Category: Unite the Union

Save Our Nurseries

Unite Community Members From Leeds Today helped the Campaign by leafleting the Nurseries See below how to support the Campaign

Senior managers at Leeds City College are proposing to close three nurseries. They are at the St Bartholomew’s Centre, Armley, the Brudenell Centre, Hyde Park, and the Thomas Danby Nursery, Sheepscar. The closures would lead to the loss of at least 36 jobs. These are skilled members of staff who have dedicated much of their lives to the care of children. This would mean the end of all Leeds City College nursery provision.

The main reason given for the closure of these nurseries is financial. The nurseries appear to be losing about £80,000 per year. However, Leeds City College has an annual income of nearly £90m. Principal & Chief Executive, Peter Roberts, now earns £185k so with the associated on-costs that would be enough to cover the supposed nursery losses over the last three years. Instead of working with the trade unions to secure the future of these nurseries, senior managers have been in discussion with private childcare providers about our nurseries. (Why are they sniffing about unless the nurseries can be profitable ?)

Many students depend on these nurseries. They have a right to high quality and accessible childcare, which provides good value for money. However, most private nurseries employ staff that aren’t as well qualified, are less convenient for many students and charge a higher fee. The limited funding for childcare places, for students on low incomes, goes further with our nurseries. Moreover, staff at private nurseries are usually less well paid, as well as employed on worse terms and conditions. These staff have a right to good jobs. These are jobs that could be filled by Leeds City College childcare students in the future.

There is a shortage of childcare places across Leeds. The staff want to keep their jobs. The Leeds City College nurseries are viable. All we are asking is for College management to work with us so that we can prove to them that this is the case. All we are asking for is a reprieve of ONE YEAR so that the staff can demonstrate that the nurseries are a viable proposition.

Yearly Centre Report 2013-14


The economic squeeze that is being imposed on most working class people will ensure that any first anniversary celebrations for the Unite/National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) community centre in Barnsley will rightly be muted. Far too many people are struggling against a barrage of government attacks on welfare benefits, rights at work and public services for champagne corks to be popping in honour of the many successes achieved by the Unite Community members who have provided welfare advice services to local people on Wednesdays and Thursdays between 10am to 3pm since it opened in June last year.

By the end of April 2014, Unite Community members at the centre had dealt with 61 closed cases with 26 ongoing. Support for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants comprised almost half the cases. ESA, which is paid because of an illness or disability, has been heavily criticised by many organisations, including the Citizens Advice Bureau, due to the fact many claimants have been found fit for work after being selected for the Work Capability Assessment. (WCAs)  Following campaigning – in which Unite Community members have participated – by disabled organisations, the Department for Work and Pensions has recently stopped outsourcing company ATOS from carrying out repeat assessments until another company can be found to do WCAs.

The centre at Barnsley has helped 6 claimants appeal against an ESA decision to restrict their benefit. Four were won including Ms P whose successful tribunal hearing helped increase her benefits by £28.45 a week. By helping Mr R with his Working Tax Credit the centre helped him recover a total of £4,795.68. Five bedroom tax appeals helped ensure two people had more money in their pockets and with Ms C’s success also being combined with a successful claim for Personal Independence Payment and carers allowance then her benefit levels rose by £184,80 per week, She has joined Unite.

“We have helped many people raise their income, By doing so we have raised people’s hopes that there are people on their side,” said Richard Vivian, a life-long trade unionist and retired professional benefits advisor who volunteers at the centre.

Richard and Mohammad Tariq, who got involved in the centre in October 2013, designed the two-day welfare advice-training course, which was held for 16 Unite members from across Yorkshire earlier this year. All aspects of welfare rights and benefits were covered including protecting client’s rights and data protection. Unite Community members have also undertaken two days training on welfare rights provided by the Child Poverty Action Group. “People need representation but we can only provide it if we are properly trained and familiar with the complexities of the benefits system,” said Mohammad, who since joining Unite has become much more conscious of the widening gap between rich and poor. He now wants to particularly encourage young people and ethnic minorities to join the union.

In addition to providing welfare right advice the Barnsley centre, which is based in the NUM Headquarters that is the world’s first purpose built trade union headquarters, (see below) also runs computer classes. People have attended ‘Learn My Way’ computer basics classes and others have come in for assistance in setting up an e-mail address and help with writing a CV. “We are giving people opportunities to improve their skills. All benefit applications now have to be done online and the government wrongly assumes everyone has got a computer and internet connection,” said Brian Clarke, a former engineer who has been a trade union member since 1955 and whose last job before he retired was general manager at Wortley Hall. Brian became an active volunteer at the Barnsley centre after seeing an advert in the Morning Star and is enjoying helping people.

The professional advice provided by Unite Community members to the folk of Barnsley is becoming increasingly important in an era when many advice organisations are struggling to survive and cope with the increasing demands placed on them. Maximising people’s benefits is vital work but it cannot be a long-term solution, especially when benefit levels are so low and are not even being increased each year to keep pace with the rate of inflation.

Unite Community members thus try to help people understand what lies behind the government’s austerity drive that has driven down people’s living standards and raised inequality levels back to those seen in the 19th century. There has been a conscious effort to challenge media misrepresentation that the jobs crisis can be blamed on immigrants.

Rather than sitting at home worrying, people are encouraged to get involved in campaigns around the effects of government cuts to working people. Centre activists have supported the local campaign against the bedroom tax, joined protests against the workfare programme and supported workers taking industrial action.

“Working people have power if they are organised. Unite Community members can help raise awareness and help encourage a culture of resistance. I remain optimistic we can change society for the better,” said Richard, who as a young man was forced to retrain when he was blacklisted by engineering employers across Scotland.

NUM Headquarters, 2 Huddersfield Road, Barnsley S70 2LS

Opening times: 10am to 3pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays

  • The NUM Building in Barnsley was the world’s first purpose-built trade union headquarters when it opened in 1874. It was designed by Wade and Turner of Barnsley in a Scottish Baronial style and featured a tall, French-Gothic entrance. The moving force behind the centre was the secretary of the South Yorkshire Miners’ Association, John Normansell, who said at the time of the opening: “you are most welcome into a house that is built by your fellow miners at their own cost and expense in every way.” Normansell died soon afterwards and is commemorated by a monument outside the building. A meeting hall, the windows of which record major elements of miners’ working lives, supplemented Wade and Turner’s design in 1912. In more recent times a statue has been erected that commemorates those miners who lost their lives in supporting their unions in times of struggle. These include David Jones and Joe Green, who lost their lives during the year-long strike in 1984-85 and who every year in March are remembered in a special ceremony.

View report in PowerPoint: Annual Report1 Barnsley Center 

Information taken from Buildings of the labour movement by Nick Mansfield and published by English Heritage.



Some time in the summer of 2013, Unite the union approached Red Ladder Theatre with an offer to part-fund a play that would mark the 30th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike.

We’re Not Going Back, by Boff Whalley, is that play.

But, in this hard-hitting musical comedy there are no miners. Instead, we follow the fortunes of three sisters in a pit village, hit hard by the Government’s war against the miners and determined to set up a branch of ‘Women Against Pit Closures’

Olive, Mary and Isabel are like any other sisters whose everyday squabbles became a background hum to the strike that forced them to question their lives, their relationships and their family ties.

We’re Not Going Back tackles the resilience of working communities, the make-and-mend fabric of family and the power of sticking two fingers up to a government hell-bent on destruction… and all with humour, song and a six pack of Babycham.


You can read Boff’s blog about the play here.


Doncaster Unite Community

Unite Community members in the NEY&H Region will be opening our third community centre in Doncaster in the next few weeks, supported by our Industrial Members.

We will provide welfare advice to the people of Doncaster in English and Polish. The Centre will also act as a hub for community activists. Watch this space for more information.

Educate, agitate, organise!

Thanks to Polestar (Sheffield)

We would like to thank our industrial members in the print sector at Polestar in Sheffield, for their act of solidarity in donating £150 to the Barnsley Unite Community Support Centre. This will be used to support local people and community groups.

Read the letter here.



Unite Community’s Motion (see below) to the Yorkshire and Humber TUC AGM was passed unanimously last weekend in Sheffield. Dominic Goldrick and Calum Stanland spoke passionately on the motion which was mentioned in the conference summing up once again proving that Unite Community is fast becoming a recognised and important part in our movement.



This Regional TUC AGM welcomes the formation of Unite Community Branches, their work in the Community (most notably their work in fighting the cruel and unjust Bedroom Tax), and their Support of our members involved in Industrial action. This TUC AGM backs the new dynamic Unite Community Members have brought to our Region and pledges to support the work undertaken by Unite Community.
Examples of the work Unite Community members have been involved in.
Supporting Industrial Branches
  • Supported Unite Members involved in the Yorkshire Ambulance Dispute.
  • Supported Construction workers with the Blacklisting Campaign.
  • Have helped recruit and organise on Greenfield Sites.
  • Supported Unite Industrial members with Medical appeals through our new Community Centres.
  • Held Lively protests against Zero Hours Contracts
Colleges and Universities
  • Organised Showing of the “Wrong ‘Un” Suffragette play.
  • Organised Debates with Conservative MP’S on the “Legacy of Thatcher”
  • Organised Public Speaking Courses and Activist Training.
  • Took part in supporting the Education workers strike.
  • Campaigned against cuts in EMA and the introduction of Tuition Fee’s.
Welfare Reform Campaigns
  • Opened Two Community Support Centres in conjunction with the NUM to support our communities suffering From the Cruel Welfare Reforms.
  • Linked with Food Banks to help the most vulnerable in our society.
  • Picketed Stores that Continue to use Workfare.
  • Organised Demonstrations, Pickets and Lobbies over the hated Bedroom Tax.
  • Trained over forty Unite Community Activists on Welfare Rights.
  • Picketed and Protested outside ATOS.
  • Took four Coaches of Community Members to the October NHS Demonstration.
This AGM therefore calls on the Yorkshire & Humber TUC to support these Community initiatives and help strengthen the link between our Communities and Trade Unions.

People’s Assembly National Conference

Unite Community members From Sheffield and Leeds were among the 700+ delegates in attendance at the People’s Assembly Against Austerity national conference held in London on Saturday.

Proceeding began with a tribute of a minute’s applause for Tony Benn and Bob Crow, both of whom had sadly passed away during the week. The conference then went on to honor their memories in the only way they would have wanted – by stepping up the fight against the government’s austerity agenda.

The People’s Assembly now has over 100 local groups, and 30,000 contacts nationally. Amongst the motions agreed was to employ two part time workers, and to seek funding through both individual and organisational affiliations & donations.

An action plan was agreed for the year ahead, to include a Budget Day protest, a National demonstration against Austerity on 21 June, a large protest at the Tory conference on 28 September and to join the TUC demonstration in London on 18th October.

A full report will be available on the near future on the People’s Assembly website

Below are a selection of images from the day.

image image_1 image_2 image_3 image_4

Tony Benn 1925 -2014

This week has been the saddest of weeks. First the death of Bob Crow on Tuesday of a heart attack and now the passing of one of the true greats of left-wing politics, Tony Benn.

His greatest testament are without a doubt, his own words. The interview below was originally published in the Guardian by Stephen Moss. He will be greatly missed.

Tony Benn: ‘All political careers end in failure. Mine ended earlier than most’

At 88, Tony Benn is slowly making peace with the ageing process, but his politics remain as radical as ever. He talks, as the final batch of his diaries is published, about ‘Thatcherite’ New Labour, pipe-smoking and his relationship with Ralph Miliband.
Tony Benn

Tony Benn: ‘I greatly respected Ralph Miliband, and he was very kind to me.’ Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

“The Sunday Telegraph had a whole page of ‘national treasures’ nominated by their readers,” writes Tony Benn in his latest – and last – volume of diaries. “I was chosen. If I’m a national treasure in the Telegraph, something’s gone wrong. All is forgiven as you get old.”

Benn is now both a national treasure and unquestionably getting on. He is 88, has just come out of hospital, is coughing after a bout of what he thinks was pneumonia, and has broken his front two false teeth. He walks a little unsteadily. “Watch him, he falls easily,” says Pearl, who looks after him in his west London flat – just round the corner from the large house in Holland Park in which he lived for 60 years. I might describe him as “frail”, except that he hates that word.

This final diary covers the period from 2007-9, and describes a mad schedule for an eightysomething – whizzing all over the country, giving speeches, attending demos, performing his one-man show to adoring audiences. Then at the end of July 2009, the entries suddenly stop. What should have been a routine operation leads to complications; he has what is diagnosed as a stroke – though he disputes the diagnosis – and the past four years have been a battle against increasing infirmity. “I hope I can cope on my own again one day,” he writes defiantly in an epilogue to the diary. “I would like to be independent.”

This new volume is called A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine, but there is quite a lot of darkness in the book. “Depressed, extremely tired,” he says in July 2008, “I feel that perhaps my diary and my archives are an attempt to prolong my life in some way.” So which is it, I ask when the photographer has left and the physio has been asked to come back on Monday, autumnal sunshine or wintry chill?

Tony Benn canvassing
Tony Benn canvassing in Bristol in 1950. Photograph: PA

“A blaze of autumn sunshine was a phrase my father used when he was 82,” explains Benn. “He gave an interview to the BBC about his life, and it struck me at the time as a wonderful phrase, so I decided to use it for this book.” But the recurrent depressions he records? “I was learning to be old,” he says. “This is a book about getting old. I had to come to terms with it, and I found it very difficult.”

There is a pneumatic drill pounding outside – he is concentrating so hard on his answers that he says he doesn’t hear it – and I ask him how he is finding living in this block specially built for older people. “It’s very convenient,” he says. “It’s near where I lived before. You go to all the same shops, I know the shopkeepers, and a neighbour looks in every morning to see if I’m still alive. Boris Johnson’s mother lives here, so it’s very desirable.” Does he miss his former home? “Going by the old house, which I do every day, I still have a strong feeling, because it’s where I lived for 60 years and brought up all my children. But a leaking roof and stairs and nobody else living there was quite a challenge.” His wife, Caroline, died in 2000, and it is clear from the diary he misses her greatly. “I met Caroline in Oxford in 1948,” he tells me. “I was very shy – I didn’t propose to her for nine days. We had 50 years together.”

In the diary, he calls himself an “angry old man”. Does that really sum him up? “When something is done that I think is unfair, that makes me angry,” he says, “but in general I’m quite a gentle person.” He is, though, a surprisingly good hater. “You have strong feelings about things, and a diary gives you an opportunity to set out what you’re really thinking at the time,” he explains. Tony Blair, Hazel Blears and even the Guardian’s saintly Simon Hoggart are among those excoriated, though he tells me he has forgotten what originally prompted his distaste for Hoggart.

It is Blair who provokes the fiercest criticism. “New Labour was a Thatcherite group, and Blair was basically a Thatcherite,” he tells me. “When Mrs Thatcher was asked what was her greatest contribution to politics, she said: ‘the invention of New Labour’. That summed it up. He was a very successful leader in terms of winning, but he was never a part of the Labour tradition.”

Benn is a little warmer about Gordon Brown. “He was quite courageous in dealing with the world recession, but saw it as very much a temporary intervention; he didn’t see it as representing a long-term change.” I ask him what he makes of Brown’s curious disappearance. “Ex-prime ministers go into a very dark period, and having wanted to be in No 10 as badly as he did, he must find it very difficult to be a backbench member of parliament.”

Tony Benn and Ralph Miliband at the Socialist Society Conference, Chesterfield
Tony Benn discussing politics with Ralph Miliband at the Socialist Society Conference, Chesterfield in 1988. Photograph: John Harris/

He believes Labour is now back on track after the disasters of the Blair-Brown years. “I’ve got a lot of time for Ed Miliband. He used to work with me as a student. He’s taken a strong line saying he would abolish the bedroom tax, and his defence of his father was very vigorous.” Benn knew Ralph Miliband well, and continues to be close to his wife Marion. “I greatly respected Ralph, and he was very kind to me. To accuse him of hating Britain was a ludicrous statement to make, and Ed dealt with it very well.”

As we talk, Benn is toying with his pipe, pushing the tobacco into the bowl but never quite igniting it. I wonder whether I should let him take a break. Sensing I am fretting, he explains that the preparation is always lengthy. “Pipe smoking,” he says, “is an occupation.” In the diary, there are some amusing sections – the book, despite the occasional darkness, is often very funny – where he has to circumvent the law in order to smoke. “To be allowed to buy a substance quite legally and then be told on the packet ‘Smoking kills’ is fairly radical,” he says.

Benn’s political career had a peculiar trajectory: technocratic minister under Harold Wilson in the 60s, leadership contender in the 70s, leftwing firebrand in the 80s. Why did he defy convention and move left as he got older? “Being in a cabinet,” he says, “it became quite apparent that although it was a Labour government, it wasn’t really engaged in changing society, but just winning points in the parliamentary agenda.” Benn opposed the cuts the International Monetary Fund demanded of chancellor Denis Healey in the mid-70s, put forward an alternative economic strategy, opposed membership of Europe, and campaigned for greater party democracy.

Tony Benn outside parliament in 1961.
Tony Benn outside parliament in 1961. Photograph: Philip Jones Griffiths

But what did he achieve? In the diary, he refers on several occasions to the failure of his political career. “Enoch Powell said that all political careers end in failure,” he says. “I say mine ended in failure earlier than most. A lot of people said I was wrecking the party. That had a depressing effect on me.” Are there things he would now do differently? “I made a lot of mistakes and tried to learn from them, but I never presented myself as the answer to the party’s problems. I was simply someone with a point of view, which I put forward regardless.”

At one point in the diary he suddenly rounds on himself for egoism. “I’ve been so obsessed with myself all the time – Benn, Benn, Benn, Tony Benn – and actually I’m just not interesting.” Isn’t he being too severe on himself? “As I got older I came to see that the most important thing to do was to try to influence public thinking.”

I suggest that, as the son of a secretary of state for India and the product of Westminster and Oxford, he romanticises the working class, perhaps out of class guilt. “I didn’t romanticise them,” he says. “I had a strong sense of justice. If you look back over history, most progress has come about when popular movements have emerged led by determined men and women. They take tremendous punishment from the establishment, and then if they stick it out they win the argument.”

We pause for more tobacco-tamping, and then suddenly he fills the silence with a brief but touching political aria. “How does progress occur? To begin with, if you come up with a radical idea it’s ignored. Then if you go on, you’re told it’s unrealistic. Then if you go on after that, you’re mad. Then if you go on saying it, you’re dangerous. Then there’s a pause and you can’t find anyone at the top who doesn’t claim to have been in favour of it in the first place.” It strikes me that his belief in this process must have sustained him during the long periods in which he was mocked and marginalised.

He was never tempted to leave Labour to set up an out-and-out socialist party. “I don’t believe in the idea that you can build a new socialist party,” he says. “There have been lots of attempts to do it, and they’ve all failed. There is a radical element, and that element ought to be able to live within the Labour party. Rival organisations under individuals don’t survive. Arthur Scargill’s party didn’t survive.”

Tony Benn outside Labour conference
Tony Benn smokes a pipe outside at the Labour party conference in 2007. Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian

Labour, he says, is at its best when it is a coalition. “That coalition allows in people who in other parts of the world would be expelled from the party. The development of the Stop the War movement [of which he is president] and the campaign against austerity has influenced the thinking of the Labour party, and when that happens it begins to influence the thinking of the public. Those in the party who are now working to build cooperative relationships with single-issue groups are the people to watch. When I said I left parliament [in 2001] to devote more time to politics, that’s what I really meant.” The diary is full of visits to meetings and festivals, notably his annual pilgrimage to Glastonbury, where he celebrates getting in touch with the political grassroots, the young and energised. It is those encounters, those ideas, he says, which keep him alive.

The financial crash will, he believes, eventually force a change in strategic thinking. “What happened in 2007-8 is now used by the government as an example of the failure of the Labour party. But the changes that were brought about led to a need to think about something more radical, and more radical ideas – on, for instance, public ownership and education – would win popular support if they were presented to the public.” Having been deemed mad and then dangerous, Benn reckons the moment when his ideas are claimed by others is coming.

An hour has passed and the publicist is looking concerned that I am tiring Benn. Selfishly, I argue for more time, but a paroxysm of coughing brings a necessary end to the conversation. What an epic life he has led. As a boy he met Lloyd George and Gandhi; he was an MP for 50 years; has been part of every battle in the Labour party since the second world war; and has a long enough memory to argue that the seeds of New Labour were sown under Hugh Gaitskell in the 1950s.

As I am leaving, Benn tells me he is looking forward to reaching 90. I ask him how he manages, despite the infirmities and the occasional bleak moments, to remain so positive. “In some ways,” he says, “the test of politics is whether your mind is fixed on the future or the past, and I always try to keep my mind fixed on the future.” Now, if the coughing subsides, he may at last be able to light his pipe.

Bob Crow 1961 – 2014

It is with great sadness that today we witnessed the passing of Bob Crow, the General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and a member of the General Council of the TUC.

Bob was a giant within the trade union movement, a true champion of worker’s rights who fought voraciously for his members. He will be greatly missed.

The following obituary is by Gwyn Topham from the Guardian, Tuesday 11 March 2014.


Bob Crow: a tenacious and shrewd champion of RMT members’ interests

The union leader was unafraid to swim against the political tide to win pay rises even as wages were going down elsewhere.
Bob CrowBob Crow, who died in the early hours of the morning aged 52: loved by his members, respected by the bosses. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

In a political era when many on the left believed a shifting Labour party had abandoned its traditional supporters, Bob Crow was a strong alternative voice and, in practical terms, a viable force.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union (RMT) he led repeatedly won pay rises for its members even as wages were falling elsewhere.

The most recent flexing of Crow’s muscle came with the London Underground strikes. But the union was always fighting, and often winning, similar battles nationwide, with industrial action and ballots called to protect everyone from cleaners on Merseyrail to caterers at Euston in recent weeks. And Crow spoke out every time.

Membership of the RMT increased sharply under his 13-year leadership, during which the union broke its links with Labour, in 2004.

His militant class politics seemed to swim against the tide, within the union movement in the 1990s and later in the wider political culture. Before the Olympics, sections of the press were outraged by his demands for bonuses for those who would be operating at the sharp end of a heaving transport system.

But Crow’s unabashed, straightforward pursuit of better terms and conditions for transport workers, at a time when so-called efficiency savings and cost-cutting hit the wages of lower paid people elsewhere, resulted in a pay gap in the rail industry that is a fraction of that on airlines, for example.

The blunt, shaven-headed, Millwall- supporting Crow was easily portrayed as a classic union bogeyman in the rightwing press, and he was doubtless cursed by many commuters on strike days. But polling often showed that he and his causes were more popular among the public than the caricature suggested.

He spoke bluntly but fluently, and was good with soundbites, whether in suit, cloth cap or football shirt; and he appeared on the likes of Have I Got News for You, like a working-class Boris of the hard left.

His political opponents would often accuse Crow of being a dinosaur, but the recent Tube strikes over ticket office closures showed a degree of public support that suggested his instincts were sound.

He was, those close to him say, a hard and dedicated worker, and a jovial character able to enrich an evening. His defiance over his well-publicised cruise holiday on the eve of the walkouts was typical. Why, he asked, wasn’t a working man allowed to spend his money on a cruise: it had been advertised in the Daily Mail.

While he was unafraid to call a strike, associates remember him as shrewd negotiator who also knew when to settle and how to play his hand.

His sudden death came in the middle of talks over the tube’s future. Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA union, which was striking alongside the RMT said: “The thing with Bob was that he was respected by employers and loved by his members because he did the best he could to ensure they got the best possible deal on offer.

“I am proud and privileged to have stood alongside Bob. He was tenacious, and he carried the overwhelming support of his members. While many bosses might not have said it in public, he carried their respect. He understood that his job was to get the best possible deal for his members. That is what he always did.”

Doncaster Unite Community Food Bank

Doncaster Unite Community Members stock up on food for their Food bank with donations made by our industrial members. The fivefold increase in the use of Food Banks is a disgrace in this the seventh richest country in the World. That being said we refuse to stand by while others suffer and continue to campaign against the causes of food and fuel poverty. Working class solidarity in action.