The North West has had a fantastic conference this week. I hope all delegates have enjoyed the experience and are fired up for the struggles we face in the coming months. As Dave Prentis said, it’s time to make a stand and we need to make this an Autumn that the Coalition Government will remember.
The North West Region submitted an important motion on trade unions and political influence, moved by Paula Barker. Political decisions have such a massive impact on the lives of our members that it would be a disservice to them if we were not engaged positively in public debate.
We need to be strong in this work, because it is not easy. As long ago as 1960, Ralph Miliband (Ed and David’s Dad) wrote about the problems in trying to promote a genuine socialist alternative to Conservatism. He recognised that such an agenda would face fierce attacks from Conservative interests and the Conservative press. We have a parliamentary system, but it is a system that is more accessible to some interests and ideas than others.
In the 21st century, the prevalence of corporate interests in Parliament is all too apparent. We see how fluidly former Cabinet ministers move into top jobs with big companies – often the same companies that make money out of public service contracts. We also see senior private sector people moving into advising Government or running parts of the public sector. For example, the recently appointed Chief Executive of NHS England has a background in the private health sector in the United States.
It is the influence of corporate interests that is the key anti-democratic feature of our political system.
The Government’s Lobbying Act – more commonly (and accurately) referred to as the Gagging Law – has done nothing to address this problem. Rather, it subjects trade unions and charities to complicated rules on campaigning activities. Unions have been singled out for special treatment and Cameron said in Parliament last September that the Act is about stopping trade unions influencing elections.
We’ll have a chance to show that we have not been scared off by Cameron when we march in Manchester on 6 September and in London on 18 October.
We need to have a ‘Yes’ vote in the political fund ballot, and to engage members in political activity. Our members need to be able to initiate campaign work from the bottom-up, and be fully engaged in this for it to be effective. We have to remember that out union has a valid role in the political debate because we draw on the collective knowledge and experience of over a million people. We have a distinctive and authoritative voice, and we need to be heard.