by Gerard Coyne, candidate for the General Secretary of Unite.
As Theresa May triggered Article 50 last week, I know workers in Gibraltar have been left unsure as to the effect Brexit will have on their livelihoods. Free movement and trade with Europe have been the foundations for Gibraltar’s economy, and if I’m elected General Secretary of Unite I will argue that any future arrangement must protect our members’ jobs. Gibraltarians deserve better than to be treated as bargaining chips.
But the fact is neither the UK or Spanish governments can be relied upon to put the interests of working people in Gibraltar ahead of the increasingly influential hard-right cliques in their respective parties. Instead of waiting and hoping that they listen to us and keep our members’ interests in mind, Unite should be doing all we can now to protect our members’ interests.
I often say it’s better to prepare for the worst than hope for the best. I voted for remain, but if we face up to a hard Brexit now and get to work preparing for that, we will be in much better shape to be internationally competitive after we’ve left the European Union. My first priority will be to call a summit of the major employers we negotiate with to commit them to continued investment in Gibraltar and the rest of the UK for the next 10 to 20 years.
Unite should already be doing this, but unfortunately our leadership has been too focussed on meddling in Westminster politics. Our General Secretary has put more of his effort and members’ money into protecting the job of the Leader of the British Labour Party than protecting the jobs of Unite members. If I’m elected General Secretary this month, my sole focus from when I wake up in the morning, to when I got to bed at night, will be on fighting for our members’ interests.
It’s clear to me that we’ve forgotten to put our members first when it comes to to membership subs. They go up and up every year without the union telling members why, what the money is going to be spent on- we don’t even give members notice that the fees are increasing. That will change if I win this month. I will freeze membership fees for 2 years and make savings elsewhere to ensure we are a value for money union.
Our workplace reps know that every time the subscription fees go up, it becomes harder to keep members in the union, let alone recruit new membership. But the bigger problem is that fewer and fewer working people see Unite as relevant to them. I have visited Ireland twice in this campaign, where we are increasingly viewed as a UK-only union, and our membership numbers are falling at a frightening rate. Although Len McCluskey claimed in his article for the Chronicle that we had 7,500 members in Gibraltar, the official figures suggest there are really just 4,000. We cannot continue to ignore the various governmental structures under which our members work, and simply focus on the politics of the British Labour Party. I will devolve more power and responsibility to our national and regional structures, and as your General Secretary I will get out of London and stay in touch with our members in every region.
This election can be a turning point for Unite. Currently our membership is declining, as our members’ wages are falling, their workplace rights are at threat, and the pension age continues to increase. I have been in the union all my adult life and I will put every ounce of my energy into turning things around and making us relevant and focussed on our members again. It’s time for change.