‘Now is the time!’ Dave Prentis tells conference

General secretary tells delegates that the tide is turning and that, as the prime minister wobbles, there is hope

“Now is the time to rise up – now is the time to smash the pay cap.”

That was the call at the heart of a rallying, optimistic message from UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis today, when he addressed the union’s national delegate conference in Brighton.

Condemning the reality of the “divided kingdom,” he described a country that is “dangerously divided between the haves and have nots” while Prime Minister Theresa May wobbles, “stuck between the devil and the DUP”.

But while the divide is so starkly illustrated by the “fragile and now smouldering” shell of Grenfell Tower, Mr Prentis told delegates that there are signs of hope.

For, as “the flames spread, the bomb went off or the vans mowed people down … people came together; communities, friends, strangers.”

And he went on to note that, if Mrs May was “unable to give people the support they needed, unable to be the leader our great country needs”, then there is someone who brings decency and kindness to the political table …

“Our friend, Jeremy Corbyn.”

Mr Prentis observed that the electorate had seen through “the lies, the myths [and] the bad mouthing” about the Labour leader.

Now, Mrs May “needs to do the decent thing,” he said. And “the decent thing is to resign”.

He praised the union’s activists who had made such a big difference to the outcome of the election, and welcomed the 10 new UNISION Labour MPs, including former president, Eleanor Smith, who took the seat “once dirtied by Enoch Powell.”

There was loud applause and cheers for that – and more when he said how proud he was of the work that the union had done over many years to ensure that “the racist bigots of UKIP [had been] smashed to smithereens!”

The election result showed that people were starting to see what UNISON has been talking about for years.

Mr Prentis had praise too for those taking the fight for fairness and decency to the employers and government, from the Haringey care workers, to the Derby and Durham teaching assistants, to the WASPI campaigners.

And he told the hall that the union returns to the Supreme Court in a fortnight to continue the fight against employment tribunal fees.

And after a standing ovation for members of the London Ambulance Service who were in the hall, the general secretary took the opportunity to lead a tribute to their leader and the union’s late president, Eric Roberts, who died last November.

“Eric used to remind me how we all stand on the shoulders of giants,” he told them. “You have more than lived up to their example.

“You are giants … every one of you.
“You deserve better than a tale of two cities, of two nations.”

But “people around the country are waking up. They are seeing what we have known for so long. They are beginning to understand.

“The time is coming. It isn’t too late to change. There is an answer.”

He told them: “It is our duty to stand strong, to stay united.”

And if we do, he assured them as they rose in ovation, “that’s how we will win!”

This story was originally published on the UNISON website at unison.org.uk

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