There is power in a union and professional body

By Lynn Collins, Director of Field Services on 24 June 2022 NHS MSWs - Maternity Support Workers NHS Unions Trade Unions TUC

As the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) strikes continue to capture media and public attention, Google searches for ‘join a union’ rises 184% and public sector workers put the pressure on for a new deal, there is an appetite for unions and to know what your union is doing for you. RCM’s Director of Fields Services Lynn Collins shares how the RCM is supporting its members, demanding better and how the balance of union and professional body is a symbiotic force for good.  

Someone once said ‘an ounce of action is worth a ton of theory’, and last weekend midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs) took action on the streets of London joining tens of thousands of other trades unionists to say Enough is Enough – We Deserve Better.

I joined the RCM as Director of Field Services just over three months ago having worked for the TUC and for other unions over the last 30 years, so this was my first demonstration with RCM members, their flags and tshirts and their enormous inflatable – you really couldn’t miss us!

Joining us on the march were midwives and MSWs from all parts of the country and from every strand of the profession – from students to retired members. It was heartening to come together and feel the solidarity on the march, and to hear the claps and support from the public along the route. And our Chief Executive Gill Walton joined other union leaders at the after march rally, telling those gathered about the impact of the last 12 years on midwives and the services you provide – “It doesn’t have to be this way” was her message .

And she’s right. Decisions on NHS funding and on public sector pay are political choices not economic necessities. The consequences of those choices are felt by NHS workers and the public we serve. Midwives and MSWs are feeling that impact right now – we know from our reps and activists.

So what can we do?

It’s been interesting to follow some of the social media exchanges about whether the RCM is a strong enough trade union, or whether being a professional body hinders our role as a trade union. 

In my opinion, far from it – using our professional voices and combining them with an active and well organised trade union at workplace level can only make us stronger. Pay is a trade union issue, but it also impacts recruitment and retention which impacts on staffing levels which impacts on quality and breadth of services which impacts on choices for women using the services… and it goes on.

Our professional voices and our trade union voices need to sing in harmony, and when needed, shout loud together.

In the next few days or weeks, we will know what political choices governments will make about NHS pay for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland we already know the offer is 5%. It will be for you, our members, to decide how we all respond.

18 June allowed us to come together to speak our experience, our frustration and anger and to be heard. Now we need our reps and activists to be capturing the views of members in our workplaces ready to respond and act. RCM members deserve better - and the RCM will demand better. Always.