|PEOPLE'S CHARTER - getting organised locally|
The People's Charter has, since its launch, had the support of several national unions and has now been adopted by the 2009 TUC Congress. However, if this support is to translate into anything concrete, it needs to be the focus of discussion and activity within the trades’ union movement at local level. Party branches and activists can be instrumental in making sure that union branches and trades councils not only pass resolutions in support of the Charter but are directly involved in building it locally. Draft resolutions are available that can provide the basis for comrades to push for support but it should be possible to tailor them to suit your local branch or trades council.
The Charter covers a broad range of issues. Try to find the key links to the issues which members are concerned about. This may be something which affects them directly, such as unemployment, job losses, pay freezes or public sector cuts, or it may be a wider issue such as climate change, war or nuclear weapons. Also, think about how the Charter can be used as a mobilising tool. What action can be taken around the issue you have identified and how will this link to the broader People's Charter campaign?
Once a resolution has been passed, try to ensure some kind of working party or sub-group is formed (ideally with Party members on it) in order to take the work forward in the short term. Ideally, this will be broadened at the appropriate time by the inclusion of other groups to form a local People's Charter steering group (see below). Obviously, this process will take different paths in different areas but the inclusion of the significant local trades’ union branches and/or the local trades’ council from the beginning is fundamental. For trades’ councils, in particular, the People's Charter can be seen as an opportunity to re-engage with the local working class community, revitalise the trade’s council and build awareness of and activity around the local Labour movement as a whole.
Building support for the Charter in local working class communities is going to be vital to the success of the campaign. This will involve both working within existing campaigns & organisations and, more significantly, going out to people not currently engaged in political activity. In terms of the former, it makes sense to begin where the Party already has activists and/or contacts. A good starting point is to make a list of these campaigns and decide where it is best to make formal contact on behalf of the Party and where informal meetings with relevant activists might be better. Also include any significant local campaigns where the Party has not yet established links – work around the Charter should be seen as an opportunity to do this.
Once you have begun this work, and had some initial success, you should aim to cast the net a bit wider, approaching community groups, residents' and tenants’ associations, environmental and religious groups as well as other campaigns. Remember, an approach does not have to be made on behalf of the Party. If the local trades’ council or another influential group has declared support for the Charter, it might be possible to encourage them to take on the responsibility of this task. However, it is important to ensure that a reliable activist is in a position to co-ordinate responses.
In terms of building support outside existing groups, public activity such as street stalls is the key. It can also play an important role in engaging activists within and outside the Party branch, giving them productive practical activity to carry out. People's Charter campaigning material, including leaflets, posters, stickers and petitions, is available from Party centre. If your Party branch already runs regular stalls, People's Charter materials can be carried on these. If not, a fortnightly stall would be a good starting point. However, it is important to encourage other organisations to carry out this work too and, where possible, to run a few joint stalls focussed specifically on the Charter. Even if Party activists have to carry out the bulk of the legwork on these broader stalls in the short term, the pay-off for the campaign when others get involved is likely to be worth it.
The main focus of the stalls will be giving out leaflets about the People's Charter and collecting signatures but it is important to remember that the aim is to build a movement, not simply a petition. Try to get talking to people and, if they are interested, take their contact details to involve them in future Charter activities. And make sure you do contact them!
After the general election, we need to see progress in the 50 or so largest towns and cities not already covered. These should include (although not exclusively) Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Carlisle, Clydebank, Dundee, Gloucester, Liverpool, Merthyr Tydfil, Swindon. Committees should also be a possibility in Cornwall, Cumbria and Kent.
The establishment of local PCC’s can provide a focus for initial work around the Charter, then become the driving force for future work. In the process of establishing a steering group for the campaign, it is important to remember the breadth of the Charter. Your steering group should reflect this breadth, with the aim being to draw in all significant local union branches, campaigns and community groups. However the Charter is primarily a campaigning movement aimed outwards so you should not spend months attempting to get every relevant organisation together, drawing together a broadly representative selection of organisations should be sufficient initially.
If the steering group itself is slightly unwieldy, you will be able to deal with this by establishing a co-ordinating group, executive or another mechanism for carrying out the work. The main thing is to ensure that the steering group itself is broad and representative, with local groups feeling the People's Charter really is their campaign.
A local launch meeting for the People's Charter is a great way to raise the profile of the Charter locally and provides an excellent focal point and deadline for local campaign work. It is also the perfect opportunity to bring together those who would form the core of a local steering group. In organising a meeting, make sure you give yourself a good lead-in time to publicise and build in the event but also bear in mind other significant time constraints such as union conferences, May Day and the general election. It is important that the People's Charter movement in priority areas is built in time to have a significant impact on the election and national politics in general.
The breadth of the launch meeting is likely to have a significant impact on the campaign as it develops so it is important to ensure that a range of different groups and organisations are involved from the earliest possible opportunity. The role of the Party will be that of initiator and organiser in most cases but the campaign must be much broader. Whichever organisation (trades’ council, union branch or Party branch) is formally calling the meeting should write to other potential supporting organisations well in advance, leaving time for them to respond plus a good 3-4 weeks to publicise the launch.
Suggestions for possible speakers and help with contacting them are available from Party centre but it is important to ensure the meeting has a local resonance, both in terms of the balance of speakers and the topics covered. It is also important to involve all the participating groups without making the platform too large (three or four speakers is plenty!). One good suggestion is to invite all participating groups to make a 2 minutes contribution from the floor on the subject of the Charter, linking it to the work of their organisation. Draft copies of a letters to potential supporting groups are again available from party centre, along with draft leaflets, posters, emails and other publicity materials. Finally, make sure you give the local press plenty of notice. A draft press release is also available, along with notes on dealing with the media.
The major advantage of the People's Charter as a campaigning tool is that it draws together a range of different demands into a coherent platform around which different groups can unite. This means that it covers a lot of ground and there will need to be a necessary prioritisation in the emphasis given to certain demands in the Charter based on local conditions. For example, in one area unemployment may be the key issue and therefore the demand for job creation would have the most resonance with local people. In another area, linking the Charter demands for investment in public services and an end to privatisation with a campaign to defend a local school or hospital may be more effective. This may mean that Party organisations in one locality or district choose to emphasise one or more aspects of the Charter in line with local conditions. Only local party organisations are in the position to make this kind of assessment and along with the initial organisational work this is one of the key contributions that comrades can make.
This prioritisation should be encouraged but it must be remembered that the main strength of the Charter is its ability to draw together different interests in a coherent way. So, whilst it is entirely appropriate to emphasise one or other aspect, this should not prevent you from drawing the links with other demands within the Charter. The overall aim will be to build a broad and united campaign on the basis of local conditions.
Elections – The first half of 2010, in the bourgeois media at least, will be dominated by the general election. It is clear from the outset that, whoever wins on the day, the ruling class offensive will continue and the impact of the result will simply indicate the pace and extent of the attacks on working people. However, the election does provide an opportunity to raise the profile of the People's Charter and build the campaign for a progressive change of direction. One of the key things local People's Charter campaign groups can do is write to MPs and prospective candidates, asking them to declare their position on the Charter. Their responses should be publicised and pressure put on those MPs who are unwilling to declare practical support for the Charter. However, a declaration of support should not be the end of the question. Those MPs and P prospective candidates who have publicly endorsed the Charter should be pressed to show their support for specific demands, whether by signing EDMs, asking parliamentary questions, publicly challenging government policies or speaking out in key local issues. The same approach can be taken with local elections, although Party candidates standing in elections should ensure that their platform includes prominent support for the People's Charter.
Local Strikes/Disputes – The establishment of a local People's Charter campaign is an opportunity to lend additional support to workers in struggle. The local campaign group can organise leaflettings for a dispute or collections for a strike fund, put on social events and fundraisers and generally raise awareness of the issues involved. Obviously, it is important to take your lead from the workers involved in the dispute in terms of what support is most valuable but it is a great opportunity to demonstrate to these workers and others what the People's Charter means in practice.
May Day – May Day marches and rallies provide another opportunity to build the People's Charter. There are various ways to incorporate the Charter into a May Day event, from inviting a People's Charter speaker to address the event, through to making the Charter itself the main focus. One advantage of the breadth of the Charter is that it is possible to invite a Charter speaker on almost any topic chosen for your May Day event. Similarly, if the main focus of your local May Day celebrations were to be the Charter itself, it would be possible to invite a broad range of relevant speakers addressing whichever demands of the Charter you have decided to prioritise locally.
Other events – A range of other events have been planned by People's Charter campaign groups, from one-off social events to day conferences. Help with organising such an event can be sought from Party centre but it is important to draw on the experience of comrades locally. The two key things to think about are:
How will the event take the People's Charter campaign forward? and
How does the event fit in to the local political conditions?
The main aim of the People's Charter is to build the maximum possible unity around a programme of progressive policies. As long as this remains the focus, and the Party branches and activists are willing to put the work in, we have the opportunity to build an effective movement which has the potential to change the political direction of the country as a whole.
Gawain Little and Ben Stevenson
Communist Party Executive Committee
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