Unison Bi Caucus

Sometimes you can remember when one of your prized illusions is shattered. I recall losing one  in 1995, when I was an administrator at a double-glazing firm and I was foolish enough to ask if my workplace was unionised. I accepted the mocking laughter which resulted, only to hear my name called across the office. A co-worker of mine had a puzzled look on her young face. She simply asked “What’s a union for, anyway?” I summoned up all of my cynicism and muttered something about Thatcher’s Children, and got back to shuffling papers.

Had I been more articulate back then, of course, I would have explained that unions are there to make sure that the rights of the individual aren’t trampled on by anyone else in the workplace. That was then; today, many employers have policies which promise equal treatment and pay for their workers, regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexuality. Sadly, though, most of us reading this will be aware that such policies rely on the goodwill of everyone involved, and sometimes – accidentally or with malice aforethought – goodwill goes missing.

But if you’re lucky enough to work in the British public sector, then the formally agreed protector of that goodwill is probably UNISON. They’re the second largest trade union in the UK, representing over a million public sector workers – usually administrators in local government offices, the NHS and the education sector. According to their own website, they “work to protect and improve public services, win equal pay and employment rights for everyone, improve safety in the workplace and end discrimination and harassment at work”. Recently, they’ve been looking at tackling those aims as they apply to their gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members.

Since I’m a bisexual UNISON member myself, I took them up on an offer to attend a meeting at their offices in London earlier this summer. It became very clear, very quickly, that the union was making the rights and needs of bisexual workers in the public sector a priority. Not every organisation would think to stagger the meetings for bi and trans members, for example, to allow people to attend both if they wanted. Their approach was also encouraging; since they want to know how best to help their bi members, they simply suggested asking them. Simple, but hopefully effective. There was also an extensive discussion about the upcoming UNISON LGBT conference, due to be held in Bristol this November.

The meeting was very encouraging, and helpful to me on a personal level – although I now have a reputation within the bisexual caucus as a relentless opponent of the humble hyphen. Should you visit a UNISON stand during the Pride season, or go looking for them at BiRecon, you’ll be able to find out more for yourself. More than that; you’ll be able to tell them what you want in your workplace, and see if together something positive can be achieved.
Dan Howells is a UNISON member.