Thursday 21 May 2009

Who do trade unionists vote for now?

I joined a packed public gallery in Lewisham Town Hall on Wednesday May 20th to listen to the debate over the Council's proposals to demolish Lewisham Bridge School. Unfortunately, the debate exposed how, once again, the main parties in our council chamber - and many others - aren't prepared to listen to parents and trade unionists.

A rooftop protest against Lewisham's Council's plans to close Lewisham Bridge primary school and replace it with a 3-16 foundation school, has been going on since the beginning of term. After a successful march through Lewisham, last night's lobby was the next event to keep up the pressure on councillors to change their minds.

Lewisham campaigners have the advantage of being able to work with two elected Socialist Party councillors, Ian Page and Chris Flood, who had tabled a motion calling on the Council to put the plan on hold pending a full review of the plan. They pointed to Lewisham NUT's arguments that a rethink was vital in the light of evidence of sudden and unexpected pressure on primary places. After all, why knock down a perfectly good primary school when the borough is still short of primary places for this September?

To the anger of parents in the public gallery, the Labour Cabinet member dismissed campaigners as hatching an "ideological plot". Apparently parents wanting the best for their kids is 'ideological', while wanting to push through unpopular plans to turn schools into Trusts isn't! The Liberals, Tories and even the Greens also ended up voting in support of the Mayor's proposals. Nevertheless, the campaign continues, particularly as Lewisham Bridge school has now been made a 'listed' building.

The debate provided a small example of the lack of support for trade unions from most representatives of the main political parties today. Worryingly, with public anger over MPs expenses rising, some voters will be looking to the BNP in protest. Increasingly, it will not be enough to argue "Don't Vote BNP", trade unionists also need to be able to offer an alternative that people think worth voting for instead.

I believe that trade unions themselves need to start standing candidates alongside community campaigners, such as the anti-Academy candidiates that won seats in Barrow. As one step along that path, the RMT rail union and others have launched a slate of candidiates for June's European elections, under the banner of "NO2EU, Yes to democracy". I'll be voting for Bob Crow and the NO2EU slate on June 4th.

I hope that the NO2EU initiative is just a start. I will argue as VP for the NUT and other unions, such as the PCS, who are serious about fighting cuts and privatisation, to join in discussions with the RMT and others about how to best build a serious trade-union based alternative for voters at the ballot box.


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