Stand up and whinge, says Bick

UNISON Lothian Health’s e-newsletter carried a great report on a speech by Rodney Bickerstaffe, ex General Secretary of UNISON, at the Branch’s 2010 Annual General Meeting  earlier this week. Rodney spoke passionately about his beliefs, the trade union movement, pensioners & pensions and international matters.

He began by saying that someone had told him he was mentioned in Alastair Campbell’s recent diaries. ‘Rodney Bickerstaffe came to me whingeing again’ Campbell said. (Campbell was Tony Blair’s Director of Communications & Strategy)

“To read those few words made me understand why I’m always so angry. Every since I was a boy I’ve been angry,” said Rodney. “I came into the union in the 1960’s with this great pounding feeling that I was going to change things – the rich weren’t going to be as rich as they were and the poor weren’t going to be as poor as they were.”

“My theme throughout my life was always – no elites and no untouchables” Although the elites and untouchables still exist, the trade unions are the major driving force to try and get that corrected, here and across the world, said Rodney.

Rodney suggested that unless the trade unions oppose it, the public service pension schemes that exist at present will be slashed.

Last winter there were more than 37,500 extra deaths amongst the elderly in England & Wales over the winter months because of cold related illnesses. Since 1997 over 250,000 extra pensioners have died because they cannot afford to heat their homes.

“Scandinavian countries are at lot colder than us but there’s hardly any difference between their summer and winter death rates. If we include Scotland over 300,000 people have died because of cold related illnesses in the last 13 years.” said Rodney.

“Is that fair? – Is it right? Should it be allowed? Should we whinge about it or shouldn’t we? My view is simple – we should whinge.”

Campbell “using that word whingeing is a sort of patronising put down of all of us in the trade union and labour movement. Every time we stand up for something – it’s whingeing, according to them.”

“Their idea of whingeing is that you’re just going on a bit too much – know your place, keep your mouth shut, stay where you are. We’re in charge – we don’t need to know these things.”

“Well you might say – Rodney it might have been like that when you were a lad but it’s not like that now – I believe it is. I believe it still is.”

The UK Health Secretary is due to hold a conference on the future of care for the elderly. The conference seems to have invited everyone but the National Pensioners Convention, said Rodney. “Why? Because we would whinge! This cannot be right – you’re saying to us the country cannot afford any more in pensions when in fact we know that Trident nuclear submarines cost £87 billion, when we know that in the National Insurance Fund there’s a surplus of £48 billion, when you can find £12 billion for a war in Iraq, when you can send soldiers to Afghanistan – the money is there – they can find money when they want!”

Pensions are going to be worth less as prices rise. “At the moment inflation is low but it is not going to be like that soon.”

“And I think you’re going to find that the next generation who find that they haven’t got pensions are going to have to stand up and fight.”

“In fact, there isn’t too much solidarity between the young and the old, it’s sad but it’s true. People don’t want to think about when they are old, they don’t want to think about death and dying, illnesses and old age, they just want to get on with their lives.”

“But you do have to get that solidarity. I think there was never a golden age here in the UK when there was as much solidarity between the older and younger generations as there is in some parts of the world – in Africa – in Asia where young and old are grouped together and they understand what it’s about.”

“We are one world – 6.7 billion people on a tiny little planet in the middle of nowhere. We have to try and pull together more than we have. And that’s what the trade unions are about – pulling together.”

“Over 300,000 unnecessary deaths before their time over the last 13 years – I’m still very, very angry.”

Rodney was critical of a pay freeze supported by the main political parties but bankers could still take billions in bonuses – “Bankers bonuses – we whinge about that too!”

Rodney referred to the situation in Palestine, Cuba, Sri Lanka and China. He talked about Jack Jones, his friend and fellow trade unionist and pensioner activist who died last year and who fought in the Spanish Civil War.

Rodney expressed concern at the resurgence of the National Front who have split away from the British National Party (BNP) because of a European law making the BNP’s ‘whites only’ constitution illegal.

“The trade unions are the one’s in my view who have got to nudge the political parties because the trade unions are the people. I was trade union first, second, third and fourth. And if there was any left, I was trade union.”

“I believe that we are the heart, not just of the labour party but of the labour movement, which is rather different.”

Rodney ended with a tale of an old lady who phoned up a hospital to ask how a Mrs McFadden was. She was put through to the ward and was told that Mrs McFadden was getting on quite well and that it was hoped that she would get home next week.

By the way, who’s speaking said the clinician. Oh it’s Mrs McFadden, said the old lady – they don’t tell you anything in this ward.

Following much laughter, Rodney commented – “I don’t know if it’s like that where you work but I tell you what – I don’t want anybody to say of this branch that they don’t tell you anything.”

“Stand up and whinge as long as you can.” he urged everyone.

by Lui Giacomello
in UNISON Lothian Health’s e-newsletter

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