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Blog update by the Social Workers Union

Carol Reid, National Organiser & Union Contact Manager from the Social Workers Union provides an update

The government’s recently announced public sector pay rise has entirely overlooked social workers and comes with a veiled threat of future cuts and “tough choices”. 

We are right to be angry at this dismissal, as well as the low pay and poor working conditions of social care staff in the hugely privatised care sector, but its detrimental to the working class trade union movement to direct our anger and resentment towards our comrades in the NHS and public sector – this is divide and rule at its ugliest. 

There’s no coincidence that strongly unionised workforces receive better pay and working conditions, and this emphasises the importance of joining and becoming Activists in YOUR union. 

SWU has a growing team of Union Contacts, based in workplaces and amongst university cohorts throughout the UK, whose important role is to promote union membership and encourage colleagues to become active. 

SWU’s full-time Advice & Representation Team undertake all complex employment-related casework, but are assisted by our Union Contacts in promoting and growing SWU, many of whom can go on to complete Phase 2 training which enables them to represent in less complex union meetings such as sickness/absence if they wish.  The message is clear – Join, Recruit, and get Active in your union.

PM Boris Johnson wants to use the experience of the pandemic to “double down on levelling up” – but what on earth does this mean? Along with “solve social care” and “build, build, build” he (along with Matt Hancock’s “protective ring around care homes”) is a dab-hand at shallow rhetoric and meaningless idioms. 

Unforgivably, yet completely unsurprisingly, 338 Conservative MPs last week reneged on the party’s repeated election promise to “protect the NHS” by voting down a cross-party amendment specifically designed to ensure our publicly-funded health and care services are not subject to any form of control from outside of the UK in future trade deals. 

Recent TUC figures (May 2020) show an increase in trade union membership across almost all sectors.  This is understandable given the job insecurities associated with the pandemic, and TUC representatives are keen to emphasise the importance of unions working together in the fight to secure better pay and conditions for all members. 

It’s disappointing then that Unison will not collaborate with SWU, and indeed sees SWU, a smaller but growing specialist trade union, as such a threat that Unison now describes itself as “the social workers union” in some of its publicity. 

SWU is the ONLY Social Workers Union, run by social workers FOR social workers, and we are willing to collaborate with other unions openly - to not do so is detrimental to union members.  Social Workers are an example of a workforce that is historically and traditionally radical, but this has been suppressed by the imposed austerity agenda, and, as a mass movement, trade unions should be working together to support all members in all professions in their struggle for better workers’ rights.

Clement Attlee’s “The Social Worker” (Sharpe Books, 2019) highlights the late Labour Prime Minister’s career as a social worker in East London and his thoughts on the multi-faceted social work role, which he saw as that of agitator, trade unionist, and inter-agency worker, amongst much more. 

A recent PSW article (June 2020) discusses New Zealand’s reawakening of the political activist side of social work with a focus on social justice, human rights advocacy, and empowerment. 

On reading both I’m reminded of SWU’s own Austerity Action Group and the emphasis it has on inclusivity of service-users and survivors from a number of national mental health and disability activist groups such as National Service User Network and ATD 4thWorld. 

SWU also actively campaigns for better working conditions and our team and members have recently made media appearances discussing SWU’s Six-Point Action Plan, highlighting their work experiences and emphasising the importance of collectivism. 

As social workers we should be proud of our Activist roots, build upon them and encourage involvement.

Attlee of course went on to preside over Britain’s first socialist government and ushered in radical domestic reforms, including the creation of the NHS.  I dread to think what he’d make of current political manoeuvres, but there’s no doubt he’d be enthused by a surge in social worker activism.

If you’d like more details about becoming a SWU Union Contact or getting involved in the Austerity Action Group please get in touch

For further details about SWU’s Social Work Action Plan please click here.

To read SWU General Secretary’s statement on the pubic sector pay rise please click here.

Carol Reid is a registered social worker and currently National Organiser & Union Contact Manager at SWU