Meeting the moment

22 December 2023

Prospect General Secretary Mike Clancy looks ahead to 2024 after an eventful year.

Image of Prospect General Secretary Mike Clancy

Image of Prospect General Secretary Mike Clancy

2023 was another enormous year for members, with many victories to celebrate despite an incredibly challenging economic and political climate.

Prospect undertook its biggest industrial action in more than a decade, with workers across our public sector branches going on strike against a paltry pay offer during a period that has seen the cost-of-living soar.

Whilst there remains much more to do to fix a broken pay system across the Civil Service, the action secured an additional payment that would not have otherwise been achieved. A strong Civil Service, with Prospect’s expert members at its heart, will be critical to meeting the generational challenges our country is facing.

In the face of rising prices, Prospect won improved pay deals for members across our industries, including employers such as BAE Systems. In the defence sector, we launched a flagship report setting out how the UK must reform defence procurement to ensure a thriving UK defence sector in an increasingly unstable world.

Equalities remained at the core of our work, with many successful cases brought against employers including winning a £28,000 equal pay claim for a member at UK Power Networks. Our efforts to tackle the Gender Pensions Gap also bore fruit, with the Government publishing – for the first time ever – an official estimate of the gap; a crucial first step in ending inequality in retirement.

And just this month, we successfully defeated an attempt by Capita to derecognise Prospect at Fera Science Ltd.

We also secured important legislative and policy victories in the face of a hostile government.

Without the concerted effort of unions and business, next week would have seen a bonfire of workers’ rights and health and safety regulation. The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill was set to automatically scrap all EU-derived law on 31 December 2023, but a hard-fought campaign saw the Government back down.

Members in our Bectu sector successfully defeated proposals to privatise Channel 4, securing the future of the public service broadcaster as a world-renowned producer of high-end, innovative British content.

In a major win for a long-running campaign by workers, academia and industry, the Government finally rejoined the Horizon Europe research programme – essential to ensuring the UK is a science superpower.

In December, after years of campaigning by our members in the Parliament branch, we finally saw proposals put forward for MPs arrested for sexual and/or violent crimes to be excluded from accessing the parliamentary estate. Everyone has a right to be safe at work and those working at the heart of our democracy are no different. We are pushing for a vote to be held as early as possible when Parliament returns from the Christmas recess.

A stormy year

Whilst we have cause for celebration, we also must reflect on the challenges our sectors and our movement have faced.

The long-running strike action by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) ended in victory, and whilst it enjoyed our full support, the impact on the UK production industry was devastating and many crew were left without work for months. Prospect has continued to campaign for better rights for self-employed workers, launching a manifesto in collaboration with Community union and the Fabian Society.

The Government ignored big tech companies bypassing UK employment law and left workers out of the conversation at its flagship AI summit, while simultaneously pushing on with its unworkable Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act, in yet another legislative attack on workers’ rights in key sectors – including our members in nuclear decommissioning.

And the UK’s opportunity to reap the rewards of leading the world to net zero has been threatened by the Government’s decision to push back climate targets, spooking businesses looking to invest in the jobs and infrastructure that would deliver a clean energy future for our country. Prospect continues to fight for good work in clean energy – as set out most recently in our Delivering good clean energy jobs report published in October.

Rebuilding our movement

But there is perhaps no greater challenge to our movement than the long-term viability of unions themselves – with union membership in the UK having fallen by 200,000 in 2022.

Today, just one-in-five workers are in a union, with density in the public sector falling below 50% for the first time since comparable records began in 1995. In the private sector, the picture is even bleaker: density stands at just 12%.

This decline is an existential threat to trade unionism, a challenge I laid down at September’s TUC Congress – successfully proposing a motion calling on the TUC to develop a programme for action to address this decline.

Of course, increasing restrictions placed on trade union activity by successive governments have played a role in hampering our sustainability – but we are kidding ourselves if we think this is the only barrier to a thriving union movement.

I am proud to say that Prospect is meeting this challenge and has bucked the trend of diminishing membership. 2023 saw us grow our strength by welcoming a net 2,800 new members to our union. This is down to the relentless hard work of our reps and our full-time officers, and I want to thank you for your unerring focus on expanding our reach and our power. But there is more to do.

This focus on growing our membership and delivering for you informs every decision about how the union is run, from how we structure our staff teams to the facilities we offer. In the new year, our London-based staff will move to a new office designed to meet the needs of the union and serve as a hub for bringing together our members. I look forward to welcoming you there.

Maximising the opportunities of 2024

The year ahead will pose further challenges for our movement, but also opportunities to secure our agenda – including a general election.

Prospect is a proudly independent trade union, affiliated to no political party and able to advocate without fear or favour for our members.

We influence public policy debate to protect and advance our members’ interests – and this will be more important than ever as we flip our calendars over to begin the year in which the next general election is almost certain to be held.

Opinion polling and by-election results strongly suggest that we could see a change in government for the first time in almost 15 years. It is fair to say that this government has not been a friend of working people – and we will be pushing all parties to put forward strong policy measures for our industries, our movement, and our members.

The more members we have, the stronger our voice will be in this crucial year. So, I hope having read this, you will make it your New Year’s resolution to recruit a colleague to Prospect.