on trade unions

I was watching Question Time last night and the conversation turned to Trade Unions, at which point a panel member asked ‘it is 2015 what is the point of unions?’  I was shocked and appalled all at once.

Now as someone who’s weekend plans have been messed up due to a Union backed strike that actually didn’t materialise, I bear no malice to the members of the Union involved. Without trade unions in our history we wouldn’t have weekends, holiday pay, sickness benefits, health and safety in the workplace, restrictions on hours to be worked and many many many more things.

I was brought up in a union household, my Dad and his father before him were a shop stewards, working in the ship building industry of the 1930’s to the 1970’s they  negotiated with managers many times to improve the lot of the workforce.  Dad was driven by a sense of fairness, born out of spending mornings standing in a pen waiting to be chosen for work that day. He saw people killed at work on a regular basis and understood the power of the working people to come together for support and for unity.  He was also blacklisted back in the early 1970’s for stopping a strike, and was unable to get work from a number of large companies right up until the end of his life in the mid 1980’s.  I have since contacted the unions and received confirmation of the blacklist and the dreadful practices that went unchecked for many years.

A trade union represents workers.  That is it. Somewhere along the way we have lost that truth. Somewhere in the mucky media that saw the demise of the print unions, we have managed to raise a population who do not understand just what a union is all about.  This needs to change.

Whatever happens in Westminster, people still need the security and support of the trade union movement behind them.  To support individuals through difficulties, to enable groups of workers to negotiate what is fair and right, and to assist managers and owners to provide a safe and harmonious workplace, for all of us.

I am proud of my Trade Union heritage.  I followed my Dad and was also a union rep, in the public sector it was slightly different to his experience on the docks, but I was still able to help and support members in need.  To my delight my eldest son also became a steward in his union and continued what is now four generations of my family fighting for fairness in the workplace.

So, next time you read in the newspapers or on line about union barons, selfish strikers and the like, ask yourself a question.  Where would I be without the unions who fought for workers in the past? Who will stand up for me in the workplace?  The biggest question of all, in whose interests is it to do the unions down?

I could tell you other stories, how my daughter aged 15 was supported by my union to gain compensation for an accident,  how cheap my house insurance is and how good it feels to have the support of an organisation that is truly on my side in times of trouble  These tales don’t make it into the press, but they should.

So, to the panel member on Question Time, I would say, I am glad you are a fair and honest employer, I am glad that your employees don’t need protection, but many many people working in difficult situations need the right to representation. To them I say, get it while you can.

on going around the world

Good friends of mine are going on a journey to the other side of the world, where they will reconnect and meet with new members of their family.  I wish them a fabulous time, a safe journey and know they will make memories to last a lifetime.

It seems to me that the world is indeed getting smaller.  My own parents never left the UK and Mum didn’t even visit the capital city.  I travelled around a bit in my youth and have been lucky to have holidays to remember.  My daughter in less that two decades of her life has visited more countries than I have and has lived and worked abroad.

This blog is travelling the world.  I have readers in over twenty five countries, where people I have never met and am never likely to know are reading my thoughts, commenting on them and sharing them with people they know.  It is a mind blowing idea to me, as I never considered for a minute that people would be that interested in my writing.  It is fabulous.

I often find myself thinking about the distance between us, about how time and space and boundaries separate us.   When I do I this I am reminded of a line from a poem I read as a teenager which has stayed in my head forever. I cannot remember the poet or the exact lines but it talks about the sky above the writers head being also above the readers head where ‘rain that has not yet fallen on your path is already dancing on mine’  This idea has always made sense to me even more so now with the world at my fingers.

When my blog reader in Cambodia looks out of their window, the sun they can see is the same sun that falls through my bedroom window.  The person in Canada watching clouds blowing across the sky is looking at the same sky as I am.  The reader in Australia who connects with a blog about family is feeling the same feelings as I do, concerning love and happiness, we are all human.

So, today, right now, we are connected as never before I want to celebrate the wonders of technology, and to be thankful that these connections are helping us all to become more human.

The instant messages received in times of trouble, the joyous celebrations shared with the globe, the precious images shared on computers across continents all play their part in this connection.

So, as I sit in my kitchen in the Derbyshire countryside, writing my thoughts, it is wonderful that other people, living other lives, across continents and countries are able to read and comment on my words.

Hello world, it is good to get to know you

on finding your sunshine

We have all had the sort of days where everything that can go wrong does so, when the world seems to conspire against us and nothing we do is right.

We have also had days when hopes and dreams are fulfilled and when the sun is shining bright.

Which days do we chose to remember and which do we allow to inform our lives?

Recently I have been spending time in our caravan, a home away from home in the Welsh countryside.  The position of the van means that different parts of the interior have varying degrees of sunshine.  Early in the morning soft rays come sliding through the front window, alighting briefly on the sofa and warming the end of the living room.  Breakfasting at the table it is possible to feel the warmth and the promise of a lovely day.

Later the sun has moved across the sky and stronger rays come streaming through different windows, sitting reading in the path of the sun is lovely, especially on days when winds make sitting outside not an option.  By the evening the sun is once again weak and coming through the end windows casting long shadows across the carpet.   It is my wont to follow this sunshine and to sit in the rays throughout the day.  I also enjoy watching the skies turn to reds and purples as the sun slips down beyond the horizon.

It occurred to me yesterday that there are places within our caravan where if you chose to sit there, you would never feel the sun on your skin.  No matter how warm and lovely it is outside you could chose to sit in the shade.  Thinking about this I was struck by how much life is like the interior of our caravan.  How at certain points there is cool shade and no sunshine, where in other places the sun will feel warm.  How there have been times in my life when I have chosen to stay in the shade, not wanting to move towards the sunshine.

How when doing a job that made me unhappy I chose to stay for much longer than I should have done, in the dark corner, for fear that the sunshine place may not exist.  How there have been times when I have settled for less than I deserved for fear of changing and moving towards the sunshine.

Sometimes we choose to stay in the dark to allow other people to have their time in the sunshine.   This can become a habit we find hard to break.  Sometimes those people never notice our sacrifice, for they were in fact capable of finding their own sunshine, it was our choice to stay in the shade.  This way resentment grows.

I guess it is all about choices, we decide where and when we will see the sunshine, and when we want to stay in the dark.  Sometimes the sun is blocked from us, sometimes the world seems to conspire against us, and sometimes this is actually happening.  The strength is in the making of decisions in the knowledge in your heart about what is the right place for you and at what time.

I hope I always will chose the sunshine.  I hope I will share the warmth with those who need it and that I will never again sit in the dark for fear of the light.

on wise words in a busy place

last week I spent a whole day sitting in a waiting area in an NHS hospital.  It was an eye opening experience. Firstly there were lots of nurses, in dark blue, light blue, white and striped uniforms they chatted amongst themselves while taking care of the comings and goings on this busy unit.  Some talked louder than others, we overheard family problems, talk of holidays and of celebrations

During the day we watched dozens of people come and go, some frail and elderly arriving by ambulance and being moved from stretcher to chair, then back to stretcher and out again.  It was bewildering, the sheer number of those waiting discharge and the frustrations of the nursing staff trying to track down medicines and doctors to allow the patients to leave.  Family members came and went and a seemingly never ending amount of people moved across the unit.

After we had been there some four hours or so a new patient arrived.  He was an elderly man, awaiting family to collect him after his stay in the hospital. The first thing I noticed was his smile and the twinkle in his eyes.  He was chatty with the nurses and it was only a matter of minutes before we were talking.  He was joined by another man from his ward, also on his way home, and he began to tell me how they had been in adjoining beds, and had shared history of war time service.

It was so nice to have someone to chat to, and as we talked he began to tell me of his time as a young man, when aged eighteen he joined the Air Force and went to war.  The tales he told, involved flying to impossibly far away places, North Africa, Europe and then the far East, where he went to Burma and flew over Japan.  As he was talking the elderly man in the chair was changing in front of my eyes.  He became younger, sat up straighter as he was talking of the experiences, the people and the feelings he had had as a young man.  He spoke about his wife, now deceased and how they had long years of separation due to the war, and how they got married by special license at the end of the war. How they had been married for fifty happy years and how he missed her every day.

It was a fascinating look into another world for me.  In the midst of NHS mayhem, I was able to put aside worries about my family and listen to the stories of another generation.  Once again I thought about all the older members of my community and how they must also have stories of passion, of sadness, bravery and courage, and how they have carried these memories for decades, while watching the world change in ways they could never have imagined.

One thing he said will resonate with me for a long time to come.  Telling me about flying in bombers over enemy territory, about the banter in the plane and the fear everyone felt and no one acknowledged. He said simply, ‘you never forget, you know, you remember. The memories have informed everything that has happened since, when faced with difficulty you put yourself back in the Dakota, and think, well I survived that, so I am sure this will be fine’

How amazing to be able to use such memories so positively, to live both in the past and in the present, with hope for the future.  I was so privileged to have met him, he was a happy soul, who had worked out long ago the secret of a happy life.  To use the past to inform the present.  To be glad for what you have and use every experience as a platform for learning and enjoying life.

On another day, in another ward, if we had sat in a different seat I would never have met him.  I am so glad that I did.

on voting and hoping

Tomorrow as I walk to the polling station and enter the building to collect my ballot paper I will once again get the feeling of connection with all the women that have gone before me. Behind me and around me will be the ghosts of memory of the suffragettes, brave women determined that I should be counted, that all women count within our electoral process. I will also walk alongside all the women of the Labour movement who have campaigned to make life for women in this country more equal.  I will feel my connection with the generations of my family who believed in socialism, in fairness, in the rights of the working people and the hope for future generations to come. I will feel the force of the men in my history who protected each other in the workplace and who wanted better for their daughters.

Tomorrow my daughter votes in her first General Election, her first chance to have a say in the government that will effect and influence her life for the next five years.  She will come with us to the Polling Station and I will remember my first vote for a government, when, accompanied by my Mum, I walked tall out of the building knowing I had been part of the election process.  She is excited and interested, she understands the issues and knows which party she will support.  She will also feel her history on her shoulders as she places her cross on the ballot paper.

I hope that people will come out to vote tomorrow, the weather is set to be fair and sunny which will help, I hope that we will wake up on Friday morning with a new party forming a government and we will be able to move towards the fairer and more equal society that my ancestors campaigned for.

I want to live in a country where the weak are supported.  Where the scared are kept safe. Where the sick are nursed to health. Where we are judged not by what we are unable to do, but by what we can contribute to society.  I want my taxes to be spent wisely. I want a safety net to catch everyone who may fall.  I want people with more money than me to contribute more for the common good. I want understanding and justice for those who need it.  I want to live in a society where hope is not misplaced. Where life is valued, and where everyone is encouraged to fulfil their potential.

I think tomorrow we maybe able to begin the process of creating the world I want to live in, I hope that it will be so.