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No Pasaran Youth against Racism in Europe magazine: Issue 11, Summer 2003
Fighting poverty and the far right in Wakefield
A trade unionistís view
During last November/December 2002, whilst participating in Wakefield firefighters' support group, a handful of trade union activists discussed the idea of re-establishing a local trades Council. We identified the need for locally co-ordinated trade union solidarity linked to wider community campaigns, such as the campaign against the immediate threat of BNP candidates, who were standing in the area in the local Council elections.
It was also realised that a 'talking shop' would be of no use - that an active campaigning body was required to intervene on the major issues which confront working-class people. The group of about a dozen like-minded trade unionists met and the consensus was to re-form Wakefield Trades Council.
We held our first Annual General Meeting in April 2003 and the newly reconstituted Wakefield Trades Council is debating and organising how we can actively tackle the wider social issues affecting working-class people. This is not a simple task, especially considering the poverty conditions faced by a local trade union movement, which has been savaged by the complete decimation of the local coalmining industry.
We have begun a campaign against 'Brighthouse', the legalised loan shark retailers on the high street. We'll be pointing their 'customers' towards the local credit unions instead (see box).
We hope that this will be a springboard towards regular activities against debt which will directly improve the situation for many as well as gaining the Trades Council some credibility. Many Trades Council delegates are buzzing with excitement at the prospect of a body which actively and regularly intervenes in struggles in order to try to change things.
Wakefield's Labour council is trying to sell off the last of our council housing (the ballot is planned to be held by the end of this year) and to privatise or close several elderly care residential centres.
Trades Council delegates, representing unions from Unison and the GMB to the RMT and FBU, nod in agreement every time the finger of blame is pointed forcefully at the New Labour government and/or the Labour council. Delegates feel that New Labour are selling us out as workers and as trade unionists; that we are not being represented by the Labour Party any more.
Campaigning against the BNP
The British National Party have been trying to gain a base in Wakefield by standing in the recent local elections. Trades Council members turned out regularly to leaflet against the BNP in the Ossett and Horbury wards where they stood. Searchlight newspapers and the local Trades Council newsletter were distributed to most households in both wards. The BNP received 629 votes (15.5%) in Horbury and 784 votes (18.6%) in Ossett.
John Gill and I, who are both representatives at the Trades Council, were standing in our own areas in Wakefield as Socialist Alternative candidates (Socialist Party). We participated regularly in the anti-BNP campaign, but also argued that it was not enough in itself to oppose the BNP by merely exposing their neo-Nazi agenda. We pointed out that campaigns needed to be waged to combat the conditions which allow prejudice and support for the BNP to grow.
Socialist policies to answer the BNP's lies
Socialist policies like an end to privatisation, affordable homes, free education and a minimum wage you can live on provide a genuine alternative to the problems that the BNP exploit. A socialist society, where the world's resources would be democratically planned to provide for people's needs, would abolish the power of big business and the poverty and unemployment it creates. By putting forward socialist ideas, trade unionists can expose the BNP as having no real solutions to the problems that ordinary people face today.
Plans for the future
The Trades Council will be organising and participating in direct action campaigning activities which fight injustices, improve conditions and combat the effects of global capitalism.
What trade unionists really need is to build a party that can support their interests: one that puts workers' rights and local services first and fights against privatisation. Most of us are fed up of handing over money to New Labour year after year, while they attack our members jobs and conditions.
By Mick Griffiths, Wakefield & Pontefract Hospitals Unison branch secretary, (personal capacity)
On Saturday 7th June Wakefield Trades Council held a day of action against credit companies targeting people who are low paid and on benefits. Members of the Trades Council demonstrated outside Brighthouse, a high street store which charges 29.9% interest on the household goods bought on its hire-purchase scheme, leafleting and petitioning passers-by.
John Gill, a spokesman for the Trades Council, said: 'Businesses like Brighthouse, Provident and Shopper Check are targeting people on part-time and low incomes, and the rates of interest they charge means that many people are getting into a debt trap simply buying essential items.
'Once people get into debt they never seem to get out and we would like better legislation to be brought in to protect vulnerable groups. Many of Brighthouse's goods cost much more in the first place than they do in other stores and if people take out the insurance cover as well then they can end up paying a vast amount over several years for a single essential item.'
According to the Wakefield Express, Brighthouse has 112 stores across the country and approximately 1200 customers in Wakefield.
The trade unionists got an excellent response from the public. Plenty of signatures were collected, and people were directed towards the much better alternative of the local credit union.