DISCLAIMER: The following article is the opinion of its author and does not represent the views of the People’s Assembly or of any political party
As I arrived at Simonside Workman’s Club & Institute in South Tyneside to hand out leaflets for the Peoples Assembly North East, I immediately realized that with the setting my Dad (I’m 22 by the way) wouldn’t have frequented, the audience of around 20 people (of which I was comfortably the youngest by 15 years) and the obligatory raffle; listening to well meaning union reps and activists preaching to the converted in front of a miners banner, followed by an aging folk singer asking if anyone still owned a record player, while a random dusty picture of Elvis Presley hangs in the corner; I had just entered how the Labour Party has conducted itself for over 40 years in the stronghold that is the North East of England. (lets keyboard recover after longest sentence ever typed).
You could see this in the way Labour campaigned in the recent South Shields by-election. In a seat they have held since 1935, they have never felt the need to attract new voters because of the traditional loyalty towards Labour through generations of working families further strengthened by the Thatcher government of the 80’s. So you couldn’t blame anyone when they declaring that there would be only one winner here, but the strong showing from UKIP may point towards a sea change in the ideological leanings of a certain section of the electorate.
The current employment situation in this region could be creating consecutive generations of joblessness when in the past these people would have guaranteed positions. These unfortunate individuals are now vulnerable to the current government’s politics of division and, still following the tradition of never voting for the Tories, end up siding with UKIP, a party which claims to represent them when, as we know, they are worse than the coalition.
They are doing this because they feel the Labour Party have failed them by not providing enough jobs. I know this because I am one of them, (I didn’t vote for UKIP, who do you take me for?). I have been unemployed for nearly a year now after graduating from University, I am unemployed because I have no experience, I have no experience because no one will take me on as there are more experienced people needing jobs because they have been made redundant. It begins and ends with not enough jobs for the people qualified to do them and too many people applying for jobs from the top to the bottom of the scale. Because of this I believe the Labour Party does not represent me as an individual or people like me.
They are not opposing the Tories and the Lib Dems attempts to return this country to the 1930’s and are in fact agreeing with a lot of their policies. I was lucky enough to have lecturers in my University who recognized this as I do now but it’s no wonder that many young people have unknowing turned to the right (UKIP, BNP & EDL) because of this.
I attended a meeting of the North East Peoples Assembly last month thanks to Owen Jones who convinced me via Twitter that this was the place for me. As soon as it started I knew instantly that if I said anything I usually write in this blog or others in the past, I would be met with a positive reaction instead of being branded a communist or just being ignored. However as the meeting went on, I realized that 90% of the people represented or were affiliated with a trade union of some description.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe that the union movement is a hugely important organizing force within the UK and all over the world, the Labour Party would not exist if it wasn’t for them. But to the general public, unions still represent an obstructive force to this country. This was a myth spun by the Thatcher government but even after her death it still sticks; and every time a one day strike is called the media reinforces this by focusing on the people effected by it instead of the strikers. These annual events have become little more than a nuisance to a government who is more than prepared (as they are announced week before the actual strike), an unsympathetic media and a cynical public who think that Ed Miliband was voted in as Labour leader by 100% of union support.
The good old-fashioned strike has lost its purpose, which to me was to make the general public stop and realize the injustices going on in the workplace and in the wider country. One day to do that just isn’t enough.
Another example of the unions being out of step with the nation is that they only represent (on the whole) working people. There are millions of unemployed people out there who have no affiliation with and no representation from a union. Moreover, a lot of union members do not participate in ballots or any other related activities, they treat a strike as an unexpected day off.
That’s why the Peoples Assembly is so important. When you walk into a regional Peoples Assembly meeting or even the big one in London later this month; you are no longer a member of a trade union or a political party. You are part of a peoples union; bringing together working people, the unemployed, the disabled, immigrants and anyone else who is in that room.
Together we may just have a chance in changing the decades of political stagnation in this country and move forward with a coherent alternative. And in order to do that we need to win the hearts and minds of these people stuck between the unions and the right. Some of the tools at our disposal are the Peoples Assembly, this blog and others like it. And I know this is possible because of the turnout at the recent Peoples Assembly Rally in Newcastle; it couldn’t have been more different to the social club politics I described at the start of this article.
We don’t have all the answers, but a way to find some of them may be join an established, election winning machine with a national infrastructure; the Labour Party. I received my membership card in the post last week and I intend to go to meetings in Newcastle and my hometown, Hebburn in the near future to see how Labour works at a local level. I encourage anyone else who wants change to join up and steer the party back to where it needs to be, representing everyone in society. I will report back with my thoughts.
It’s the beginning of a long journey…