How do people get governments to do things?

11 posts / 0 new
Last post
Konsequent's picture
Konsequent
Offline
Joined: 1-11-11
Jun 15 2019 12:10
How do people get governments to do things?

I feel like I have a fairly good idea, from my own experience, and from talking to comrades, and from having done some reading, about how employees get bosses to do things. I’m familiar with quite a wide variety of tactics and am around people who are always coming up with more. But I don’t know how people get governments to do things, effectively I mean. Similarly to how the boss will say “Come talk to me individually if you have a problem”, politicians will claim that the way to get things done is write to them, see them at their surgeries, and vote for them so they’ll represent you. But that’s not really it is it? At least, I don’t get the impression it’s effective. Has it ever been? As getting governments to do things seems to be a lot rarer, I don’t have piles of success stories to refer to.

I’m asking because I work in the sex industry and I’ve not considered focusing on anything but workplace organising as a way of improving my work, but I know decriminalisation would improve things. I think when occasionally it’s safe for an organising campaign to go public it would probably have a positive effect on public consciousness too, and people might be more likely to think of sex workers as fellow workers, and to the extent that public consciousness has any effect on the legal system that would make decriminalisation more likely, but that’s not a strategy for it, that’s a possible by product of doing something for more immediate effect.

Anyone know enough history to tell me what tactics are used to get demands on the government/the law met?

The suffragettes got the vote, but not by voting. Not just by throwing themselves in front of horses either though right?
When the welfare state was created all three parties had it in their manifesto, so it also wasn’t created by voting. Quintin Hogg said “We must give them reforms or they’ll give us revolution”, but how did he know everyone was so close to revolting? What was scaring them?
I understand people got the government to stop ignoring aids through various direct action like presenting politicians with actual corpses. I don’t know how that translated to change.
Was the 8 hour day just achieved by striking?

How have sections of the population managed to get what they want from the government with direct action? Any good examples?

jolasmo
Offline
Joined: 25-12-11
Jun 16 2019 12:28

So, I think that in some ways winning fights against the state is the same as winning fights against your boss: agitating, educating, organising, collective action, escalation etc. But in some ways it is obviously different. For one thing most states operate at a much larger scale than most bosses: they have more resources, more personnel, more layers of underlings to enforce their will etc. (Some companies are of course bigger than some states but generally going up against the state means organising on a much bigger scale than most workplace campaigns.) Secondly, states have capabilities that bosses usually don’t: they have an army, a police force, a legal system, prisons etc. All of which makes winning demands of the state that much harder.

There’s another important difference which is a bit harder to clarify. Bosses are private individuals and your relationship to your boss is a private affair; states are public institutions (in fact they more or less define the boundaries of public vs private in advanced capitalist societies) and your relationship to the state is always explicitly political. Anything you do that relates to the state, and anything it does in relation to you, is therefore framed as a political issue and grievances tend to be drawn into official channels of political dissent, mediation and problem-solving (rather than simply being left to fester it addressed through other forms of mediation, i.e. trade unions, as is the case for workplace grievances).

What does all of this mean? Well, it means that campaigns that seek to win against the state have to be able to hurt the state in proportion to how much giving in would hurt the state. Because states are massive, the stakes are generally much higher - even what seems like a minor concession has substantial costs at the scale of entire nation states in terms of money, capabilities, legitimacy etc. So campaigns against the state either have to be able to do a lot of damage. As with workplace organising this can take the form of both “moral pressure” like protests, propaganda etc. and more direct action based approaches, and as with workplace organising you want to escalate your tactics in line with growing your support base

Ed's picture
Ed
Offline
Joined: 1-10-03
Jun 16 2019 20:44

Not really got time to give this question the attention it deserves but a few movements which got governments to do something that came to mind were :

1) Anti-CPE movement in France
2) Anti-Poll Tax movement
3) Anti-roads movement

Those are all quite different from the sex worker issue in that direct action (either offensive disruption or at least non-compliance) was used in a way that doesn't seem open to sex workers.

Another (more similar) example that might be good to look into is drug decriminalisation/legalisation of weed in various places.

darren p's picture
darren p
Offline
Joined: 5-07-06
Jun 16 2019 21:32

The recent history of UK politics is the history of how a group on the fringes (UKIP) managed to get the government to adopt their goal.

For an analyse of how different voices succeed or fail, a classic text is Steven Luke's "Power: a Radical Veiw"

darren p's picture
darren p
Offline
Joined: 5-07-06
Jun 16 2019 21:35
Konsequent wrote:
Quintin Hogg said “We must give them reforms or they’ll give us revolution”, but how did he know everyone was so close to revolting? What was scaring them?

The ghosts of the end of WW1

Mike Harman
Offline
Joined: 7-02-06
Jun 16 2019 22:36
Ed wrote:
Not really got time to give this question the attention it deserves but a few movements which got governments to do something that came to mind were :

1) Anti-CPE movement in France
2) Anti-Poll Tax movement
3) Anti-roads movement

Bear with me a bit because I'm not sure if this is a good way of thinking of things or not, but I think there's one extremely important difference between these things and sex worker decriminalisation that's not in Ed's comment.

In the case of anti-CPE, anti-poll tax and anti-roads, all of these movements tried to stop the state doing something, and specifically stop it doing something that was a new thing being introduced. In other words they were all movements to preserve the status quo in some way.

With decrim, there are two ways of looking at it:

1. Without legislation, that the police stop enforcing the law against sex workers (i.e. not raiding a brothel when they could) - maybe this could happen via some kind of anti-raids/telephone tree - if you could actually organise large numbers of people to disrupt a raid, but it'd mean a very high level of organisation and a raid on a brothel isn't the same as an immigration van parked on a high street somewhere. i.e. you make it difficult for police to carry out their function, so that they quietly stop doing a specific thing at the local level. Seems particularly hard to do, harder than other things that are also hard to do (like workplace organising and eviction resistance). Or somehow discouraging people from tipping off the police in the first place (do they find places to raid without tip-offs?), or giving them fake tip-offs to misdirect them?

2. With legislation via parliamentary vote.

With that latter one, instead of trying to preserve the status quo against a change making it worse, it's trying to actually get legislation changed/repealed to make things less bad than they currently are. That seems much harder than stopping something new.

Konsequent wrote:
politicians will claim that the way to get things done is write to them, see them at their surgeries, and vote for them so they’ll represent you. But that’s not really it is it? At least, I don’t get the impression it’s effective. Has it ever been?

So I think we can try to think about things from the point of view of the politicans for a bit, some of them will have actual opinions on sex work, most of them will have no consistent position and just vote for what they think will get them into least trouble.

1. They obviously want you to vote for them, and they'd love it even more if you canvas for them. Doing so has absolutely no connection whatsoever as to whether they'll follow through on any promises made though as we well know. Threatening to not do those things means nothing to them if they don't think you'd vote for them in the first place.

2. I don't think they really want people to write to them or see them at their surgeries, because that means dealing with actual people and taking up time they could be doing whatever the fuck else. They only really tell people to write to them to avoid answering a straight direct question at the time for example.

So maybe counter-protesting or otherwise flooding surgeries, and the equivalent of a communications blockade might persuade some particular MPs that it'd be less hassle if they vote a certain way or abstain on a particular vote. It's not something like benefits or similar where there's tonnes of scrutiny, most people don't have a well formed opinion. So you're really looking at the balance of power between pro and anti-decrim activists.

I don't really think I've seen this used much in the UK, but it seems to be used a tonne in the US - i.e. people will manually call up their congressional representatives and say they want them to take x stance on x issue. It's somewhere between lobbying/petitioning and a communications blockade. Article in the New Yorker (which I have not read, just skimmed the first couple of paragraphs) which talks about this https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/03/06/what-calling-congress-achi...

Maybe a closer equivalent is DPAC's attempt to get benefits policy changed, but that's obviously having limited success at the moment https://dpac.uk.net/2018/04/video-dpac-protests-in-parliament-against-un...

Another one would be Schools ABC getting nationality collection scrapped from the schools census - but again both DPAC and Schools ABC are/were trying to preserve a particular status quo against new encroachments.

jef costello's picture
jef costello
Offline
Joined: 9-02-06
Jun 18 2019 19:44

I dn't know how much politicians hit the streets and knew their constituents in the past, but I get the impression that they definitely don't these days.

I suppose the only way they react to pressure from humans, is when we start pushing at them. But there aren't a lot of ways to do that, they just sent the police out against protests and ignore them. Voting them out makes no real difference. Politics seems to only really bother with professional media and lobbyists, neither of which sex workers are probably going to have the resources to use easily and will face opposition from stronger interests.

In short I have no idea what you can do. I have no idea what anyone can do, I am feeling completely disillusioned with radical politics and obviously I don't believe in electoral politics.

Noah Fence's picture
Noah Fence
Offline
Joined: 18-12-12
Jun 18 2019 23:50

Three years ago when my son landed his first job he found he hadn’t been issued with an NI or some tax number or something. We tried to get it sorted with the IR but got knowhere. Eventually the company said they would have to give the position to someone else.
Out of desperation I phoned the office of our local Tory MP, James Cartilage. I spoke to his staff and told them the situation. Amazingly, he called me a couple of hours later, said he’d spoken to IR and asked for the details of the company. He said he would call the company and explain that the number would be available soon and please hold the position.
Two days later the number turned up and my son started work the following week.
About a month later my son received a hand written letter from the MP asking him how his job was going and giving him some general encouragement.
Obviously I hold the position in society that this guy has taken in contempt but credit where it’s due, right? I gotta say though, I’m still surprised by this outcome. Pretty rare I’m guessing?

Mike Harman
Offline
Joined: 7-02-06
Jun 19 2019 07:26

About a month later my son received a hand written letter from the MP asking him how his job was going and giving him some general encouragement.
Obviously I hold the position in society that this guy has taken in contempt but credit where it’s due, right? I gotta say though, I’m still surprised by this outcome. Pretty rare I’m guessing?

I don't think it' s necessarily that rare, it's how they build a base of support locally. Also helping a young man keep their first job against the red tape of inland revenue fits perfectly into a Tory world view. (also you might want to remove the name of your MP to make it harder for people to locate where you are?)

Our local Tory MP intervened against the deportation of a grandma, in this particular case she was connected to an armed forces family - so I'm sure it was quite justifiable from his point of view to get that deportation delayed so that the nice military family would have some more time to sort out the paperwork etc.. He constantly votes for stricter immigration and asylum policy in parliament though.

Noah Fence's picture
Noah Fence
Offline
Joined: 18-12-12
Jun 19 2019 08:29
Quote:
also you might want to remove the name of your MP to make it harder for people to locate where you are?

Thanks, but we’ve left the area now.

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Jun 19 2019 10:48

On a general point I'd say that if a particular sectional need we have happens to coincide with the same aim of a sectional capitalist interest then popular 'citizen' campaign pressure added to this might get somewhere, although the usual arguments we hear that cost savings to the state in the long run would justify some change in the here and now rarely works, certainly in the midst of a recession. Mike's point about the difference between stopping some change to the status quo and aiming to introduce changes in legislation or regulations feeds into this as well. Being in favour or against some particular reforms doesn't of course involve arguing for a programme of reforms to change capitalism or 'abolish' it.