Political Independence and Collective Bargaining – WE CAN

written by Ali Wilkin (Harmony Party UK interim media officer)


In this second essay, Ali outlines her vision for the new disability & carers’ trade union, and what some of the priorities that union must have.

This article is the second part in a series. Part 1 can be read here, and Part 3 can be found here.

As I outlined in my previous essay, I believe that it is absolutely vital that disabled people, people with long term health conditions and carers, harness the power of collective bargaining and establish political independence and power by forming our own trade union.

For a decade our community have borne the violence exerted by the Conservative regime through systematic cuts to our income, repeated cycles of the removal of income, cruel and pernicious tests, repeated cuts to our support systems until they are all but non-existent and more. They did so after scapegoating the disabled community, utilising myths and demonising us as scroungers, making excuses to avoid paid employment. That has resulted in (at minimum, prior to the pandemic), 130,000 of our people dying. It has driven the number of hate crimes against disabled people up by 41%, whilst the number of disabled ESA welfare claimants attempting suicide is over 40%

And then came the pandemic.

We can do nothing to change the past. WE CAN do something to change the future.

The first priority that our trade union must have is the hostile environment created by this regime, through which they have subjected us to cruel and unusual punishment, and behind which they hide their fatal policies that have subjugated us, regardless of age, and whilst mocking our need as criminal.

The impoverishing and criminalising of claiming welfare, of requiring extra support and necessitating further need must be held up and examined in the glare of the brightest, clearest light to expose the basic cruelty and the true criminality that is responsible for our deaths, our poverty and our trauma.

But the hostile environment does more than cover for the regime in government – it covers for a worsening of attitudes towards all types of disability and impairment, and whilst we might like to think that certain ablest words “don’t mean the same thing” anymore, hate crime against disabled people rose by x% in the last [x] years.

In response to the austerity measures that began under the Conservative/Liberal Democrat alliance, and have become increasingly severe over the last 10 years, the disabled community responded with passion, creativity and eloquence as the effort began to push back against our financial oppression began.

And whilst it is true to say that our community have discovered that they can organise effectively and powerfully, it is also true to say that the hostile environment continues to exist, indeed even entrench itself further.

We need to stop engaging. We need to change the terms of the engagement.

We must also be realistic about the tensions that exist within our community, and work to repair the difficulties that exist between us. If the pandemic has taught the disabled community many harsh lessons, one thing we must recognise is that under the jackboot of eugenics, the disabled community, and our elders, share the same risk of death at its bloodied hands.

White disabled people must ensure that we recognise that we do still benefit from having white skin over our Black and Brown disabled brothers and sisters – however we structure the leadership of this trade union, we must ensure that Black and Brown disabled and chronically ill people are fully represented in the leadership alongside our Muslim and Roma and Traveller brothers and sisters; but I am also seeking to ensure that children, teenagers and young adults are also fully and equally empowered to be involved, and similarly represented.

The administrative criminality of this regimes welfare system cannot our only concern. Disabled women are at much higher risk of abuse than able-bodied women, and disabled men suffer domestic abuse at the same rate as able-bodied women. Our children’s equal ability to access education is constantly under threat. Our elders are not receiving the simple justice to live comfortably and without fear. As the capitalist system exposes the damage done by endless cuts and warehouse sales of social support services, we must address gendered responses in health care to reports of chronic pain and fatigue, and we must be ready to lead with compassion and justice for everyone.

We will have to fight, harder than we might fear is possible, and knowing that the body count is rising – but WE CAN.