Board of Management
BIO of Sarah Whittaker
Board of Management (Member)
I have been a trade union member and activist for over 17 years, first joining BECTU (the UK media and arts union) when I worked in a theatre as a student and getting involved in organising my workplace, giving me a wider perspective and understanding of the world beyond that of simple student politics, where I was also active at the time. For as long as I can remember I have always been passionate about social justice and fair play and this came to the forefront during my years as a student activist, where I began my involvement at 16 and over a number of years worked alongside fellow students and campus trade unions in a variety of campaigns and issues.
Following a period of working full time in theatre where I was also a union delegate, I started working for the Trades Union Congress on a secondment and later applied to the organising academy (Organiser Training Programme). I was offered a placement with the GPMU (UK print and paper union) and stayed with the same union (albeit ending up in Unite through a series of union mergers) as a senior / regional organiser until leaving in January 2010.
Since then, I have worked for a number of unions, (both in the UK and Australia) across a variety of sectors, as well as in community campaigns and as a tutor, writing, delivering and assessing the TUC’s Organising Academy (organiser trainer) programme as well as bespoke training courses for unions. This has given me a proven track record in union organising and I am extremely experienced, having spent over 13 years organising workers, community activists and campaigns. I won the Eleanor Roosevelt Award in my training year with TUC organising academy (TUC Young Organiser of the Year), have undertaken work organising in the USA and in Mexico as well as the UK and Australia.
I have a wealth of experience in union roles, organising, negotiating and representing members. From working individual casework in both the manufacturing and public sectors (UK), to collective negotiations, such as pay, redundancy and implementation of national industry agreements in the IT industry (UK) and the Aged Care and Manufacturing industries (Australia) I have shown time and again that I have the skills and commitment necessary to advance the rights and terms and conditions of members.
As a lead organiser at United Voice, I have managed teams across a range of sectors covered by the union, most recently the Manufacturing and Property Services team. I have worked on both national and state industry strategies and developed and implemented organising campaigns within all of the industries that I have led teams in. I am responsible for managing and developing organisers, directing their day to work and working with them on their plans and performance to implement the team and branch plans and strategies.
Previously as a senior organiser in the IT industry, I worked with delegates to plan campaign activity on a national scale, using a three strand approach of industrial action, internal organising and external pressure. Members managed to bring real pressure upon the company, bringing them back to the table and negotiating a new recognition deal and improved terms and conditions, including agreement coverage for many who were previously not covered. This led to the union’s commitment to a national organising strategy for Fujitsu which I developed and worked alongside delegates and activists to deliver.
Within the print/paper manufacturing industries I led national campaigns supporting and directing the work of teams of organisers, managing and coaching both them and delegates and activists. As well as encouraging delegates, activists and organisers to continue to develop their own skills, I also feel that it is important to continue to develop professionally within my own role.
I believe strongly in education and regularly planned, written and delivered training for members. This led to me going back into education to complete a Cert. Ed in my own time, qualifying me to teach. As a qualified teacher I have worked for Ruskin College, writing, delivering and assessing courses for union full time officers, organisers, union support staff on behalf of the Trades Union Congress.
I am a passionate advocate for equal rights, both within work, where I have been an union equality officer with both UNISON and Unite, as well as outside of work, where I have sat on regional equality forums and am involved in a number of equality based charities and campaigns.
I am/have been a member of a variety of political and community organisations and campaigns, including currently the WA Pride Parade organising committee, Australian Labor Party and supporter of Apheda. Previously I have been a member of the UK Labour Party, a volunteer advice/advocacy worker for a HIV charity and member and volunteer for No Sweat (anti sweatshop campaign), Hope not Hate, local asylum and immigration/anti-deportation campaigns and for the Lesbian and Gay Foundation, where I was the former vice chair of the board of trustees.
My current and previous roles in unions, across both the UK and Australia have given me extensive experience of designing and implementing complex organising campaigns, experience of managing organisers, holding them accountable to plans / the strategy, training and developing their skills and ensuring that they and I are able to reflect and critique our own performance and the teams.
These skills I believe are needed now, more than ever within our movement. The attacks to member’s jobs and terms and conditions as well as to our public services means that not only do we need to be prepared to fight, we need to fight to win and ensure that we are taking members along with us. We need to win the arguments, not simply with our members, but also with the wider public. It is still all too common to hear people say that they think cuts are necessary, even union members. Some still haven’t yet made the link to it being their job / pay / Conditions that could be cut. We are facing hard times ahead, but these are times that I want to be a part of. While I wish it wasn’t necessary, we are where we are, there is a fight to be had and failure is not an option. We may not win every battle or save every job, but we need to be out there, involving members and delegates and working to protect jobs and conditions. I believe that I have the experience, tenacity and determination to face this fight head on.
I feel that I bring a level of passion and commitment to any role that is second to none. I have a proven track record of experience and success and am committed to the union movement and advancing the rights of working people. I am used to working in a variety of settings, sectors and locations and I am also used to working within a pressurised environment, whether that be deadlines, issues on campaigns or even simply working within the often highly politicised working environment that is trade unions. I am flexible, willing and able to work the hours necessary to successfully fulfil the role.
I started off working in a union because I wanted to change the world and while that may sound somewhat idealistic, I remain convinced that that is in fact what we do, everyday within this movement and I am proud to be a part of a movement which improves peoples’ lives every day.