– By James Martin “Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” – George Bernard Shaw It is often said that when you start a new job, that you gain a fresh perspective on things. For me, I have married the union m …
– By James Martin
“Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” – George Bernard Shaw
It is often said that when you start a new job, that you gain a fresh perspective on things. For me, I have married the union movement. Till death do us part. It is probably the best thing that I have ever done. I have my dream job. Yet my perspective seems to have solidified not changed perspective – I doubt Specsavers will be expecting me as a customer just now. I do have to say this though, I write this to air my views of caution and of concern.
This week most Brits opened the front pages with the story that the partner of a journalist that published information from a US whistle-blower had been detained without charge for the UK legal maximum of 9 hours. His crime, it seems, was going out with the wrong person. He was held as a terrorist. Of course I am referring to the detention of David Miranda. This week, Russian Gay rights activist Nikolai Alekseev went missing it seems after some strange Facebook comments. Bradley Manning received 35 years in prison for reporting on illegal activities within the US. There seems to be something slightly amiss in the world at the moment and I think, with some amounts of certainty, that that thing is the state of our democracies.
As with most people on the left, I joined (what I thought was still) a left wing party when I was 16 (2003). When you are 16 you are tempered by the things that could happen. For me, it was one world not divided by borders, a belief that human kind could unite for the betterment of itself, a belief that poverty and want could be eliminated. I had read and watched a lot of Gene Roddenberry’s productions. At the time I had such pride that the left had retaken a majority of governments across the western world, in the previous decade and in Britain it seemed like all was going well.
10 years later, I can’t say the same thing. I won’t. In fact, the right have taken the helm of more and more nations and a dark cloud seems to be slipping over the West. In Britain, there has been an unprecedented fall in public trust in government and its institutions, the media and corporations. Support for the government is around 23% (YouGov, July 2013), parliament around 19%, 8% the press and 93% believe corporations only have their own interest at heart. Yet many of us still read the headlines provided to us by these institutions and believe the mantra provided. On the other hand, demonstrations remain as popular as ever and as Adrian Cousins writes in ‘The Crisis of the British Regime’: “the proportion of the population describing themselves as ‘left wing’ has grown by over 2 million since the 1980s.” The rest of Europe somehow accepted the ‘trial’ of technocratic rule of two nation states.
Greece and Italy both had unelected heads of government; the mantra of deficits seemed to make this somehow acceptable. Little reporting of this imposition of financiers forcing their way in to government was reported, a euphemism was born. The ‘Technocrat’. It sounds modern and soothing, not dictator like at all. Yeah, 10 years on, the birthplace of democracy has an unelected head of government, swell huh? By the way, these financiers bank rolled the financial ‘deficits’ those countries have, for a group so concerned about deficits, a democratic deficit just doesn’t seem to concern them. Western press saw this as ‘collateral’ for economic mismanagement instead of the banks that had collapsed around the planet.
Unions and the working class on the other hand have had next to no representation in the media lately. Demonstrations have only been reported upon where there has been disruption to the status quo. We face the same demonisation in elements of the press as a terrorist cell. Public trust in unions remains at around 50% in the UK, much higher than other elements of our democratically elected system. I would imagine at this point you are by now defiant about my earlier statement, either appalled I have used the word terrorist or defiant in the acceptance that this is how trade unions are in fact treated. I make no apology for my term, but do should it have caused offence.
I would draw your attention to comments by BBC journalist Jeremy Clarkson, who said that in the UK striking workers should be ‘shot in front of their families’, though this was laughed off by the same press as a joke. Or the liking by right wing political parties that trade union donations to political parties are nothing other than tax free ‘blood money’ exploited from donations from the working class. Let me be clear, trade unions are the last public entity that will fight for the working class. In the UK we seem proud of our history, the birth of the union movement, now, thanks to Thatcherite plutonomics reduced to an ever increasing foot note in the history books. It seems to me that any democracy that should allow such open attacks on democratically elected bodies that consider human rights to be the backbone of their own movement, to be democratically wanting. Union membership increased this year for the first time in decades. History ought never to be confused with nostalgia, we trade unionists don’t get nostalgic about the past, we are terrified of it repeating itself.
And so, the stories that I opened with should alarm us greatly. When Mr Miranda needed his human rights – the freedoms fought for in living memory, especially older ones fought for under Magna Carta – he had them removed at a pen stroke for 9 hours. That is, for those employed – more than a day’s work – in which he was removed from society by security forces. Those same security forces, that in previous decades have concealed so much from us.
A hero of mine Bob Fazakerley taught me that ‘The State’ is there to protect ‘The Nation’. The Nation should never need protection from the state. With each day I see the gradual erosion of the remaining democratic institutions, unions, freedoms and the law. We need to change this and quickly, it is easier to remove something than to create it. The argument that ‘If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear’ just does not stand up any more. Hillsborough, Orgreave and the death of Ian Tomlinson should demonstrate this. So, if nobody has anything to hide any more, why do governments conceal so much for so long? We really do face a crisis in confidence of democracy. Any society where a majority of its citizens wouldn’t be able to get in to its parliament has a democratic crisis.
So what do we do? I’m just new in to a job. I can’t change the world on my own. Do I continue to write articles as I have done? Should we point scornfully at the television news only then to change channel? Do we allow the press to continue to blame unions for defending you and me? For far too long there has been an expectation that ‘other people’ change things. In actual fact, it was the likes of me and you that fought in a previous life for the necessities that we take for granted. The right to be paid in currency, to have a paid holiday and even to have a weekend – These were achieved by collective action. We need reminding of how hard we fought for our rights, it’s far too easy to remove rights, near impossible to win them. So what do I say, join a union – then get involved. Answer opinion polls. Fight back. 35 years imprisonment for defending our rights in 2013, in 1832 was called ‘transportation’. We should not be separated anymore by lines on a map, not separated by the media, but brought together by our common endeavour – Equality and Democracy.
“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” – Marcus Aurelius
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