelessness stifles a community like a thick fog. It creeps through the streets clouding the doors and windows of all the houses it reaches. When hopelessness starts to consume many houses in a community, the spirit of the people inside them is weakened and they become trapped and fearful, unable to see any alternative before them.

But an alternative is organising right outside – and with it comes hope. Traditionally unions campaign for rights in the workplace, but Unite have brought this support to your door, offering unionised membership locally through Unite Community.

Its projects serve to drive energy back into neighbourhoods, breathing life into people who are immobilised by austerity and re-engaging the dispirited into actively fighting back.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner explains, “It’s about empowering people who are bearing the brunt of a crisis they never created. Giving them a voice, an opportunity to stand up and benefit from the solidarity that can be gained from standing together.”

Unite Community projects are building momentum in every corner of the country, having already won countless campaigns including saving youth centres, protecting local jobs, supporting food banks, opposing the payday lender loan sharks and backing members in their fight against the Bedroom Tax.

“We have over 7,000 inspiring members of our Community initiative and they bring a new vitality and energy that we’ve not seen before in our union for many years” Steve continues.

“These are people who have been failed by a political class that has no understanding of the lifestyles they are expected to live in austerity Britain today.

“As time progresses our industrial membership will engage more with our community campaigns and so we’ll build an army of activists. Unite Community is not an annex; we are an integral part of our union.”

The union support has particularly resonated in Northern Ireland where a Unite Community project has saved lives.

Tragically at the end of last year ten young people were so consumed with despair that the only option they could see was to take their own life.

The Community branch in Belfast responded by offering a training programme that taught people to be able to identify signs of depression and suicide, giving them the tools to protect and support each other and restoring some union to a largely divided city.

Jimmy Kelly, Unite regional secretary for Ireland said of the suicide programme, “I can only imagine the grief that comes into a family after a suicide but we hope that this initiative can help to get them get to the next step in rebuilding their lives.

“These sons and daughters felt they had no hope, no future, and that taking their lives was the only option. It is vital that we can send a message to other young people that they are not alone, there is a collective here and there is always a way forward, and Unite Community is helping to build that for them.”

It is also changing people’s lives. Unite Community members become courageous, bold activists. Inspiring each other to stand up for their families and community, and bring positive change to their hometowns.

By standing together, communities can stand stronger. The success of Unite Community so far has proven that, and its future is certainly full of potential. At its heart, its projects empower people to not be afraid to use their voice and together walk through the fog into the clarity of hope.

South Yorkshire Festival

 

Click to view Pictures!

On Saturday 16th August the South Yorkshire Festival took place at Wortley Hall, the workers stately home. This event, first held in 1992 was started when fewer May Day Celebrations were being held. The idea was to have a family day of celebrations bringing Trade Unions, the labor movement Political Organizations and the Co-op together with a strong political theme each year having a focal point, this year being the 30th Anniversary of the Miners’ Strike.

Unite the Union was there in strength with their gazebo with full time officers and volunteers from Unite Community speaking with the public, answering questions and offering advice and giving away some Unite gifts. The Unite Brass band was the main musical entertainment for the day.  The speakers this year at the event were Betty Cook from the Women against Pit Closures, a woman speaking on behalf of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, Bridget Bell was on the programme to speak but for whatever reason she did not speak and finally Ray Riley a former miner and activist. The speeches were well received by the visitors.

Granville Williams (Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom) and Nick Jones (former BBC Industrial Correspondent) held a meeting inside the Hall, giving an illustrated analysis of the 1985 Cabinet Papers and how Thatcher’s Government manipulated the “return to work” figures in the final months of the 1984-85 dispute. Granville also spoke and sold copies of his book “Settling Scores”. The meeting attracted about 80 people.  There were about 30 stalls covering trades unions, solicitors, campaigning groups such as Cuba Solidarity, National Assembly of Women, Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, Morning Star and others.

The weather was kind, a bit cool but the rain held off. All in all a very enjoyable day where old friends and comrades got together for a chinwag and continued promoting the case for Socialism, we will all be there again next year.

Unite Community members recruitment session at Toyoda Gosei


Unite Community members held a recruitment session for our Industrial Sector today at Toyoda Gosei in Rotherham. The company makes component parts for motor vehicles using agency labour paid the minimum wage, in a three shift system. So more site visits will be necessary.

This once again shows how our Unemployed members can support our working members. We hope to continue this work throughout the year. Solidarity is strength!

Joe Rollin Unite Community Coordinator / Unite In Schools Coordinator
Tel: 07711 375 536
joe.rollin@unitetheunion.org

Unite Community members at Victoria and Albert Museum

Unite Community members from South Yorkshire went to the Victoria and Albert Museum yesterday to visit their banner on display in this fantastic exhibition, which depicts protests from around the world. The community members should be proud of this achievement and it puts Unite right up at the front of the radical protest movement. Must See! Get along!

Click to view the pictures!

Unite Community At Job Center Plus

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Unite Community members where out leafleting again today, this time outside the Barnsley Job Centre again, to deliver our letter to PCS Members in the Barnsley DWP office.

This week Unite Community will be holding an information stall outside the Barnsley DWP office to highlight the coalition government’s unfair and unjustified attacks on the benefits system and on the unemployed, the sick and disabled and their families who rely on these benefits. We ask you to support the action in any way you can. I want to emphasise that this stall is not aimed at DWP employees/PCS members, who we know are under similar attack from this Government in terms of redundancy threat and squeeze on pay and conditions. We want to make common cause with you as out fight is your fight and vice versa. Instead this demonstration is aimed at the government’s savage policy of cutting £30 billion out of the benefits system and forcing people of benefits through measures like the cruel sanctions regime and the discredited Work Capability Assessment.

This has resulted in us setting up a meeting with the Barnsley PCS Branch. Leaflet here.

Joe Rollin Unite Community Coordinator / Unite In Schools Coordinator
Tel 07711 375 536
joe.rollin@unitetheunion.org

 

 

 

UNITY DAY FESTIVAL HYDE PARK


Click to see images.

Leeds Unite Community at Unity Day
Leeds Unite Community held an information and recruitment stall at the annual Unity Day Festival in Hyde Park http://www.unityday.org.uk/ lots of people came to chat to us about our work especially about our campaigns on Welfare Reform. Unite Community was the only Union represented at the event which attracts hundreds of people from the local community. We aim to make the stall an annual event!

999 Peoples March for the NHS

NHS

A national march in support of our NHS, taking place over three weeks, starting in Jarrow on 16th August and finishing in London on 6th September 2014.

 

Wakefield to Barnsley leg – 24th August 2014 (this is the Sunday before Bank Holiday Monday)

Wakefield to Barnsley route as follows: (Approx 10.5 miles – estimated time 5 to 5.5 hours)

  • Assemble outside Wakefield Cathedral from 10.00am. Short send off rally 10.15 before the march leaves at 10.30 prompt.
  • Head East on Westmorland Street towards Brook Street
  • Continue onto The Springs
  • Turn slight right onto Lower Warrengate
  • Turn slight left onto Kirkgate
  • Turn slight right again to stay on Kirkgate
  • At the roundabout, take the first exit onto Kirkgate / A61
  • Turn slight left onto Barnsley Road / A61
  • Stay on A61 towards Barnsley
  • Turn slight right to stay on A61 Wakefield Road
  • Turn right onto Smithies Lane
  • Turn right again to stay on Smithies Lane
  • Continue onto Cockerham Lane
  • Turn right onto Cavendish Road
  • Continue onto Bond Road
  • Turn right onto Cutty Lane
  • Turn left onto Greenfoot Lane
  • Turn right onto Gawber Road

 

March finishes on Gawber Road outside Barnsley Hospital* where a rally will be held.  We are looking at alternative indoor accommodation about a mile away in case of bad weather.

 

Jo Ritson

Email joritson@hotmail.co,

Tel 07843 208650

 

Helping Communities with Learning ICT & English

Helping communities is one of the strongest point of Unite The Union and recently the Unite Community Support Centre in Barnsley has recently joined forces with the British Red Cross. This week we have been able to welcome 6 Iranian Asylum seekers into the centre with the objective of assisting them with computer skills and helping them to improve their English.

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Within the next few weeks we are confident that we will be in a position to offer the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) course to them. We are looking forward to working with the British Red Cross new venture.

Unite Community In the V&A!

South Yorkshire Unite Community Branche’s banner has made it into and exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, called ‘Disobedient Objects’.

Architect-turned-banner-designer Ed Hall is best known for his decade-long collaboration with artist Jeremy Deller, but he has been making protest art for union groups for over 30 years. This particular example was created for the South Yorkshire branch of Unite and was used at a march in support of the NHS in Manchester in 2013. Working from his south London garage, Hall hand-stitches all the banners himself, and estimates that this one took about 150 hours to complete. It contains the Thatcher quote ‘Still the enemy within’ and uses iconography referencing the miners’ strike, poll tax rebellion and welfare cuts. Hall is the leading designer of protest banners in the UK, and as well as producing designs for Deller’s exhibitions at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris and the English pavilion in Venice, he has taken on commissions for the Ian Tomlinson campaign, the post office strike and to commemorate the victims of the 1999 Brixton nail bomb.

Click here to visit the website.