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Beyond cynicism: our campaigning wins

1 November 2013

Our campaign against rip-off fares has regularly seen the consequences of rail privatisation hit the headlines.

Soaring fares, which are the soft underbelly of the so-called ‘case’ for privatisation, show no sign of relenting. We wish people weren’t being clobbered, but this does present us with an excellent platform whilst politicians’ ears sharpen as the general election approaches.

I am sure that many of you will share my delight that Labour has joined our campaign to keep East Coast in public hands. With this year's Labour Party Conference going further and unanimously adopting our resolution in favour of public ownership of our railways, this presents a real opportunity. This means that each one of us can now play a vital part in making this a reality by joining our campaigning activities over the coming months.

As the political conference season drew to a close it is hard to believe that we’re not just round the corner from a general election. Key spokespeople for the main parties appear desperate to make us believe that our lives will get better under their watch. But like many of you, it is difficult not to feel somewhat cynical about many of the promises that politicians will be making in the run-up to when our votes are finally cast.

Yet politics is also capable of inspiring hope in even the most dreadful of circumstances. Look at the stance taken by the very courageous young Pakistani women, Malala Yousafzai. She was shot in the head by the Taliban as a result of campaigning for girls and women to have access to education. Has her terrible experience cowed her? No – far from it! She is completely determined to go into politics so that future generations of Pakistanis have the right to attend school irrespective of their gender. Such determination towards such a laudable goal should help dispel some of our scepticism. I am absolutely convinced that Malala fully understands the unrivalled power of politics to make our world a better place.

You know, our NHS, workers’ rights and pensions are excellent examples of what politics can deliver. Of course, these things didn’t just happen by chance. Years of campaigning by thousands, if not millions, of ordinary people made sure that these progressive changes became law. Our union will always remain focused in seeking to secure your livelihood and on delivering a better deal for you at work. However, we fully recognise that politicians make laws and decisions that either aid or frustrate our collective ability to do so. That is why, if we are going to be in a strong position to adequately defend you, we need robust workplace organisation and a powerful political voice!

Let me give you a few examples of why I am saying this. The Government backed the McNulty Review which recommends the wholesale closure of hundreds of booking offices. To implement these proposals, the Government requires primary legislation. Our union’s response was to launch a campaign which mobilised passengers against this, resulting in many MPs being made acutely aware of the heavy electoral price they would pay if these plans went ahead locally. You see, the hard work and effort of many of you have been handsomely rewarded. So far, the results of this campaigning work have been amazing – instead of the 750 closures McNulty planned, just four booking offices have closed since 2010!

That is why we recently started a similar initiative in London to stop Boris’s crazy plans to shut all ticket offices on the Underground. We have been here before: in 2008 we stopped the former Mayor’s attempt to close just a few of them. In fact, Boris got elected on a platform of keeping them open – he even signed our petition against Ken Livingstone’s proposals. Yet his current plans go way beyond anything Ken ever contemplated. We now need to make it clear to any politician who supports proposals to do away with these much valued services that they run a very high risk of the public giving them the P45 they’d have given to their workers.

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