Retired Members’ Section report to Hampshire UNISON AGM

Many current pensioners retire having paid taxes, pension contributions and National Insurance for upwards of fifty years.  Indeed, some will continue to pay income tax until they die.  In return, after fourteen years of austerity we are faced with a state pension constantly under attack, public services crumbling and an NHS unable to meet our needs.

Much of the Retired Members’ Committee’s time, in conjunction with other organisations, is spent defending pensioners’ rights.  Doing so often involves correspondence with elected representative both local and national, together with media releases expressing our views, also on occasions to make our point, taking to the streets with our banner.  Results of our campaigning have been mixed but our efforts will not diminish.  In October last year Joe Hannigan, who is also a branch representative to Southampton Trades Council, attended RMs national conference in Edinburgh.  Even getting there was a challenge for Joe due to industrial action on the railways.

Joe spoke on our motion regarding the trouble experienced by many pensioners in an era of ultra high inflation and austerity.  In addition, he spoke on a number of amendments to other groups’ motions.  Two of our other motions were rejected, both of which we consider important, one on artificial intelligence and the other on RMs representation on the National Council.  Undeterred, no doubt we will return with variations of these motions to this year’s conference at Llandudno.  Currently it is proposed that Diana Barnes and myself will attend.  The South East Regional Conference was held in remote form, allowing most of our committee to attend.  We remain critical of the regional committee’s lack of communication and initiatives.

In January this year we welcomed the Basingstoke Branch’s amalgamation with Hampshire.  Their RMs membership joined with ours and resulted in the branch’s membership  exceeding 1,000.

We have attended an event marking International Workers’  Day together with a mass event organized by the TUC in Cheltenham.  This was celebrating the forty year anniversary of Margaret Thatcher’s decree that trade union membership was not appropriate for those employed at GCHQ.  A number of staff were sacked rather than being prepared to give up their trade union membership.  Years later after a long struggle, the opportunity for staff to be members of a trade union was restored.  We admire their decision and determination.

We were disappointed that due to adverse weather conditions last year’s Tolpuddle Festival was cancelled.  I gather this year that our branch intends to arrange for a coach to attend.  As a result, together with our banner, we will be there.  We were informed an appeal had been launched in Canada to restore the graves of a number of the Tolpuddle martyrs who eventually settled in that country, having returned to England from Australia as a result of public pressure.  We encouraged the branch to contribute to this fund and they agreed to do so.  We have also encouraged other groups within Unison to make contributions.  Most of our activities are recorded on the branch internet site.  However, we know some RMs do not access this facility.  We thank the branch for continuing to finance the production and distribution of a newsletter which is sent to all members.

Thanks to Diana Barnes, our social secretary, we visited Romsey on a social visit last summer and enjoyed a Christmas lunch which took place in a pub in Winchester.  We were joined by our Branch Secretary.  Amongst plans for the coming year are a visit to the Milestones Museum in Basingstoke ad the TUC headquarters in London.  The RMs AGM will take place at Winchester on Tuesday 9 April.  I am grateful for our enthusiastic committee, Ange Cleife, Diana Barnes, Pat Turner and Joe Hannigan, who continue to meet regularly throughout the year.  These meetings are always busy and stimulating and in truth can be amusing and enjoyable.  Any members wishing to join us would, I assure you, get a warm welcome.

We are well aware of the increasingly heavy workload undertaken by officials and staff of our branch under the continued brilliant leadership of our Secretary, Callum Williamson.  We wish to express our admiration and thanks to you all for your work.

Chris O’Neill

Chair, Hampshire Unison Retired Members Section