Community coalition

Clare Williams explains the thinking behind an innovative, union-led alliance

January 2, 2011
4 min read


Clare Williams is the convenor of Unison’s northern region

Public sector jobs are vital to the north-east England economy, comprising a third of all employment in the region. The coalition’s cuts will have a devastating impact here, potentially taking unemployment to unprecedented post-war levels and bringing back social deprivation not seen since Margaret Thatcher’s government.

Trade unions are fighting back with a regional campaign. The concept of a ‘public services alliance’ involving trade unions, local voluntary/community sector organisations, user groups and politicians was conceived months before the election, when it became clear that massive public sector cuts were on the mainstream political agenda. Working closely with the PCS union, Unison Northern laid the foundations and the Northern Public Services Alliance (NPSA) was launched in June.

We are in for a long struggle: taking on the coalition government, fighting local employers, winning support for an alternative economic agenda and building a political alternative.

New ways of organising are required, engaging beyond our usual ranks, and bringing in new union members and activists to reflect the diversity of our workplaces and communities. Particular emphasis is on attracting women, who account for 65 per cent of public sector jobs, and young people, who are struggling to gain employment or access to further training.

The NPSA strategy has four strands. Alongside developing and promoting an alternative economic agenda, emphasis will be placed on workplace organising and engaging membership within the local coalitions. This is crucial to its sustainability. We need to instil in our members the belief that we can win. If we win, it will be because of the strength of the unions.

In the workplace, the emphasis is on promoting an alternative economic agenda and developing a positive negotiating agenda. These include issues of learning and development and work-life balance alongside the key demands of no privatisation, no compulsory redundancies and trade union/workforce engagement. We have produced a campaign pack to help activists and give them confidence in explaining this plan to the lay membership.

Once members’ support for the strategy has been won, the strategy is to then campaign for employers to agree a protocol, as at Newcastle City Council. Employers who do not co-operate will face mobilisations and potential strike action.

Face-to-face communication with members and accountable leadership of trade union branches are key to this process. Also imperative to the success of the campaign is building meaningful community-trade union alliances. Community and voluntary engagement in the defence of public services is essential. This means making the agenda relevant for these sectors – making it clear that this is not just about defending jobs, but rather about developing a clear response to the Tories’ ‘big society’ and a strategy for community engagement in service delivery and design.

An understanding of the implications of the cuts is necessary, together with the development of alternative proposals that allow service users and communities access to policy decisions at local level. This is our opportunity to reclaim democracy and provide practical alternatives.

Local coalitions have already been established across the region and have regular monthly meetings. It is significant that women are taking leading positions, making up the majority of local co-ordinators/chairs. Unison Northern has appointed a community organiser for 12 months specifically to build and support a community coalition in Newcastle. Next spring we are also planning a major ‘social forum’ style open event on the future of public services and communities and how we can organise the resistance together between trade unions, community, voluntary and political activists.

The last important strand is our political strategy. The political make-up of the region’s councils and MPs is such that the north east should be leading the fight to save public services. The political aspect of the strategy is to persuade Labour groups, MPs, trade unions, and local councillors to sign up to a common agenda, creating a political bloc in the region, with a common strategy and position on key policy issues.

We have already begun to approach Labour MPs and council leaders, and are working on a manifesto, building on Unison’s Million Voices campaign, for May’s local elections, which we will be asking politicians to sign up to.

Already the Public Services Alliance model is being adopted elsewhere, and Unison and PCS have signed a joint statement on working together. The challenge we face is huge. However, early signs are positive, with NPSA coalitions growing in numbers and our message reaching into communities. This government does not have a mandate for its slash and burn approach to public services, and we believe that Cameron and Osborne are in for a shock in the months ahead.


Clare Williams is the convenor of Unison’s northern region


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out


38