Friday, January 3, 2014
Since the 1970s, the British trade union movement has increasingly used the underpinning of legislation, directives and guidelines to protect working people. This has had numerous advantages – the protection of mostly vulnerable un-unionised workers being the most obvious, such as through the National Minimum Wage Act. It has, in many areas, however, made the movement dependent on state action, rather than action that has liberated workers themselves. In some cases we have become beholden to it – such as the growing panic about what a renegotiation of Britain’s terms of membership of the EU would result in. We've lost the confidence, and some might say that ability, to win these basic protections through fighting employers. It’s the deepest wound of the servicing culture which the movement is trying to heal.
Increasingly too, unions have worked with other groups, and built new partnerships not only in the context of changing civil society, but also as a result of the changing expectations of potential members in a neo-capitalist world. There have been great benefits to this, and there is no denying that some corporate responsibility programmes, or working to access hard-to-reach workers through community groups like churches have bought real changes. The negative side of this has been the creation of campaigns which have too narrow a focus, often removed from grass-root issues, or have been driven by values not entirely in line with the principles that (should) drive the movement, like agitation, education and class solidarity.
The Living Wage Foundation and its accreditation is a manifestation of the real pitfalls of this approach in two critical ways: firstly, its narrow focus makes clear the problems in alliances with other groups, particularly apparently friendly employers, secondly its failure to implement those values that should drive our movement is marginalising the true voices of working people.
Those of you who are kind enough to read this and don’t live in London, or even in the UK, please don’t switch off. This really isn't a piece intended to inflate parochial politics that directly affects 10% of the population of our sceptred isle. It’s actually the opposite, why we need to have a serious look at the London Mayor, the whole concept, and the personalities we need to make the changes we want to see – not just for the ‘good’ of London, but for the whole of the UK.
All women short-lists (AWS) have become a common mechanism across the Labour Party in advance of choosing our prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) for the 2015 general election. And I think they’re a bad idea.
This is hardly revolutionary, and as a white, Oxford educated man in a professional job it probably comes as no surprise that this is my conclusion. I'm not so stupid to think that, however elegant my reasoning, this conclusion is perhaps the result of some unseen sub-conscious bias. This shows why it is important that our elected representatives are actually representative of the society who chooses them – only in that way can these deep-seated sub-conscious decisions be exposed to healthy scrutiny.
But indulge me. By way of atonement, let me start with why I think most of the reasons used in opposition to AWS are a load of claptrap.