Interesting times in Cornwall

Arwen Folkes reports from North Cornwall where the battle rages between Lib Dems and Tories

It is going to be interesting down here in Cornwall. The proposed unitary authority is a recent issue down here, as proposed and driven by our Lib Dem run County Council and I am particularly interested to see how the issue will affect turnout ... will less people vote because they believe the District Councils won't exist in two years time or will they turn out in their droves to protest at the abolition of such institutions?

If the truth be known, it seems only to be a big issue to people who are already involved in politics themselves. Certainly on the doorstep I have received more questions about fortnightly rubbish collections than I have the unitary authority!

And yet because politics is led by politicians, all of our opponents have tried to make the unitary proposals a real issue throughout their election campaigns.

Although the Tory campaign began with great gusto, seemingly fielding an impressive slate of candidates, the truth is a large proportion of them are actually paper candidates and little visible activity has been taking place cross the county. I'm not sure that Cornish Conservatives are quite on the same wavelength as David Cameron.

Traditionally in Cornwall it is effort that is rewarded, the Cornish like to see candidates on the doorstep and working hard for their seats and we hope that this stands true for this election. That is also the reason that so many hard-working independent candidates also get elected.

My own authority (North Cornwall) is led by an independent administration. The Lib-Dem campaign has been positive and highly visible and we are fielding 20 out of a possible 36 candidates. The Tories are fielding 21, a majority of them paper candidates. Control will be difficult to obtain but to increase our number whilst keeping the Tories low will be a good thing.

The most interesting ward up here has to be Poughill & Stratton (nr Bude) where our organizer and agent has been the sitting councillor for the last term. This is where the BNP candidate has appeared and also where the Conservatives have decided to place their own organizer - perhaps in the hopes of keeping our boy busy, but the scarcity of her campaign has not achieved this.

Down in Carrick, which is largely considered the heart of Liberal Democracy in Cornwall, we are fighting to retain control of the District Council and we have fielded 35 out of 47 seats for this election. The campaign "Let's keep Carrick working" has largely focused on the Environment (Carrick has impressive recycling rates), Affordable Housing and "Axe the Tax".

There is assumed to be strong Tory pockets in this area of Cornwall but again their visible campaign has been minimal (in fact one of our MP's has described it as the worst he has seen) and whilst the telephone canvassing will be under way there is little excuse in the electorate's eyes for not being on the doorstep with the beautiful weather we have been having here in Cornwall this month.

Do you notice what's missing? The Labour Party has never made much of an impact in Cornwall and Tony Blair has only been to the South West three times in the whole of his 10 year term. Apparently he has visited Japan more times than Devon or Cornwall.

Arwen Folkes, 30, is a currently defencing her district council seat in Cornwall. She also runs two businesses and is mother to two boys.
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The Future of the Left: trade unions are more important than ever

Trade unions are under threat - and without them, the left has no future. 

Not accepting what you're given, when what you're given isn't enough, is the heart of trade unionism.

Workers having the means to change their lot - by standing together and organising is bread and butter for the labour movement - and the most important part? That 'lightbulb moment' when a group of workers realise they don't have to accept the injustice of their situation and that they have the means to change it.

That's what happened when a group of low-paid hospital workers organised a demonstration outside their hospital last week. As more of their colleagues clocked out and joined them on their picket, thart lightbulb went on.

When they stood together, proudly waving their union flags, singing a rhythmic chant and raising their homemade placards demanding a living wage they knew they had organised the collective strength needed to win.

The GMB union members, predominantly BAME women, work for Aramark, an American multinational outsourcing provider. They are hostesses and domestics in the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, a mental health trust with sites across south London.

Like the nurses and doctors, they work around vulnerable patients and are subject to verbal and in some cases physical abuse. Unlike the nurses and doctors their pay is determined by the private contractor that employs them - for many of these staff that means statutory sick pay, statutory annual leave entitlement and as little as £7.38 per hour.

This is little more than George Osborne's new 'Living Wage' of £7.20 per hour as of April.

But these workers aren't fighting for a living wage set by government or even the Living Wage Foundation - they are fighting for a genuine living wage. The GMB union and Class think tank have calculated that a genuine living wage of £10ph an hour as part of a full time contract removes the need for in work benefits.

As the TUC launches its 'Heart Unions' week of action against the trade union bill today, the Aramark workers will be receiving ballot papers to vote on whether or not they want to strike to win their demands.

These workers are showing exactly why we need to 'Heart Unions' more than ever, because it is the labour movement and workers like these that need to start setting the terms of the real living wage debate. It is campaigns like this, low-paid, in some cases precariously employed and often women workers using their collective strength to make demands on their employer with a strategy for winning those demands that will begin to deliver a genuine living wage.

It is also workers like these that the Trade Union Bill seeks to silence. In many ways it may succeed, but in many other ways workers can still win.

Osborne wants workers to accept what they're given - a living wage on his terms. He wants to stop the women working for Aramark from setting an example to other workers about what can be achieved.

There is no doubting that achieving higher ballot turn outs, restrictions on picket lines and most worryingly the use of agency workers to cover strikers work will make campaigns like these harder. But I refuse to accept they are insurmountable, or that good, solid organisation of working people doesn't have the ability to prevail over even the most authoritarian of legislation.

As the TUC launch their Heart Unions week of action against the bill these women are showing us how the labour movement can reclaim the demands for a genuine living wage. They also send a message to all working people, the message that the Tories fear the most, that collective action can still win and that attempts to silence workers can still be defeated.