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View: The power of local politics

By Matthew Hull

This article was originally published on Green World on 8 February 2022. It is the first in a series of blogs exploring how Greens in local government and communities can work closely with trade unions.

On Thursday 5 May, millions of people across the UK will head to the polls to vote for their local councillors.

With turnout lower than in national or UK-wide elections, local contests receive less press attention and have lower prestige. For many pundits they are mid-term temperature tests, reflecting the health of a current administration vis-a-vis its closest national opposition. But we as Greens know that the impact of a shift in local politics can be transformative.

As Greens knock on doors, deliver leaflets, and engage in conversation up and down the country we do so in the knowledge that we are presenting a whole new way of taking and using local power. For many residents, the Green Party represents a break from an old paradigm involving parties they no longer trust. For others, the Greens are the only force that is challenging the local dominance of a single entrenched governing party.

Wherever Greens are standing, breaking this established system of power and handing power back to the people is what we are standing for. Expanding democratic power and growing confidence in our ability to build something better together is the objective.

Even following a decade of austerity, during which Conservative and Liberal Democrat governments have utterly decimated their budgets, local authorities have the ability to spur a transformation in how we look after our communities and each other. Local authorities deliver some of the most urgent services making a huge difference in people’s lives; they are some of the biggest employers in their areas. 

This is just one reason why I am proud to be a trade unionist backing Green candidates in May. With Greens at the helm, local authorities can pioneer new ways of bringing power back to working people locally by involving them in decision-making. Local authorities can put working people first: working closely with local trade union branches; working to end outsourcing, two-tier workforces, and insecure work in council services; committing to recognise and work with their own workers’ unions; prizing ethical procurement and buying union-made goods and services.

These are just some of the ways that Green councillors in office can push for more democratic, pro-worker policies that involve, empower and protect working people.

Our party and our movement can and should be the natural home for workers who demand better from local and municipal authorities. After all, we know that we cannot depend on other parties and officials to do the work for us.

To take an example from London, the city I call home: workers on London’s transport network know by now that they cannot depend on Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan to defend their jobs, pay, and conditions. Woolwich Ferry workers in South East London have seen victimisation of their reps, and a failure by Transport for London (TfL) to present a new pay deal. London Underground managers are threatening to cut 600 jobs and are trying to remove the Night Tube driver grade, which would ruin work-life balance for Night Tube drivers, instead of joining RMT members in a campaign for real government funding.

Where is Sadiq Khan in all this? As he has very clearly demonstrated, he is certainly not on the side of striking union members. It is clear that a Labour Mayor cannot be depended on to stand up for workers. Instead, it is Greens who must be the authentic voice of working people, who are being abandoned by an increasingly distant Labour leadership clique and who correctly see no hope in the Liberal Democrats.

The Green Party and the wider movement should be the natural home of working people and their organisations in trade and renters’ unions.  

During these local elections, the Green Party Trade Union Group will be taking up this task enthusiastically, highlighting some of the best of our party’s pro-worker policies. We have already published our ten-point pledge for Green local candidates, which we strongly encourage you to sign.