by New Worker correspondent
THE GIANT union Unite last week chose the first anniversary of David Cameron’s “Big Society” to launch their own by inviting students, single parents, the unemployed and claimants to join the union under a new “community membership” scheme for just 50 pence-a-week.
Unite is considering offering legal support and education facilities under the community membership scheme in exchange for “collective community action”, which could include supporting industrial action or campaigns against job cuts.
And it is offering these services precisely to those made most vulnerable by the withdrawal of state services like legal aid, advice and general support services.
Last Tuesday evening a small rally in Whitehall saw the launch of the new scheme, attended by Unite officer Kingsley Abrams attended by Unite officer Kingsley Abrams – a former Lambeth councillor who campaigned for his council to refuse to implement Government cuts. Also in attendance were leading disability rights campaigners.
The next day Unite’s “Big Society” road show came to an end on Wednesday 20th July with the delivery to Downing Street of four massive anniversary cards, crammed full of hundreds of furious messages to the Prime Minister.
The trip to Downing Street of Unite voluntary sector workers ends a two-week road show which has taken in Dorset in the South West, Liverpool, Durham and London.
The event culminated with a mass rally in central London outside the Houses of Parliament.
Thousands of people have shared their stories which have exposed the true scale of the devastation being wrought by the Government’s cuts to communities across the country in the year since the Prime Minister launched his so-called “Big Society”.
Cameron launched his “Big Society” a year ago (19th July 2010) to great fanfare but during the past year, his government has snatched a staggering £4.4 billion from the voluntary sector – services are being slashed, jobs cut and charities have been left struggling to survive.
Sally Kosky, Unite national officer for the not-for-profit sector said: “The stories of the thousands of people who took the time to respond to us should serve as a wake up call to David Cameron and his ministers, but instead he continues to turn a blind eye to the devastation his cuts are causing to millions of people throughout the country.
“The Prime Minister’s idea of the ‘Big Society’ is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of voluntary sector workers who keep our elderly safe, our disabled supported, the young off the streets and give a voice to the most marginalised in society.
“Cameron and his millionaires’ cabinet need to stop hiding behind ever more elaborate cost-cutting gimmicks and face up to the fact that their can be no volunteers without a voluntary sector with professional staff to underpin its structure.”
Unite the union, which has 60,000 members in the not for profit sector, is calling on the Government to give back the £4.4 billion it has taken from the sector.
In an interview with the Guardian, the general secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey, warned that strikes by millions of state employees are “inevitable” this autumn because of Government inflexibility over pension reforms, while he criticised Labour party leader Ed Miliband for an “ill-advised” attack on last month’s public sector walkouts.
McCluskey said the trade union movement already reflects through its voluntary membership structure the Conservative party’s “big society” vision of non-state organisations taking a bigger role in running public services. “David Cameron is talking about the big society. Well we are here. In many ways we are the big society. It will include students, single parent families, unemployed people, and retired individuals. If they want to come join us in this large family where we can link our work places and families together, that’s the type of union that we are looking to develop.”
McCluskey added that the TUC march against public sector cuts this year, attended by 250,000 people, underlined the potential for a community membership project. “There are millions of people out there who are vulnerable and without a voice.
“As the 26th March demonstration showed, I will bet that there are tens of thousands of people who were not union members. The only organisations speaking up for people are trade unions. I want to extend our remit into areas where perhaps we have not represented people before. If advice bureaus close down where do people seek help?”
He criticised Labour’s record in power, saying that the party’s “absolute adherence to the financial markets and the slavish following of neo-liberalism” had created a poverty gap.
McCluskey added: “I think Ed was wrong to condemn the strikes on 30th June. He was ill-advised to condemn those workers. We are talking about teachers here.”