I read Paul Foot’s The Vote when it first came out in 2005, and have come back to it again since.
I learned from it that everything our side has ever got, we’ve had to fight for. Nothing is ever given to us by the ruling class out of their kindness—we have to take it from them.
The vote is thought of as a right. Access to healthcare, education and a decent pension are also things that many think of as enshrined in a democratic society, as though they’ve always been there.
Paul Foot’s book worked for me on quite a lot of different levels. He goes through the history of suffrage, and the struggle for everyone to have it.
He then looks at why universal suffrage hasn’t delivered the systematic changes we desperately need. Real change—change that benefits the whole of society—comes about through mass movements.
Sometimes our side may seem small and it may feel like we are not getting anywhere, but change can happen slowly. It is always right to fight and make the links with the campaigns our predecessors fought.
There’s now a younger generation who have grown up with the backdrop of the Iraq war, the politicians’ expenses scandal, mass bank bailouts and austerity. For them, it may seem like the right to vote has always been there.
Some even feel there’s not much point in voting. But it is important to remember that the vote was fought for through working class people’s struggle.
The book shows both the importance of the right to vote and the struggles that won it. But it also argues that using the vote is only one way to act to change society for the better. The student revolt, the Occupy movement and the mass strikes of last year are examples of how we can fight effectively, on the streets.
I recommended this book when speaking on the platform at the Unite the Resistance conference last week. I did this because we are now in a fight of our lives against this coalition government and their backers.
Everything in our lives that we take for granted—the right to have a job, a pension, access to a welfare state—these things are now up for grabs, no longer a certainty.
This book highlights this dynamic and for that reason is a vital weapon for everyone fighting to defend the livelihood of working class people today.
Alex Kenny is a teacher in east London and a member of the NUT union’s national executive. He spoke to Julie Sherry.
Paul Foot: a campaigning writer
Paul Foot was a leading member of the International Socialists (IS), the forerunner of the SWP.
He edited Socialist Worker and was an investigative journalist on newspapers including Socialist Worker, the Daily Record and the Daily Mirror.
Paul was a powerful public speaker and used his journalistic skills to convey socialist ideas in a language accessible to those who hadn’t come across them.
His book, The Vote: How It Was Won And How It Was Undermined, was first published in 2005. It is being republished this week by Bookmarks, £13.99. To order a copy go to www.bookmarksbookshop.co.uk