Karen Constantine: Trade Union Liaison Officer report 2015-16

I greatly enjoyed my year as South Thanet TULO officer, to be able to support our great PPC candidate Will Scobie throughout the general election was a privilege and an experience not easily topped and never to be forgotten.

I have completed a handover to the new TULO officers, Stuart McCann for South Thanet, also a fellow GMB member, and to Candy Gregory in North Thanet, an RCN rep. I wish them all success and I’m ready to assist them whenever they need.

So how did the year pan out? I attended Labour Party conference as the South Thanet Constituency Labour Party visitor and used this to build contacts and networks to support our constituency and WIll Scobie’s campaign.

Once Farage announced his candidacy I formed and still maintain Thanet Trade Union Action. The first meeting called was to try to build a consensus across the local trade unionists (who seemed thin on the ground at that time) and other left leaning activists. I believe we had a useful set of speakers and a productive evening. Both Hugh Lanning (PCS) and Tom Mellish (TUC) made great contributions.

As we got further into the general election, we held ‘Love & Unity’ at the Ramsgate Music Hall (many thanks to Kaz Peet). This was both a fund raiser and an awareness raiser in the broader community and was a roaring success, not to mention an unforgettable evening of entertainment.

On March 12th we held a rally for Labour with Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, as key note speaker. Paul Kenny, General Secretary of the GMB, also came to speak, as did Roger MacKenzie and Tony Burke, assistant general secretaries of Unison and Unite respectively. Annalise Dodds, South East MEP, also travelled to Ramsgate to address the audience. The event, attended by about 180 people, was a huge success and subsequently helped us to ‘lever in’ donations.

As TULO officer, rounding up and firming donations took up a great deal of my time and a significant amount was collected. Many of us were particularly persistent in exploiting our old friends. We had donations of cash, time and staff from an assortment of trade unions.

A women’s only (panel) hustings was arranged and a lively debate ensued. This attracted about 100 or so visitors and also several voluntary sector groups came along. The evening proved to be an innovative and straight forward way of engaging with women across the political spectrum and highlighted some of the commonality that women have. I believe that the Thanet Gazette headline was ‘Women’s husting ends in agreement’. I still can’t make up my mind whether that’s a positive or a negative!

Nigel Farage made many frequent objectionable comments. At one point he talked about Gay HIV postive health tourists and that’s what prompted contact between Bisi Alimi  and myself.

The Bisi story was a global one and added a whole other dimension to our campaign. He offered to come to Thanet and tell his tale at a Thanet Trade Union Action LGBTI event in packed Oddfellows Hall. I hope, as Ramsgate and Thanet develop that this is the type of event that can be repeated. If working for unions has taught me one thing, it’s the value of using your voice.

The next morning Bisi came and stood with a placard in Ramsgate market square for several hours. On that day, Bisi must have hugged hundreds of Ramsgate shoppers and completely eclipsed the UKIP stall. For the record, whilst Trevor Shonk did decline a hug, he did shake hands. I’m extremely pleased to say Bisi and I remain firm friends. A great outcome (for me at least).

My own energies at this stage were consumed in the general election and fighting both for our parliamentary candidate and for my own potential seat on Thanet District Council. No one could have been more thrilled than me to be campaigning on the streets on Newington with Jeremy Corbyn, who offered to visit our ward as a show of strength against UKIP and the Conservatives. I find myself wondering if any of the residents doors we knocked on that day now say “wow there’s that fella that knocked to speak to me”?

Like most people in the aftermath, I was utterly exhausted and then up pops Jeremy again, this time in the leadership campaign. I was delighted to support Jeremy on stage in Margate at his last rally before the leadership ballot. I was also pleased to vote for him as leader.

I then had an invitation to speak on the same platform at the John McDonnell rally in Ramsgate and I can say now, John would have (time permitting) also come to campaign in Newington prior to the district council election. However, I decided not to speak, for fear of criticism from our opponents – both UKIP and the Tories. I was particularly concerned to ensure that the relatively large rally could not be counted in the overall election spend of about £1000 maximum.  With hindsight and news of far more serious election spending allegations, that now seems over cautious!

Anyway, in conclusion, I’m pleased to say I played my part. I hope I was a good role model to my ‘girls’ Lillian, Daisy and Asia who have all cut there teeth with me in politics one way or another. I offered my best advice to John McDonnell (and here for anyone else) which is that campaigns are best when run on bread based snacks!

Thanks you South Thanet Constituency Labour Party for one of the best years of my life so far.