There is strength in a union

I hope you had a good weekend – they’re great aren’t they? 2 days off every week to spend time with family and friends.  Watch the footy maybe, or knit a jumper, hit the bars, catch a film, bake a cake, run up a hill, or whatever you’re into.  I know it’s a bit different if you are in hospitality (shout out to the Monday weekenders) or work shifts, but you get my point.

It wasn’t always like this. It was the trade unions that lobbied for a two-day break in the 19th Century, extending the existing rest day of Sunday. But Unions have done so much more to bring about better working conditions.  Reduced hours.  Minimum pay.  Paid annual leave.  Not to mention life-saving health and safety measures at work.

Last week was ‘heart unions’ week. A brilliant initiative from the TUC to celebrate the work of unions and encourage more people to get involved.  So, if you haven’t already, I urge you to join a union. Who knows, you might want to campaign for a 3-day weekend! I’m sure there’ll be a few in black and white that would fancy next Monday off. Personally, I’ve got everything crossed for Eddie Howe and his brilliant team – let’s see them bring it home.

On Friday I was speaking alongside Mick Lynch and Kate Osborne at a dinner and fundraiser I hosted to support the Durham Miners’ Gala – the world’s greatest celebration of trade union collectivism, international solidarity and working-class culture. A truly unique event that is very close to my heart.

Now cast your mind back to Saturday 12th July 1980. Olivia Newton John and ELO are top of the charts with Xanadu. Margaret Thatcher has taken power.  Ronald Reagan is riding high in the polls.  And a 10-year-old Jamie Driscoll is at his first ever Durham Miners’ Gala, with his Mam. She was a NALGO union official at the time, and I remember her telling me to look up at the balcony of the County Hotel, and who was there, waving at the crowds below?  I have absolutely no idea.  I was far too young to recognise them.  But I do remember the sense of camaraderie and pride amongst those crowds.  And that unforgettable feeling when you hear the colliery brass band strike up for the first time.

That sense of working-class solidarity has been on show this past year. Working people won’t accept below inflation pay deals, because that’s still a pay cut.  They can’t.  We’re facing the biggest fall in living standards since records began. Enough is enough.

The money’s there to pay people. Government has paid train companies £340 million in compensation for strikes. They could have settled the dispute for that!

There has been no pay restraint for the bankers and the big energy companies like Shell and BP.  They’ve been laughing all the way to the bank. Nurses, paramedics, teachers, posties, rail staff, university workers, and others – they are only asking for enough money to live on. I don’t recall seeing nurses commuting to their wards via private jet.

On Saturday I marched alongside striking trade union members and spoke at a demonstration at the Monument. We were taking to the streets to remind the government that poverty is not a willing choice for people whose wages are falling behind inflation, whose bills are spiralling out of control, who’ve seen the price of their weekly shop ratchet up every time they go to the supermarket.

But it is a choice for the government to do something about it.

As Mayor of the North of Tyne Combined Authority, we’re creating 4,766 well-paid jobs. We’re investing in child poverty prevention, working through local schools – poverty proofing the school day and offering welfare advice to parents at the school gates. But we need the Westminster government to step up and do more to support those struggling with the most basic of human needs – food, warmth and shelter.

My mission is the make the North East the best place to live, work and play in – but I can’t do it on my own. So, let’s do it together. After all, there is strength in a union.