Politics in our lives, not just in Parliament
Funny, isn’t it, how politics is so influential in our day to day lives. Everything from the amount we can expect as a minimum wage to whether we go to war, the decisions made in Parliament have a huge impact on us. Yet so many people, especially young people, feel totally disengaged from the political arena – only 33% of 18-24 year olds voted in the last election. I get where they’re coming from.
I didn’t believe politics could make any difference either. As a 25 year old working in a call centre, I saw the world of politics as totally disengaged from the world in which I lived. I thought all politicians were the same and voting wouldn’t make a difference.
As an agency worker, I was getting paid less than my colleagues. As a new dad, I wasn’t entitled to paid paternity leave. It wasn’t until the CWU came to give a talk at my workplace about workers’ rights and collective action that I realised my issues in the workplace were connected to the laws that are made in Parliament. The union helped secure me a permanent contract. In doing so they opened my eyes to the importance of speaking up and taking action. Changes in the law could mean agency workers get the same rights as full time employees, I just needed to make sure I was an active member of a union who would fight for them and that I was voting for a party that would strengthen those laws. It was then that I became a workplace rep.
My union taught me that I can make a difference. When it comes to politics, I don’t have to rely on some typically out of touch, middle aged man who knows nothing about my life. They explained to me that I could become a councillor or one day an MP, which I had thought was impossible (I used to think you had to be privately educated to be an MP!). Although I never thought of myself as ‘political’, the union showed me that everything we do is political, from paying a bus fare to earning a wage. This realisation inspired me, I finally understood that MPs are supposed to be representative of the people and what the people need most are more MPs who know their issues, have walked in their shoes, speaking up for them and encouraging them to speak up for themselves.
That’s why I recently participated in the National Voter Registration Drive (NVRD). The aim was simple: to get 250,000 new names added to the electoral register during one week of intense campaign activity. I set up a stall in the call centre where I work and talked to people about the importance of voting and why they should register, signing people up there and then in the workplace. The week was a great success. The combined efforts of the TUC, unions and a host of other organisationsmeant we smashed our target. Instead of 250,000, there were over 441,500 registrations submitted between 2 – 8 February.
The NVRD was a great initiative, giving people the opportunity to exercise their democratic right to vote. Voting is essential in a democracy. In my opinion if we don’t utilise our right to vote, we may as well allow our country to be run by dictators. As with everything in life, we can’t agree on everything. A party may have policies you don’t agree with, but if you agree with the majority of their policies and those that you disagree with don’t out-weigh the ones you do, give them your vote. But make sure you tell them what you want as well, because if they don’t know, how can they change to suit the people that support them?
Last week, as a young union member, I took part in a roundtable discussion with the Labour Party. The fact that politicians are starting to ask young workers what they want from government shows that this National Voter Registration Drive is getting their attention. They see the potential power young voters have (the number of young people who didn’t vote, was greater than the majority in many constituencies!). Our being registered scares them and they have to start taking us seriously! But we shouldn’t forget that MPs work for us. More of us should request to meet with them and make sure they’re acting on the issues that matter.
There’s still a lot of young people not registered and I can understand why. Some are worried that politicians make promises they don’t always keep. Through collective action, however, we have the power to hold them to account. If the Government doesn’t stand by what they promise, your trade union can take action. I see the union as the people’s power, acting collectively to get results. The withdrawal of our labour through industrial action is the most powerful negotiating tool we have. Being an active union member alongside an active voter is a powerful combination and I just wish more young people understood that.
My message is simple:
- register to vote
- educate yourself on which party has the policies you want to see implemented
- reach out to your MP and local councillor and make sure they are representing you and your interests
- go to the polling stations on May 7th and show you’re a vote worth winning, then hold the elected people to account through the collective voice and action of the union.
The power is there, but only if you use it.
Dan blogs regularly on his CWU Youth Blog.