Peter Pinkney the president of the Rail and Maritime Transport union has just announced that he’s standing for the Green Party in the Redcar and Cleveland consistency. Peter joined the Green party last year after a meeting with our national trade union liaison officer Romayne Pheonix; but had initially not wanted to publicise his membership until after his term of presidency ended. Evidently he’s changed his mind. Perhaps persuaded by the growing awareness of the Green party as a party of the left, committed to social (as well as environmental) justice and improving the lives of ordinary people. This has led to our membership surging to over 60,000 across the UK as people search for an alternative to the different shades of austerity offered by the Westminster parties and UKIP.
Peter’s reasons for standing for the party express the sentiment of many recent converts. “I spoke at the Green Party Conference in 2013, and I was impressed with the ideas that were being put forward. The ideas of the Greens resonated with a lot of my beliefs. Obviously the Greens commitment to bring railways back into public hands struck a chord, but also policies to invest in the NHS, build social housing, institute higher taxes for those who can afford it, and put forward progressive policies on immigration informed my decision to stand.”
Like many looking for an alternative to the economically illiterate and socially damaging austerity policies of the current government, Peter has been disappointed by Labour’s failure to offer real opposition. Whilst certainly the lesser of the three evils of our political establishment, Labour have pledged to continue austerity and have signed up to conservative budget cut. In essence they offer voters a slightly watered down version of Conservative economic policy. As Peter said “Labour is no longer the working class party. They have betrayed us time and time again. They should remember that it was the unions who formed the ‘party of labour’ not deny our links.
“The radical Labour Party of 1945 is long gone. No longer do they champion nationalisation, social housing, the NHS, education etc, they are a sort of reddish Conservative Party.
“In my opinion the party of the left is now the Green Party.”
Social justice has always been a core pillar of green politics. To Greens the questions of how do we create a more equal society, and how do we restructure society so that we’re no longer destroying the environment, have always been two sides of the same coin. Reducing our resource usage and consumption of carbon dioxide cannot be achieved by forcing austerity on the poorest who use the least of our resources; but must focus on the unsustainable consumption of the profligate super rich. At the same time we need to ensure a more equitable distribution of the finite resources of our planet to enable everyone to live decent and sustainable live. As Natalie Bennet has recently said we need to change society so that the green sustainable option is the easiest option, not concentrate on small scale individual change.
Recently the party has been making a more conscious effort to stress its social side. This can be seen by conference resolution to support the labour movement; our increasing involvement in the People’s Assembly; the establishment of a trade union liaison officer (TULO) on the national executive, and developing regional and local network of TULOs; and the increasing prominence of social policy. Greens are increasingly likely to be seen on picket lines, outside train stations and in the streets; supporting campaigns for fair pay, to protect pensions, to renationalise the railways and to end the housing crisis. We still have a long way to go, but we’re making a promising start.
Peter’s candidacy reflects a growing awareness of the overriding similarity of the majority of the aims of Green politics and the labour movement. The RMT have been attending our conferences since 2004. In recent years they’ve been joined by the NUT and the PCS – who’s campaign for 1 million climate jobs closely matches our own thinking on investing in a carbon neutral society to create jobs and security for all. Individual Green local and even general election candidates (most notably Caroline Lucas) have received union backing and funds for their campaigns. This growing involvement with the labour movement is very important to us. Trade unions represent over 6 million working people and through negotiating pay and conditions in many workplaces they indirectly represent million more. Though not perfect (no human institution is), they are the largest set of democratic organizations in the UK and do immensely importing work both in our workplaces and increasingly in our communities. Trade union campaigns for the living wage, for social housing, for renationalisation, and against discrimination match many of our own core aims and are central to improving our society. Furthermore, the involvement of the trade unions is essential if the transition to a carbon neutral society is to be accomplished in a just and equitable manner; especially in high carbon emitting industries. Whilst other parties take trade union money but give little in return, we support them because it’s the right thing to do.
There are still many decent and wonderful members, activists, and even a few MPs in the Labour party that do fantastic work supporting ordinary people; but their influence on the party leadership is completely marginal. The influence of Blairite economic, social and political thinking that deregulated the financial sector (contributing to the financial crash) and oversaw spiralling inequality under the previous Labour government, still dominates party policy, and commits Labour to continuing austerity today. Whilst this remains the case, Labour will continue to be a block to progress and be antagonistic to the interests of ordinary working people.
Pete surmised how this had led him and his union to abandon placing their hopes in the Labour party; and outlined the policies we need to make and more equal and more sustainable society. These are the kind of policies that historically Labour would have supported (and some of its candidates still support), but has now sadly been abandoned by the party as it chases votes from the right and centre of the political spectrum.
“If Ed Miliband is [more supportive of unions] then he is doing a strange impression of it. He might say that he is to his paymasters at Unite and GMB, who make hefty donations, but our members will not affiliate to Labour or any other party ever again.
“The press calling him ‘Red Ed’ is a joke. A minimum of 75% of people want to see the railways renationalised. He has never once said he would take the railways back into public hands – not even East Coast.”
“We need to look after our elderly, build social housing, repeal anti-trade union laws, scrap bedroom tax, renationalise railways and utilities (and any profit reinvested), but most of all we should give the young hope.
“We are definitely handing on worse conditions than we inherited. My generation should hang our heads in shame for letting this happen. Instead of complaining about young being on streets, and using drugs, we should be asking why.
“Redcar and Cleveland has seen a massive decline in my lifetime. We need proper investment, and not just paper over cracks. I believe the Greens are only large party (as surely they can now claim to be) that wants to put things right.
“I am a left wing socialist, but I am pragmatic. I have seen what Syriza have done, and we can learn from that.”