Get Political

Why "Get Political"?

It would be a much simpler life without politics, but you can't escape it. Everything in the world of trade unionism involves politics to some extent and it is worth building up a relationship with your local MP even if you don't necessarily agree with their views. Local MPs often have limited power, but they can provide a link to those who can influence events. 

Whichever party they are in - their primary duty is to represent their constituents and we would recommend that reps consider setting up a meeting with the MP of any member who has been dismissed, has been suspended or is being treated in a way you believe to be illegal or unethical. A letter on Westminster headed paper arriving at the CEO's inbox will often do wonders for getting the attention of a management team that has been ignoring your requests for something to be done.

On the bigger scale - the trade union movement can and should have a major influence on which party is in power and what its priorities are. There are other groups such as the business lobby who care little for workers' rights and are concerned only with bosses' profits (using the argument that what is good for business is good for Britain). But someone needs to look after the interests of the vast majority who earn a tiny fraction of the heads of industry - and without the trade unions to lobby for certain basic rights, it is unlikely that we would have a minimum wage, minimum leave entitlements, maternity pay, employment rights, health and safety laws etc. etc. etc.

The biggest dangers that working people face today are apathy and a lack of belief that they can and must make a difference. Too many people do not vote or do not make their feelings heard - with the result that they are ignored. Every person in this country needs to take at least some interest in the issues that affect them and be prepared to do something about it. And the principles of the trade union movement is that we should also be prepared to fight on behalf of the weak, the oppressed and the vulnerable. We cannot allow those in power to divide us so that they can maintain their position of priviledge.


So what can I do about it?

1. Join a political party. The trade union movement is traditionally associated with Labour - and even if you're not entirely happy with the way that they've handled things, the best way to have an influence is to be a member. You can find out about joining the Labour party at www2.labour.org.uk/ and then (if you want to) get involved in campaigning, electing councillors, choosing candidates or just complaining about the state of the street you live in. If you think that "New" Labour has moved too far towards the centre and can't be steered beck to its roots, then you might consider the Socialist Labour Party at www.socialist-labour-party.org.uk/ or the Socialist Party at www.socialistparty.org.uk/main/Home though be aware that their influence is rather more limited in the corridors of power. Other parties that have manifestos that are broadly in line with the objectives of the trade union movement include the Green Party at www.greenparty.org.uk/, the Cooperative Party (a sister party to Labour) at www.party.coop/, the Socialist Workers Party at www.swp.org.uk/ and the Communist Party at communist-party.org.uk/.

2. Set up a meeting with your local MP. All constituents are entitled to meet with their MPs to raise concerns, so it doen't matter whether they're Conservative, Lib-Dem or Labour - it's part of their job description that they at least listen to your concerns. You might be complaining about how often the rubbish is collected, funding for local schools, car parking or the wat that your employer is treating you. Your MP has to listen to you and make give you advice. If you have an employment issue then your MP will normally write to your employer asking them for an explanation and forward the reply that they receive.

3. Write letters, send e-mails. Your local paper (and Skyport) will want to hear from you. Tell them what you think about the way that the government is running the country and how their handling of the economy is affecting you. If the cutbacks have caused you some particular hardship, then people will want to read about it.


Sometimes no comments are necessary


Next Steps

Politicians don't really like listening, but if you try hard enough, they will. The recent u-turn on the sell off of Forestry Commission land was a direct result of a petition of 500,000 names delivered to Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman. At local level a thousand signatures delivered to a council can sometimes cause a change of heart. On occasions it will take a bit more than that.


Protests

Protests are hard work, but they often get TV and newspaper coverage. The public sees them and they send out a message that is hard to completely ignore. Seeing UK Uncut on TV outside (or inside) high street branches of major stores or banks every weekend up and down the country has an impact on the public consciousness. They start to believe that they can do something to make a difference. And sooner or later the politicians start to believe it too. In fact UK Uncut has generated so much coverage that the United States has now got its own US Uncut organised in 20 states and looking to challenge cuts by direct action.

There are however problems with demonstrations. Governments (not just this one) have made it harder to hold protest marches by making it illegal for large crowds to gather in public places without an OK from the police. However, it isn't necessarily difficult to get permission for a march and the police must justify any refusal they give (if for example they can show that it may provoke violence). Also, it'is not unknown for a number of people to spontaneously hold "individual demonstrations". One person can demonstrate almost anywhere (apart from private land and possibly parliament square and other government owned places) if they can convince the police or a judge that they are carrying out a solo demonstration or march which is just coincidentally taking place at the same time as a lot of other people are doing the same thing. But it's usually a good idea to get a permit first.

Really big marches, or where there are different groups with opposing views (such as the recent English Defence League and Unite Against Fascism clashes in Luton) can get lively. Sometimes a small number of people may appear among the demo (or police) and deliberately provoke a violent confrontation. The link below has some suggestions, mostly good, some abit questionable for demos such as making sure that you have an exit route if the crowd hits a bottleneck,and so on.

libcom.org/organise/demonstrations-law-enforcement

Small peaceful demos don't normally attract too much attention from the police. For example, February 17th saw about 250 protestors gathered outside Uxbridge Civic Centre protesting against the cuts. A couple of police wandered by once, but other than that they were nowhere to be seen. Mind you, there were over 100 children there singing about the council closing the Hillingdon Music Service. Police tend not to like to be seen on You Tube footage from someone's phone showing them intimidating an 8 year old.