Civil society is full of anchor institutions that often provide leadership by setting agendas and raising awareness of certain issues. One such group of these institutions is universities and due to the recent dispute with the UCU these organisations have often found themselves in the news. Although this trade union confrontation being at the forefront of discussions of campuses around the country, a number of universities are also making headlines by divesting themselves from fossil fuel companies. Removing universities’ financial support for companies destroying the earth will be a major step forward and has the potential to radically change the debate around anti-climate change measures.
In a historic move workers in McDonald’s outlets in Cambridge and Crayford have gone on strike over low wages and insecure employment. The industrial action was organised by workers and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) who have courageously taken on one of the largest companies in the world. But successes in this area from across the globe have shown that workers can successfully lobby for better working conditions. This action can bring about real change but only if the struggle of these workers is highlighted and staff at other fast food outlets unionise.
Because Parliament is in recess most political news has moved into two distinct categories: commentary on reports that were going to come out anyway or political gossip and speculation. One story that is gaining popularity in some parts of the press is the idea of outspoken Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg launching a leadership to replace Theresa May as Tory Party leader. If such a bid was successful Rees-Mogg would also become Prime Minister, the third of which in two years. People began to talk about how ‘funny’ the idea of a Rees-Mogg premiership would be but the notion of the MP for North East Somerset becoming Prime Minister should jolt the Left out of any complacency that they may have slipped into after May’s failure to form a majority government at the last election. A side note is that all references to Rees-Mogg’s voting record come from TheyWorkForYou.com.
We live in a time that is certainly more tolerant and accepting than many centuries previously. Advantages in women’s rights, race relations and LGBT emancipation have been numerous and the activism of those groups of people agitating for change shouldn’t be minimised. However it would be foolish to argue that systemic prejudices remain commonplace in Western societies. New evidence of discrimination on the grounds of race has been revealed by data collected by the TUC. Structural disadvantages for people of colour can only be rectified if there is a popular demand for change to force the government into decisive action.
Labour has long claimed to be active in every community up and down the country and whilst this is not an untrue statement, there are many parts of Britain where the Labour Party is exclusively encountered in the press. For many citizens political activity is something that is people want to do but do not know how to get involved with issues they care about. My suggestion would be to make the Labour Party into a grassroots movement that is active at a level that is much more localised than just parliamentary constituencies. Empowering local people should be the future of the party and this requires a new approach to party organisation.
Employment tribunals are a key way for workers to protect themselves against unscrupulous employers but in recent years the number of people going to tribunals has dramatically fallen. This is largely because of the introduction of tribunal fees, whereby workers had to pay, in some cases, thousands of pounds up front in order to have their cases heard. According to figures from the Ministry of Justice quoted by the BBC, the number of cases going to tribunals has dropped from around 5,000 per month before tribunal fees were introduced in 2013, to around 1,600 per month after the introduction. However this situation has finally been remedied, as the Supreme Court has ruled that these punitive fees are against the law.
The Secretary of State for Women’s and Equalities Justine Greening has announced that there will be a consultation on a piece of legislation that would significantly change the legal status of transgender people in British society. The government have also announced a change to the rules regarding blood donation that will benefit gay and bisexual men. These measures are important and should be welcomed, however that should not mean that pressure on the government should be alleviated. Additionally, some aspects of society are still hostile towards the very idea of transgender equality and conversations need to be had so that so that our fellow citizens feel welcome in society.