As a long time trade union activist, campaigner and a resident of Hull, one of the UK’s poorest cities which has borne the brunt of austerity, I am thrilled that Bob Crow, a leading voice within our movement has broken cover and called into question the automatic loyalty of unions to the Labour Party.
Bob is right. To a point. The managerial cliques at the zenith of the Labour pyramid have indeed come to view trade unionists with a growing disdain. The poison within has been fermenting for some time, the manufactured furore over Falkirk acting as the rusting needle that penetrated this deepening blister. The very fact that instead of attacking the dependency of the Conservatives on opaque donations from financial predators and city brokers, the party chose to aim its fire at its most consistent benefactor and dependable supporter, is proof for me of two things. Firstly, Ed Miliband and his advisors have been holding these reforms in reserve for a long time, ready crafted, just waiting for an engineered confrontation to respond to. Secondly, the antipathy towards unions shown by Labour is no longer being denied. We now have openly hostile Labour MPs where organised workers are concerned, something unthinkable only a few years ago. Despite pious claims to the contrary, this has nothing to do with ‘new politics’, or with union members knowing where their union subscriptions go. It is about them knowing their place.
I am no opponent of reform. Things do need to change. Unions do need to embrace more modern methods of connecting with members. Reform is not the issue here. The issue is that a party spawned to give working and vulnerable people a political voice is now kicking out fecklessly at its forefathers in an attempt to curry favour with a vociferously right wing press.
If we really want to increase democratic participation, relevance, and electoral prowess, the last thing we need is another political party cast in the mould of its competitors. The existing organisations have turned people off politics. A new party, headed by a large, aloof personality of the left would likely yield the same effect.
We need a collective TUC strategy to sow the seeds of activism within the poorest communities. We need childcare schemes, job shops, benefit advice, advocacy against the worst ravages of this coalition for the poorest and most vulnerable within society. We need unions to be coming together to provide representation for people, not just in the workplace, but in disputes over utility bills, housing issues and more.
People need trade unions. To demonstrate this, we must do more than simply create another slogan and rosette for election night. We need to create something that the established political parties and the right wing press have spent the last three decades systematically destroying: hope.
There is an alternative to austerity. There is an alternative to throwing the vulnerable and needy out of social housing and onto an endless waiting list for smaller property that simply does not exist. There is an alternative to starving money and jobs from the coalface of the economy for the sake of preserving the pension pots of the richest ‘money changers’ in the square mile. There is an alternative to forcing the needy into the clutches of legalised pay day thieves through the ever tightening of already counterproductive benefit rules. There is an alternative to the widening gap between the prosperity of London and the Home Counties, and the regions.
You can’t print hope, or convince people of the alternative on an election poster. Hope must be built within communities, within workplaces, and within council wards by lifting people from despair, showing them a better way, and motivating them to stake a claim for democracy by standing for election themselves. These are the building blocks for the alternative.
Like our contradictory, flawed, and awe inspiring NHS, revolution from the top down will not work. Bob Crow has finally given this debate the voice it needs, but he does not hold the answers, neither do his fellow General Secretaries. The answers lie in the council estates, coffee mornings, job centre queues, and ‘Sure Start’ waiting rooms of our poorest areas.
Karl Davis is a member of ASLEF speaking in a personal capacityTags: Domestic (UK)
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This post was written by Karl Davis