The Trade Union role in Police and Crime Commissioner elections in November

We all know that the relationship between the police and the trade union movement has been chequered. And in the Labour movement, we are most uncomfortable with the idea of Police and Crime Commissioners. However the elections are going to happen and we need to ensure that as many ‘trade union and ordinary worker friendly’ PCCs get elected in November. This article argues this case:

There is not a trade union in our land whose members are unaffected by the government’s cuts to police numbers. While some people may think that only the trade unions that represent the police staff and officers whose jobs are being lost or twisted, have an interest – but this is not so.

USDAW, for example have highlighted how they are “focusing on the unprecedented government cuts in police force funding across the UK, which will result in the loss of thousands of uniformed police officers on streets” in their “Freedom From Fear Campaign”. USDAW goes on to say that they are “are particularly worried about the effect [the cuts will have on their] members and levels of crime and anti-social behaviour in high streets and shopping areas.” USDAW makes the very clear connection: if the quality of policing is damaged, we are all affected: at work, at home and at play. (See here for more details of the USDAW campaign.)

Naturally the unions whose members work for the police (GMB, PCS, UNISON, my own union Unite, and others) all have campaigns focusing on the cuts and action over pay and pensions. However, I would suggest that these unions and all others are in various other ways affected by policing.

For example, ASLEF and RMT members are affected by metal theft: safety and performance are at risk. All the teaching unions (ATL, NASUWT, and NUT) depend on support from the police to work with them to tackle issues of anti-social behaviour, crime and personal safety in and around schools and colleges. The FBU are suffering from cuts on a similar scale and work in close partnership with the police: partnership working to prevent fire-setting and react in a coordinated way during emergency situations (such as the riots of last year) is at risk. There are many more links and other over lapping interests. Indeed I would suspect any trade union has at least two or three direct ways in which policing affects the interests of their members.

Consequently, I want to make a strong connection that many may not yet have made: the trade unions play must play a role in the run up to electing the new Police and Crime Commissioners.

I think we know several things:

  • The importance and scale of the elections in November is only just becoming clear. Electors across all England and Wales (except London) will be invited to vote for these PCCs on 15/11/12. It will be seen as test of the government as a whole as well as its specific policies on policing and crime.
  • Very few people are aware yet of these elections and just how much power that the new PCCs will wield. These roles are highly contentious. (Please correct me if I am wrong), but I believe these positions will have a uniquely high concentration of authority with what could turn out to be minimal scrutiny.
  • Turnouts in winter months are always poor. Coupling this with the low level of awareness and the unprecedented nature of these elections could well result in spectacularly low numbers of people voting. This is not good for democracy.
  • There is a worrying risk that the people elected to these positions will arrive with a populist and/or ‘quasi-independent’ and/or sketchy mandate with little awareness of how much policing affects ordinary working people. PCCs may even be elected who will simply comply with the government cuts programme as ‘necessary pain to sort out the deficit’…

With these points in mind, my hope is that all trade unions will start the process now of alerting their members to the forthcoming elections in November. Without active support (which could be in various forms including part funding the campaigns of PCCs and good communications), I fear that the people who come out to vote on November 15th could be an unrepresentative section of the electorate. We need to ensure that the PCCs are elected with a full mandate.

Also, please note that these elections will use the same system that will be used to restore Ken to being London Mayor – each voter will have 2 votes to cast under the supplementary voting system. The large areas these elections will cover already make the elections very unpredictable. The voting system will make them even more so and results are certainly ‘not in the bag’ in any police area.

And yes I know that we have some very important elections coming up in May – notably London and several other key cities where we will reclaim power for the Labour movement. And I am not asking for resources to be diverted away from these critical campaigns. But I am asking for some small foundations to be laid now so that after May, the trade union movement (and the Labour Party of course) can swing into rapid action to start the long process of winning the (almost) national PCC elections just six months later.

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