SWU and Me – A Personal Reflection

Welcome to Day 6 of SWU's 10th Anniversary Celebration! Be sure to check back each day between June 12-21 for new videos and blogs that showcase our history and celebrate our future.

This blog has been written by SWU's Honorary President James Birchall, who was also the first member of SWU

 

I was on BASW Council when discussions began about setting up a trade union. When SWU was formed on 21st June 2011, I had the privilege to be chosen as the first member. My original membership number was one! But this was later changed for administrative purposes to the same number as my BASW membership number.

In June 2012 I was elected SWU President and served for 2 years. Those were difficult years as we fought for recognition. I was elected SWU President again in March 2017, served for three and a half years, and stood down on 25th September 2020.

The post of President was then changed to that of Chair and Carys Phillips was elected. I then had the great honour to be appointed Honorary President by the SWU Executive.         

As SWU President I have served with all three General Secretaries: Hilton Dawson, Bridget Robb, and John McGowan. I have to say how much I enjoyed working with all three.             

My personal highlights as President include taking the Working Conditions research undertaken by Dr. Jermaine Ravalier of Bath Spa University to MPs, members of the House of Lords, a government minister, and the Chief Social Worker for adults. The meeting with Lord Roy Kennedy resulted in a debate in the House of Lords. My meeting with Lord Frank Judd, a former Labour cabinet minister, resulted in Lord Judd asking a question in the House of Lords.

In 2019 at the IFSW Conference in Vienna I produced a presentation on our working conditions campaign. It was well received. I was also working on a debate in the House of Commons, but then COVID-19 hit.                

SWU has come a long way since those early days. It has been fantastic to have been involved in its growth and development. As we celebrate our first ten years there is a great deal for SWU to be proud of, not least the hard work and dedication of our staff and the SWU Executive.

We now have 15,000 members in our sight, the staff team has grown, Trade Union Contacts have been recruited and trained, the Anti Austerity Group campaigns about austerity and poverty, and of course the outstanding work of the Trade Union Advice and Representation Officers. SWU was also involved in a Ken Loach film. The list goes on.         

Most of all, it has been a great pleasure for me to represent our wonderful members. It has been a fascinating experience for me and a fantastic journey during the past 10 years for both SWU and me. I have enjoyed every minute.