Winchester Needs a Pay Rise

I was looking forwards to making an occasion of the TUC’s Britain Needs a Pay Rise march and rally in October until we had to back out when my son caught a tummy bug. I had experienced TUC marches before, and found them suitable for sharing with friends and family and we consoled ourselves with knowing that our little one had enjoyed his first march at Tolpuddle earlier this year.

 

This experience was probably what provided me with the final push I needed to motivate me to join together with local friends, trade union representatives and campaigners in Hampshire to raise the profile of low pay rises and the living wage. This being one of the broad, mainstream, trade union issues featured in the TUC’s Campaign Plan in the run-up to the general election.

 

We know that the gap between the minimum wage and the living wage is rising as the cost of living continues to outstrip pay. Real wages of full-time workers in the South East fell by £2500 between 2010 and 2013. This is causing families to have to cut back and make difficult decisions on spending, we are seeing a rise in the use of food banks and payday loans and, as the mystery Prospect member puts into words much better than can I, this is effecting the squeezed middle.

 

The TUC believes that many employers can afford to pay more without putting jobs at risk, and this is especially the case for the lowest paid. They want us to urge more local employers to make sure their staff and those in their supply chains get at least the living wage.

 

All of us felt that these were real issues that we had experienced in our families, workplaces and communities and could directly relate to, however we wanted to involve the broader local community in our campaign.

 

We decided to set up the Winchester & District Trades Council (W&DTC) to help us to pursue this aim and, in doing so, to promote a positive message of trade unions to a public who may be less familiar with the benefits we offer to society.

 

As a younger representative, who has not had any previous contact with trades councils, I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for when we began. I was soon scratching my head over the need to conduct meetings, elect officers, setup rules, obtain funding, generate publicity and seek affiliations from local trade union branches. It all seemed like a great deal of hard work!

 

Fortunately I was in the good company of experienced representatives who had done all of this before and were able to guide us through this initial stage without any difficulty. It turned out not to be anywhere near as much of a hassle as it sounded, and we chose to keep our meetings sociable and enjoyed spending time together.

 

I discovered that the TUC provide a range of resources to help trades councils and break down some of the steps involved, for instance in the Trades Union Council Programme of Work. And the Hampshire County Association of Trade Union Councils (HCATUC) were ever on hand to provide us with advice and support as necessary and partnered with arrangements for our first public meeting whilst we are getting set up and running.

 

W&DTC launch our campaign on the Living Wage at a public meeting at 7pm on Tuesday 11 November at the East Winchester Social Club, featuring South East Region TUC (SERTUC) Policy Officer, Laurie Heselden. We are inviting all local residents to join us to discuss the need for a living wage and the consequences of austerity.

 

I have tackled promotion through networking throughout the local trade union movement and communities, coordinating a street stall in Winchester high street, leafleting residents and using social media. I also setup a petition calling for the minimum wage to be raised to the level of the living wage, or £7.85 per hour.

 

The Winchester Needs a Pay Rise campaign links into and uses the same materials as Britain Needs a Pay Rise (for example the SERTUC leaflet design). We believe we benefit from a degree of familiarity with this, after the recent event and associated coverage, and there are some fun tools on the TUC site that make it easy to come up with and share logos using social media, etc.

 

We have been fortunate to receive affiliations providing us with a much needed source of funding – although clearly we would like even more branches to be involved. If all works as planned, this will set us up to, not only continue to campaign on pay and the living wage into 2015, but to extend activities throughout the district. It will also be good to engage in a local conversation on worker involvement as it relates to the work of the Fair Work Commision and its recent reports if the opportunity presents itself.

 

Whilst my son still hasn’t joined in the flag waving yet due to our mutually hectic schedules, it has been enjoyable getting involved in something new and making friends whilst doing so. Why don’t you get involved in your local trades council, or if one doesn’t exist then think about starting one up? No, on second thoughts don’t think about it – do it!

 

 

James Leppard works in information security in the defence industry, is a Prospect branch organiser and vice chair (publicity) for W&DTC. When not busy spending time with his family, cats and friends he takes an interest in social justice, technology and sustainability.

 

 

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