Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP said:
“I want to start by putting on the record my own thanks for the work of Usdaw and its members during the pandemic. Retail workers, in particular, were on the front line. It was a moment when the country realised who matters most in our communities and our country. It was a moment when we didn’t need management consultants or investment bankers, we needed people who cared for others, who drove lorries and vans, who kept the food stacked on the shelves, and put themselves in harm’s way to feed the nation. Not just doctors, nurses, porters and cleaners; but posties, bus drivers, and shopworkers.
“The pandemic reminded us all that we rely on the hands of others to hold onto us when we are small, guide us as we grow, care for us in our hours of need and treat us with dignity and respect at the end. The greatest lesson is that we only thrive and prosper with others, and decency and kindness and compassion are stronger human traits than greed or selfishness or individualism. That’s what drove the founders of Usdaw to form a union. That’s what drives you today and what drives us into tomorrow.
“The British people rose to greatness during the pandemic – including Usdaw members, but the British people’s leaders were lazy, corrupt and useless, Eating cake and drinking wine whilst people prayed and struggled and stayed within the rules. My work now as a Parliamentarian is to hold those leaders to account for their actions, and not allow ourselves to be gaslighted into thinking it’s all okay.
Dr Allin- Kahn reflected on the concerns of Usdaw members:
“I met with Usdaw reps last year to hear about the work you are doing. To stand up to workplace bullies and impossible bosses, to fight for family time and flexible working, for shifts that suit the worker, that pay a fair wage.
“I heard that at the height of the pandemic, over 450 retail workers were assaulted each day. So many of these are older workers, or students, or part-time workers just trying to make ends meet and assault leaves not just bruises and cuts, but mental health scars too.
“The truth is that we need to transform mental health services in this country. Mental health must be treated with the same seriousness as physical health. That’s why the next Labour Government will guarantee mental health treatment within a month. We will recruit thousands of new mental health staff into our NHS. We will establish mental health hubs in every community. We will put a mental health specialist into every school. As a society we have come a long way on mental health, breaking down the stigma, challenging mental health slurs, giving people the space to talk about their mental health openly and honestly.
“Trade unions can be proud of their role in this change, but our NHS services have not kept pace. All too often mental health is underfunded, hard to access, remote to where people live, understaffed. That was the case before Covid, and Covid has made things even worse. So we need a Labour Government to reverse the trend and support the nation’s mental health.
Invoking the drive to rebuild after World War 2, Dr Allin-Khan concluded:
“That is the spirit we need now, as we leave the worst of the pandemic behind and face the future. The spirit of 1945. Secure jobs, with an end to zero-hours contracts. Affordable homes, and protection from dodgy landlords and sky-high rents. Safe streets, safe parks, safe public spaces for everyone. A new lease of life for the high street and town centres. The end of discrimination including racism, misogyny, homophobia, able-ism, ageism, transphobia, Islamophobia and hate in all its forms and an NHS there for all, when we need it, free at the point of use.
“The truth is that our world is buffeted by huge forces: Climate change, automation, technological change we cannot even imagine and the big question is: do we submit to these forces, or embrace them? Fear change, or shape it?
“As trade unionists, we have always arrived at the same answer: Where forces threaten to engulf us, we come together and stand firm. Where things look bleak, we seek out the light. ‘The past we inherit, the future we build.’ I know it is tough out there. Food prices up, gas prices up, petrol prices up, rents up, inflation up; but wages stagnant, or even falling. Cuts to people’s benefits, including in-work benefits. A cost-of-living crisis which is hitting pretty much every purse and pocket in the land. Real pain; unless you’re a millionaire, or a non-dom, or a Conservative Cabinet Minister.
“This is a Government which doesn’t get it, and doesn’t want to try. They had the chance to back Labour’s idea of a one-off windfall tax on the energy companies. It would raise millions of pounds and help millions of people. What did the Government do? They voted against it. Remember that, when the bill lands on the mat this month.”
Notes for editors:
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers)
is the UK's fifth biggest trade union with around 360,000 members. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemical industry and other trades.
For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news
and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion