On Saturday members of the TaxPayers’ Alliance took to the market square in Ashton under Lyne. Our grassroots activist in the area – Tameside’s brilliant Liam Billington – arranged for us to petition local residents and shoppers. A big issue there is the amount of taxpayers’ cash that is spent on giving public sector staff time to perform union duties. This is something the TPA researched last autumn, and we found that around £85 million had been spent on Pilgrims, as they’re otherwise known. Tameside’s bill has just shot up by nearly 50 per cent in just a year. This is at a time when spending is necessarily being cut in other areas.
We faced some hostility as we talked to the locals, particularly one market trader who made a point of approaching us to tell us that the cause we were fighting was, as she put it, dangerous. A self-declared ‘unionist’, she informed us there would be no jobs without unions and paid time off for staff to perform union duties, not even in the private economy. No, I didn’t quite grasp it either.
I’ve been out on numerous action days with activists during my time with the TPA. In all honestly, Tameside was a particularly difficult day. Most of the people we talked to up there were defensive, and had relatives or spouses that were members of unions.
But we managed to convince many people to sign up against the particular issue we were campaigning on – the taxpayer funding of trade unions. Councillors delivering spending cuts should be fighting this as hard as groups like the TPA and its supporters are. Unions are paid subs by their members and they should use this money to fund their activities. It's wrong that they dip back in to taxpayers' pockets through paid staff time.
On the day, we also asked a few residents some questions on other issues too, with almost all backing us on council chief executives’ pay and perks. We also got a lot of support on excessive levels of council tax. We got more nuanced answers too; those asked didn’t feel they got good value from council tax increases, where the level itself might not have concerned them greatly. On other issues, many were angry that the international aid budget is increasing so rapidly, and every respondent was furious about ridiculously excessive fuel duty. We told those people about Rob Halfon’s e-petition for Fair Fuel.
All in all, it was an enjoyable day. It was nice to get back out on the streets and talk to local people about the issues that actually concern them. As the Research Director of the TPA, I often deal with the big national issues while only overseeing other work done in the regions. So like many politicos, I sometimes get lost in the Westminster Bubble, and I forget that the issues many of us within it discuss everyday don’t even register on the radars of shoppers in Scarborough or cabbies in Crewe.
That’s one of the joys of working for a grassroots organisation: you get to go out there and talk to people about what concerns them in their area. Then we can try to convince them to join the fight. So far we’ve been pretty successful: over 60,000 people are signed up members of our campaign, and action days like Saturday will only help as friends tell friends about what we do.
We have another action day in Southampton on the 17th of September, and anyone in the area – or anywhere else, for that matter – is more than welcome to come and join us. For more details you can contact Andrew Allison, our National Grassroots Coordinator. mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org