CUPE Communications caught up with the leader of our United Kingdom sister union on the sidelines of convention. Margaret McKee is president of UNISON, the UK’s largest public services union with more than 1.3 million members. In a wide-ranging interview, she describes how austerity has hurt the UK’s public sector workers as it has here in Canada.

Precarious work, casualization of the workforce, privatization of public services and low wages are turning the working class into the working poor.

“First a freeze, then a cap, saw public sector pay rise by 4.4 per cent between 2010 and 2016, while the cost of living rose by 22 per cent,” said McKee.

The painful pay cap inspired a campaign by UNISON called Pay Up Now, which demands an 11-to-12-per cent pay increase for public service workers. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and its Members of Parliament support UNISON’s efforts and even sported their Pay Up Now pins in the British House of Commons.

“We have to do something dramatic. It’s getting worse and worse. Many are getting poorer, while very few keep getting richer,” said McKee.

When asked if she saw hope in the near future, McKee’s answer was an ardent and heartfelt “yes”.

“People are really fed up. More people are showing up at meetings. More women and young folks are coming out,” the UK labour leader said.

“Health services is on its knees. The trade unions are holding the health care system together. After all, It’s our job to care.”