Trade unionists say it’s time to fix Westminster – and build a ‘politics for the many’

Willie Sullivan, Senior Director, Campaigns and Scotland

Posted on the 24th April 2018

Politics for the Many is an alliance of trade unionists who champion political reform – and last week they set out the findings of their debut report at this year’s Scottish Trade Union Congress in Aviemore.

At its core, it’s about ensuring the ‘rules of the game’ in Britain’s constitution are not rigged against citizens. Billy Hayes, the former leader of the Communication Workers’ Union who is backing the campaign, told those who attended the fringe event: “None of us would be too keen to play a game if the rules were constructed to favour a few players over all the others.”

But it is clear from the report that the way in which Westminster currently operates benefits the powerful over ordinary workers.

The report highlights how the ‘Westminster model’ has been a factor in the high level of restrictions on trade union activity and worker organisation in the UK. 

A focus on constitutional reform by UK-wide trade unions would signal a change in political strategy – although in Scotland fair votes and moves towards political equality has often been the norm.

The STUC was a key player in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, and was at the forefront of the campaign for a national Parliament – and the inclusion of workers and their representatives in the working of the Scottish Government.

Nancy Platts, who up until recently advised Jeremy Corbyn on trade union policy, is now coordinator for the Politics for the Many campaign.

She thinks there is a growing role for trade unions to use their campaigning abilities to make sure that the institutions of the state support equality and the fair distribution of political power and influence.

The group would like any future Labour government to take a hard look at the current British state and its unwritten constitution, and to iron out what they see as the built-in inequalities and the advantages it gives to the interests of big business over the interests of working people.

The campaign has the backing of Lynn Henderson, newly elected President of the STUC. At the meeting Lynn and some of the audience members raised the issues of women’s representation and the promise of Scottish Labour to examine a federal settlement for the United Kingdom as part of a UK wide constitutional convention.

Nancy Platts stated the campaign’s approach within the trade union movement was to highlight the need for wholesale reforms such as decentralising the power of the British state, redesigning the second chamber, introducing quotas for women’s representation and backing a better way of electing representatives.

“We need to think about how to build new institutions within the old,” she said.

‘The Trade Union Case for Democratic Reform’ shows why trade unionists should be at the heart of campaigning for those institutions to be inclusive and representative.

This would mean power distributed across the nations and regions of the country, and a Parliament that can fairly coordinate such a state – proportional elections and an elected senate, alongside ensuring it is no longer dominated by a ‘pale, male and stale’ elite.

To redistribute power and wealth without these changes would only be a temporary readjustment. Westminster’s system is built on inequalities of power. The push for a ‘politics for the many’ is growing – and it’s great to see trade unionists joining the campaign.

Read ‘Politics for the Many: The Trade Union Case for Democratic Reform’ 

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