Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

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


  share     tweet  

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.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Clare Williams is the convenor of Unison’s northern region


#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going


38