Is this on? Boris? Sajid?
*tap tap tap*
Delegates. Friends. We face a crisis.
We tried to stop them, we really did. We made it harder, in so many ways. We withdrew funding, gave them so many pointless hoops to jump through. We whispered that it was a waste of time… that we didn’t need them. That their era had ended and ours had begun. We got our friends in the press to paint them as greedy, lazy, stupid, as wreckers. We told them to account for every second of their facility time. Squeezed their rights to strike, held them to standards we wouldn’t dream of holding ourselves to. We gave them every reason to despair and give up and walk away. Somehow though it redoubled their efforts. People who we’d denied the chance to gain confidence, a sense of self-worth… somehow found it without us. And now look.
The vulnerable, the sensitive, the put-upon, the exploited, the minorities, the unfairly-treated – they’re the thorns in our side. The people it should have been easiest to marginalise have the strongest, loudest voices. They’re at the front, not incidental to the conversation, but at its very centre, a core of gravity that gathers speed and force and draws others to it, and now won’t be defied or ignored. They’ve flourished on the barren ground where we’ve neglected and tried to forget them, and the more we’ve pushed them aside the harder they now push back.
Rather than demolish their movement, we’ve created an army; an army of fluent, dynamic opponents, who fight for everything, who won’t give us a moment’s peace. Rather than a slumbering machine dreaming of past glories, we’re facing a fusillade of criticism, we’re being held to account, by a million activists with righteous anger at their backs. Where we poisoned the media, they organised using new ways and new technology. Where we squeezed them with legislation, they got better organised, more angry, more focussed.
Where we tried to extinguish them, they lit new beacons and others flocked to them, inspired. And the propulsion, the fuel, was that never-ending learning. Somehow, it turned into a power of its own. As the genie escaped the bottle, and with every step we tried to recapture it, it grew and it transformed.
We tried to crack down further, in desperation. We made some stuff up about them. We tried to paint them as wasteful, as bullies, as anti-business – even as bigots. We froze their wages while we spent money on unfathomable follies. But they kept coming. They kept learning, adapting. They kept pushing forward, challenging, finding voices, standing up. They kept learning.
Now we’re the minority. Now our future is threatened.
Delegates, I never dreamed we’d be holding our conference here, in this church hall…
*door at the back of the room creaks open, a man‘s head pokes in*
“Sorry, is this the metal detecting club?”
© James Gore 2018
This was the winning entry of UNISON’s 2018 writing competition.