Labour minister Margaret Hodge said last Sunday that all the political parties have abandoned the white working class.
Jerry Hicks’s campaign in Bristol Lockleaze ward shows how Respect is winning support from them.
Respect is hoping to make a breakthrough in an area housing many of those who work or worked in the big factories in the north of the city.
For generations they voted Labour. But now many are bitter and disillusioned with the New Labour government and its pro-market and pro-war policies.
Jerry Hicks is a well known local trade unionist and activist, who was sacked by his employer Rolls Royce last year for fighting for workers’ rights.
He spoke to Socialist Worker about his campaign.
“Until a few years ago Lockleaze was a stalwart Labour area. But then it went over to the Liberal Democrats,” Jerry said.
“People here are not convinced Lib Dem voters, they only voted for them out of disillusionment with Labour.
“Last year’s Rolls Royce dispute was very popular in Bristol. People backed the workers. I still get people coming up to me and shaking my hand for taking on management. A lot of people in Lockleaze will have known someone who has worked or still works at Rolls Royce.
“I was sacked last year for a principle and that was a good foundation to stand on in this election. A lot of very enthusiastic people are getting involved.
“We have leafleted the ward four times. We held a meeting with George Galloway on the estate where there was standing room only. A woman who had joined Respect after we had leafleted the estate the first time chaired the meeting.
“A former Labour Party member and her husband have volunteered to staff the polling station on election day.
“Another former Labour member who is also a steward for the Unison union lives and works in the ward. He introduced a canvassing day school for Respect supporters, which 40 people attended.
“My former workmates at Rolls Royce rang me up last week to tell me they were going to come campaigning for me this week.
“The canvassing has gone really well so far. Well over 200 people have said they will vote Respect and there are something like 70 Respect window posters up.
“The Liberal Democrat councillor must be very worried.
“The issues are very varied in the ward. One of the common ones is kids playing around on their quad bikes. We say that this is a question of amenities and the need for somewhere where the kids can go.
“We took up this issue in a leaflet and it impressed people. Tens of thousands of pounds are spent on Anti-Social Behaviour Orders which have very little effect. The money could be spent on amenities, like a park.
“That is the solution, not punitive measures. Other issues include the deregulation and privatisation of public transport. The bus service is now very expensive and very poor which hits all local residents, especially pensioners.
“I have stressed the need for accessibility and accountability of councillors. If I am elected I am pledging to hold weekly surgeries and be in the ward every day. This is very popular and shows how different Respect is from the other parties.”
The popularity of Jerry and Respect’s message can be seen whenever campaigners are out – which is every day. In just two hours canvassing on a quiet Easter Saturday 13 people told Jerry they would be voting Respect on 4 May.
Those that didn’t personally know Jerry had heard about his fight against Rolls Royce and backed it. A healthworker told him. “We need someone like you up at the hospital.”
Many people feel they need a fighter like Jerry on the council.
Jane Barrett said, “People listen to Jerry. He speaks for people, not himself.”
Robert Whitcombe said, “The bus service is much worse now. There are thousands of people stuck on this estate. The local post office has closed. Jerry will speak up against this.”
Dave, a local bus driver, told Socialist Worker, “I like Respect’s policies. I am fed up with Labour. It has put us into a mess we shouldn’t be in with the war on Iraq.
“Jerry has got a strong voice. He will shout up and not worry whether the others listen to him at first, because he will eventually be heard. It’s time to start standing up for people across the board.”
Jaz Thomas, a local firefighter who is campaigning for Respect, said, “People feel let down by the established parties and are very open to Respect and Jerry.
“In just over an hour a couple of us got 11 pledges. It is very encouraging.”
Respect is calling on all its supporters in the region to come along to a mass parade and canvass on Sunday 30 April, the last weekend before the election. They are meeting at 11am, Gainsborough Square in Lockleaze.