This post is an extract from the forthcoming Unite the Union’s North East, Yorkshire and Humberside Region’s Annual Report. In it, Joe Rollin, our Regional Unite Community Coordinator, reflects on progress over the last year.
Launched in 2011, Unite Community membership, gives anyone who is not in work a chance to join Britain’s biggest union and combine with their working colleagues in campaigning for an improved standard of living for all.
In 2014, Unite NEY&H Community membership, costing just 50 pence a week, increased significantly to reach 1000. A range of ongoing events throughout the year has encouraged more people to join and get politically active. Meanwhile, the community advice centres in Durham and Barnsley both continue to provide invaluable welfare support to local people. A third centre is due to open in Farsley at the start of 2015.
Joe Rollin comments: “Our members include the unemployed, disabled, retired and students. We support our industrial colleagues when they are taking industrial action and campaign against welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax that has hit many people hard. In April we assisted Leeds Hands Off Our Homes with their successful demonstration against the tax.
“We have also organised well attended protests outside the Sheffield headquarters of ATOS, notorious for their attacks on disabled people benefits, and in the day leading up to the Durham Miners’ Gala we had over 100 people outside a local job centre in a protest against benefit sanctions that are impoverishing many claimants.
“Community members are also providing, after a full programme of training, practical professional advice in Durham and Barnsley, where we have linked up with Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) and National Union of Mineworkers respectively and opened advice centres in their premises. We have managed to help claimants make successful appeals against their employment support allowances being restricted. Some bedroom tax appeals have also been successful.”
Both centres also ran practical courses including computer training, whilst also offering help with writing a CV. “It is great to see the work being undertaken by Unite community members and it is certainly needed as there is a lot of despair in our communities,” said Dave Hopper, the DMA general secretary.
Campaigning can bring risks from the authorities especially as the coalition intends demolishing the welfare state. In March it was announced that free travel across South Yorkshire for disabled and pensioners was being scrapped. There were protests by Freedom Riders, a name taken from those who fought racial segregation on buses in 1960s America. On 23 July 2014, elderly and disabled people were confronted by large numbers of Northern Rail staff and the British Transport Police. Unite community members, Tony Nuttall and George Arthur, aged 65 and 64, respectively were badly manhandled and arrested. A vigorous campaign was needed to get the charges dropped.
“With this being election year, Unite Community will be stepping up our activities and we would welcome new members,” said Joe Rollin.