By Martin Smith – GMB, Head of Organising
Trade unions exist to help people restore the imbalance of power we often face at work and which many employers exploit to get the most possible out of people for the least possible cost. By standing together and pooling our power and letting our collective voice speak at work, we can go some way towards limiting exploitation. This means trade union members learning to put others’ needs equal to their own and being prepared to show solidarity to colleagues at the sharp end of employers’ tactics in practical ways.
For many trade union members and activists, the solidarity they express does not stop at the workplace and many are involved in local campaigns and politics, helping members of their own communities paying the highest price for a Tory Government – through Trades Union Councils, local Labour Parties and charities.
A major crisis our communities face in many parts of the country – but very noticeably in the last 12 months in London – is the explosion in the numbers of rough sleepers and street homeless. Many have a similar story to tell: job loss, family break up leading to staying with friends and then descending in a downward spiral of insecure tenancies, to sleeping in the car, sofa surfing, hostels and night shelters and then the streets.
Many have faced mental health problems already, many develop mental and physical illnesses on the streets. Some have been trade unionists; others were working in standard jobs like their neighbours less than a year before hitting the streets. Experienced trade union activists defending members’ jobs every day of the week where they work know the stark truth of the old adage that all of us are not much more than three payslips away from destitution.
Many GMB members and activists support the Labour Campaign to End Homelessness as its starting point is direct solidarity with rough sleepers where they are. The campaign does not look the other way and seeks to involve and include street homeless in finding political solutions to the situation they find themselves. It seeks to build solidarity between rough sleepers and between Labour activists and some of our society’s biggest victims. In this way the campaign borrows as much from the tactics and politics of trade union organising as it does from election and policy development work within the Party.
The best guide to theory is practice. While its also true that a good guide to practice is a small dose of theory, our campaign aims to get on the streets first. We give blankets and sleeping bags to cold people, food and hot drinks to the hungry, talk to street sleepers with dignity and respect, listen to their stories and treat them like we would any of our neighbours.
From this start the we hope the Party will be far better placed to develop policy to tackle homelessness in the face of those who prefer to wish the problem away or blame society’s victims for their own plight.