Families and members of the TUC attend an anti-austerity demo in Westminster. Photo: Getty Images
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Labour must defend the trade union link

A group of Labour MPs write in defence of the party's trade union link. 

There has been much discussion in the wake of the disastrous general election result about the future direction of our party. A full and frank conversation must take place, involving all parts of our party and country – that includes the millions of people in trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party.

The trade union link is the umbilical cord connecting a party of a few hundred thousand to a coalition of trade unions with a membership of over six million.

The whirling cesspool of some of the British right-wing media continues to smear trade unions, their leadership and their links with the Labour Party. While millions of people in the UK face huge hardship, the gutter press keep the stories off the front pages, replacing them with crackpot tales of ‘Red Him’, ‘Red Her’ or ‘Red Anyone’.

Shamefully, there are many in our own party who see the aims of the unions as alien to their own and hurl around the lexicon of our enemies willy-nilly. The phrases trade union ‘barons’, union ‘bullying’ or ‘sabotage’ should have no place in the vocabulary of Labour politicians. Perhaps some of those from the nouveaux wing of the Party should read their history and understand that the unions created the Labour Party and not the other way around.

We can never forget our responsibility towards working people, the people that the Labour Party was created to represent. It is trade unions that give a voice to those people, and it is our obligation to respectfully engage with them and their elected representatives.

Unions will participate in the leadership election under rules agreed just last year to broad approval. It would be ludicrous to suggest any further revisions at this stage could be warranted. Our affiliated trade unions should be encouraged in their endeavours to engage and sign up their members as affiliated supporters of our party, and to treat this with suspicion is absurd. 

We must also be clear that elected union leaders have a right and a duty to express their views on policy and on candidates on behalf of their unions. Those who seek to silence such contributions to open debate within our party only create an impression of intolerance and a desire to limit discussion to a charmed parliamentary circle.

 

 

Ian Lavery MP

Jon Trickett MP

Jo Stevens MP

Roger Godsiff MP

Marie Rimmer MP

Angela Rayner MP

Pat Glass MP

John McDonnell MP

Grahame Morris MP

Ian Mearns MP

Harry Harpham MP 

Rachael Maskell MP

Ronnie Campbell MP

Dave Anderson MP

Richard Burgon MP

Stephen Hepburn MP

Alan Meale MP

David Crausby MP

Dennis Skinner MP

Clive Lewis MP

Jeremy Corbyn MP

Jess Phillips MP

Liz McInnes MP

Kate Osamor MP

Kelvin Hopkins MP

Louise Haigh MP

Rebecca Long-Bailey MP

Paula Sherriff MP

Chris Matheson MP

Catherine West MP

Getty
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Is Google Maps discriminating against people with disabilities?

Its walking routes are not access-friendly.

“I ended up having to be pushed through a main road in London, which was really scary.” Three weeks ago, Mary Bradley went to London to visit her daughter Belinda, who is just finishing her first year at university there. Her other daughter joined them on the trip.

But what was supposed to be an enjoyable weekend with her two children turned into a frustrating ordeal. The apps they were using to find their way around kept sending them on routes that are not wheelchair-friendly, leading to time-consuming and sometimes frightening consequences.

Bradley has been using a wheelchair – when having to go longer distances without a vehicle – for over a year, due to a 45-degree curve in her spine, severe joint facet deterioration in her back, and other conditions.

She lives in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, and has made the trip up to London to visit her daughter a handful of times. Each visit, they use Google Maps and the transport app Citymapper to find their way around, as neither of them know London particularly well.


Belinda and Mary Bradley. Photo: Belinda Bradley

“It was just horrible,” says Bradley of her most recent trip to the capital. “We’re following the maps, and we go along, then find we are faced with a footbridge, and realise there was no way I was going to get over it, so we had to go back the way we’d come. At one point, we were faced with a strip of narrow pavement the wheelchair couldn’t go down. That was something we found all weekend.”

While Google Maps did highlight accessible Tube stations, they found that once they had alighted to do the rest of the journey to their destination on foot, “it took us three times as long, because the route that it takes us just wasn’t passable”.

They ended up having to try different routes “having no real idea of where were going”.

“It meant that it took so much longer, the girls ended up having to push me for longer, I got more and more embarrassed and frustrated and upset about the whole thing,” Bradley tells me.

At one point, her daughters had to take her down a main road. “Being pushed on a road, especially in London, is scary,” she says. “It was scary for me, it was scary for the girls.”

When they returned home, Belinda, who is a 19-year-old Writing and Theatre student at the University of Roehampton, was so furious at the situation that she started a petition for Google Maps to include wheelchair-friendly routes. It hit over 100,000 signatures in a fortnight. At the time of writing, it has 110,601 petitioners.


Belinda's petition.

Belinda was surprised that Google Maps didn’t have accessible routes. “I know Google Maps so well, [Google]’s such a big company, it has the satellite pictures and everything,” she says. “So I was really surprised because there’s loads of disabled people who must have such an issue.”

The aim of her petition is for Google Maps to generate routes that people using wheelchairs, crutches, walking sticks, or pushing prams will be able to use. “It just says that they’re a little bit ignorant,” is Belinda’s view of the service’s omission. “To me, just to ignore any issues that big needs to be solved; it needs to be addressed almost immediately.”

But she also wants to raise awareness to “make life better in general” for people with disabilities using navigation apps.

Belinda has not received a response from Google or Citymapper, but I understand that Google is aware of the petition and the issue it raises. Google declined to comment and I have contacted Citymapper but have not received a response.

Google Maps does provide information about how accessible its locations are, and also allows users to fill in accessibility features themselves via an amenities checklist for places that are missing that information. But it doesn’t provide accessible walking routes.

“There’s no reason that they couldn’t take it that bit further and include wheelchair accessible routes,” says Matt McCann, the founder of Access Earth, an online service and app that aims to be the Google Maps for people with disabilities. “When I first started Access Earth, I always thought this is something Google should be doing, and I was always surprised they haven’t done it. And that’s the next logical step.”

McCann began crowdsourcing information for Access Earth in 2013, when he booked a hotel in London that was supposed to be wheelchair-friendly – but turned out not to be accessible for his rollator, which he uses due to having cerebral palsy.

Based in Dublin, McCann says Google Maps has often sent him on pedestrian routes down cobbled streets, which are unsuitable for his rollator. “That’s another level of detail; to know whether the footpaths are pedestrian-friendly, but also if they’re wheelchair-friendly as well in terms of the surface,” he notes. “And that was the main problem that I had in my experience [of using walking routes].”

Access Earth, which includes bespoke accessibility information for locations around the world, aims to introduce accessible routes once the project has received enough funding. “The goal is to encompass all aspects of a route and trip,” he says. Other services such as Wheelmap and Euan's Guide also crowdsource information to provide access-friendly maps.

So how long will it take for more established tech companies like Google to clear the obstacles stopping Mary Bradley and millions like her using everyday services to get around?

“You can use them for public transport, to drive, you can use them if you’re an able-bodied person on foot,” she says. “But there are loads of us who are completely excluded now.”

Sign Belinda Bradley’s “Create Wheelchair Friendly Routes on Google Maps" here.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.