Posing to the left
Nancy Platts is the Labour candidate for Brighton Pavilion, where she is opposed by Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, not to mention Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party. While the CPGB will not recommend a vote for the petty bourgeois Greens, we will support any Labour candidate who meets our two conditions: opposition to all cuts in public services and an immediate withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan. Peter Manson spoke to her
Can you tell me about your background? I believe you were once a full-time union worker.
I have been in the past, yes. I left school at 18 and after a couple of other jobs went to work for the London fire brigade for about 11 years. Then I went to work in the trade union movement for TSSA, the transport union, and then on to the voluntary sector, where I campaigned on things like better childcare, maternity leave and tax credits.
How do you view the role of trade unions?
I think it’s such a shame that there’s still such a fear of working people wanting to have a voice in the workplace and standing up for their rights. You know, as I do, that anyone who works in a unionised organisation is likely to have better terms and conditions than those who don’t. With unions there’s also likely to be greater transparency, which is much better for trying to achieve equal pay for equal value.
Having worked in the union movement and seen things from the other side, I think it’s very sad that the media very rarely talk about the good work that the trade unions do in terms of negotiating on behalf of their members, but also protecting people against things like bullying and harassment in the workplace, and representing individual cases. I didn’t tend to a lot of work on the representation side, but because there were very few women working in TSSA, now and again I did represent individuals, particularly where women wanted another woman to do that.
One case that sticks in my mind was that of a woman who was harassed at work for being a lesbian. It got to the point where she was absolutely desperate at the prospect of being hounded out of her job, and was even thinking of taking her own life. The impact on individuals of bullying in the workplace is little realised, so I feel quite strongly and passionately about the need for there always to be someone to turn to - everyone needs someone at their side when things go wrong.
Even talking to friends who query the value of trade unions, I’ve noticed that when things do go wrong they’re very quick to sign up and say, ‘Surely my employer can’t get away with this. What are my employment rights?’ People have less of a collective sense these days in terms of joining, paying into and supporting a union even when they don’t need it, but in the full knowledge that it’ll be there when they do. I think we need to put a bit of that collective sense back. Young people tend not to know what trade unions are all about.
It’s very hard, I know, trying to get into places like call centres and recruit members. I used to stand outside in the rain at seven in the morning, trying to recruit members in the travel trade, where there was a very low level of union membership and organisation. You couldn’t physically get in the door to talk to people.
As well as the anti-trade union legislation, the other thing that’s impacted on unions is the higher turnover of staff in companies these days, which makes it much harder to establish a really firm base. And we’re still experiencing trade unionists getting picked on. Where I am in Brighton we’ve got a dispute on at Sussex University and once again we’re seeing UCU trade union reps being disproportionately affected and placed in the redundancy pool ahead of other workers. All of that is about the fear of people who are prepared to stand up for their colleagues and put their head above the parapet.
So how important do you view the union link to the Labour Party? Some people say that Labour is now just another capitalist party like the Tories.
I think the union link is essential. Labour is still the party of working people. We’re still the only party that’s going to get progressive change. Look at what we’ve achieved over the last 13 years - the massive sums that have gone into public services. Building 149 new hospitals across the country is no mean feat. And we have reduced crime. I know there’s been arguments about statistics, but crime has gone down and that’s really important.
Labour has also put in a lot of legislation that’s particularly helped women - around balanced equal rights and part-time workers, extending maternity, paternity and adoption leave, better rights for old people and LGBT couples ... All of that are things that the Tories would never, ever have done, so I think we shouldn’t kid ourselves with phrases about ‘not a fag paper between the two parties’. That’s just rubbish. If you look at what the Tories did up to 1997, there’s a massive difference between the two political parties.
There’s always more we can do and I think we should strengthen the links with the trade unions. Unite, which is supporting me, has been giving massively to the Labour Party over the last two years. All the unions down here are supporting my campaign - even the ones that aren’t affiliated to the Labour Party like the RMT and FBU.
You mentioned the effect of the cuts at Sussex University. That is one area where there seems to be next to nothing between the parties. It seems to be just a question of how soon and how large. What is your attitude to cuts in public services?
Nobody wants to see cuts, do they? Listen, there’s never anything wrong in looking at an organisation and making sure it’s working as efficiently as it can do. Nobody wants to see cuts and I don’t think the public sector should be paying the price for the mistakes of the bankers. We’re adding one percent onto national insurance as a mechanism to try and close the deficit.
We’ve got to make sure we’re running our public services efficiently and with new technology you’ve always got to review how things are working and whether things can be done better. But ultimately the bottom line is that the public sector shouldn’t be seen to pay the price for the mistakes the bankers made. In the words of Obama, we want our money back from the banks.
John McDonnell has committed himself to oppose any public service cuts. Would you do the same, Nancy?
I don’t want to see any public service cuts and so far I’m opposing any that I come across. It depends what they were and why they were being cut. There would have to be a very good reason before I would support cuts in public services. I certainly don’t want to see them.
Many on the left say that one of your opponents, Caroline Lucas, is a leftwing candidate with progressive policies in a number of areas. Why should people vote for Nancy Platts rather than Caroline Lucas?
I think the Greens have adopted a lot of traditional Labour policies. But they’ve also got some policies that I think are quite dangerous. We’ve got a huge drug problem in Brighton and I think it’s irresponsible to suggest we should legalise all drugs without having an understanding of what the impact of that might be.
At the end of the day, to achieve anything in parliament you need allies and I know if I get elected I’ll have people on my side - people I can influence, who I can talk to about new pieces of legislation or policies, and I think she would find herself very isolated. While Labour is the party of working people, the Greens, as much as they would like to have them, haven’t got any links with the trade union movement. They’re not where we are in terms of history and core values. The danger is, all the Greens are doing is undermining the Labour vote and letting the Tories in through the middle.
I have one further area I’d like to ask you about. You have hinted at your unhappiness with Labour’s overseas policies, particularly the war in Afghanistan. What’s your position on that?
Well, I’m an anti-war candidate. I’m a pacifist, so I oppose war. I don’t see it as a solution to any problems. In the 21st century we should have other ways of sorting out our problems that don’t involve killing people. I think the troops should come home from Afghanistan.
So would you call for them to come home immediately and unconditionally?
I’d call for them to come home, simple as that.
The problem with that, though, is that those who sent them there would also say, ‘Yes, of course, we want the troops home.’ The question is when.
Well, I’ve given you that answer already. I’ve said the troops should come home from Afghanistan - it’s as simple as that.