A Chair’s blog….no not a chair chair, a Branch Chair

Tough times

Is been a busy few days for me but not anywhere near as busy as it has been for others in our capital city. All in all some pretty tough times lately.

Let me introduce myself, my name is Tim. Since April this year I have been Chair of the LAS UNISON Branch Committee, a role that I absolutely relish but I have to be clear, a role that I never intended to do right now. Never the less the gap in our lives that our friend and founder of our Branch, Eric Roberts, left on his passing created the need for us to make changes. Changes that he had prepared our Branch for by virtue of the fantastic, strong, well resourced, well educated, best Branch in the country he created around him. We duly filled that gap as he would have expected without hesitation. Eddie took the role of Branch Secretary and I took his previous role as Branch Chair, a role that I take with great respect for what has gone before me to create it and for my responsibility to work for our Branch as Eddie has before me for the entire time I have been in the LAS. And here we are, still functioning as we did before Eric left us even if we do miss him in so many ways.

Eddie and I have been visiting each of our sectors in the LAS over the past few weeks and going to the reps AGM’s held by the Senior Sector reps. We’ve met a lot of great reps across the service and many new reps which is a testament to the Senior reps and the engagement they have fostered with new activists in their areas. We were at Ilford earlier in the week where, aside from the great reps there, Julie (North East Sector Senior rep) put on by far the best spread so far! But of course the Eastenders do know how to throw a knees up, so that was to be expected.

My role as Chair is to support Eddie and to help organise and support our Branch reps, in particular the rabble of Senior Sector reps, of which I had been one of for Central Sector before my current role. Due to the amount of them and the kind of people they are, this is a largely thankless task as they frustratingly continue to busy themselves with tirelessly campaigning for, defending and generally looking after the members of our Trade Union taking very little notice of the face I am making at them when they talk to me about it. They honestly do not shut up about it and they are annoyingly good at what they do.

They are my friends though so I dutifully listen to them harping on about their latest success or obstacle or give them my opinion for the umpteenth time on their latest case or issue they are trying to find a solution for that seems to me to be impossible to resolve. How they continue, relentlessly in a time where our service has so little funding to do anything beyond keep the wheels rolling and where our entire public service is under such strain from the vicious policy against us by this government is beyond me. But that is just what Londoners do. Head down, don’t talk to anyone on the tube, keep themselves to themselves and…..hold on, no it isn’t. Well, not always. What we actually do is stand up for what is right. Just like our reps do. We care for each other, regardless of who you are, when we are in need. Just like our reps do. When we need to, we fight for each other. Just like our reps do. We shout at terrorist “f**k you I’m Millwall” and throw a chair to help others get to safety. Well, our reps haven’t done that to my knowledge but it’s certainly what Londoners do as Millwall fan Roy Larner did on London Bridge.

When others are in need we help them as I witnessed yesterday in the aftermath of the fire at Grenfell Tower. So I asked my Branch what we could do because I am a Londoner too and we are fortunate to have access to resources that can help others, just as our reps help our members and our service. Our Branch often donate to charitable causes for all sorts of things, for a couple of photos in a UNISON tee shirt we’ll sponsor you a few quid.

But I wanted to do something direct and we have those resources, so I thought, why not use it now when people need help. So we did. I got the agreement of the branch to release £1000 and me and one of our members Abi Evans (who has some contacts for this kind of thing) put off our plans for the day, borrowed a van and took ourselves up to Grenfell Tower and then to a couple of donation centres to see if there was something needed immediately that we could help with. Well, apparently we weren’t the only Londoners with that idea, by the time we got up there the centres were overwhelmed with donations. As always, Londoners turned out to help. What the centres did need by then were packing boxes to organise what they had so we happily negotiated a deal with the Big Yellow Storage company in North Kensington and secured ourselves £1000 worth of boxes, tape and pens. Typically the manager could not have been more helpful, giving a big discount and arranging for a friend to deliver what we couldn’t take with us after the company had already put aside most of the ground floor for free to a charity for storage of donations to this incident.

There were a lot of busy people around yesterday, all there with one intention, helping those who needed it, just like the whole purpose of our NHS, regardless of who they were, just because people are in need. One mention I want to make is to our staff and the workers of the other emergency services there at Grenfell Tower. The task has been enormous, from start to the as yet undefined finish. In particular I must highlight the ongoing work the HART team we met yesterday are still doing there as I write. Whilst we all know the jibes often levelled at them sometimes such as how much tea they drink (I would never say such a thing obviously!), they are more than earning their money and our respect this week. The hazards they are facing and the job they are doing in that tower is unimaginable even for us as colleagues.

In these difficult times for many communities in London and for all our public services, particularly us in the NHS, we have to stick together. I am proud to be part of the NHS, I am proud to be part of the LAS and I am proud to be part of UNISON, all three of those there to help those in need and stand up for what is right.

Keep it up London and I will do my part.

Tim Stephens
LAS UNISON Branch Chair


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