Back up to West Yorkshire and it’s the turn of IT worker John Garvani who’s standing for Labour in the Leeds City Council ward of Horsforth. John speaks exclusively to UNITElive
“Where I live we’ve had three Tory councillors for the past three years. Before that it was Lib Dem. We’ve never had a Labour city councillor in this area so I’m hoping to be among the first. Over the years many here have a view that Labour in Leeds has done little. But that is not the case – they’ve done some positive stuff on the ground. And there’s so much that can be done – we’ve been talking to residents about setting up little orchards in the side of playing fields, for example,” explains John.
John has worked in the IT industry since 1983 – and has long been active in Unite and the union movement. Whether it’s the fight for union recognition, negotiating agreements, representing members John’s main focus has always been getting the best deal for members.
“Over the years I’ve done lots of individual representation of members. We’ve been on strike twice in the past 10-12 years. We’ve won some – and lost some of things we were after. But we always tried our best and we raised the profile of the union,” John adds.
With over 20 years as a Unite rep, John says modestly that he’s ‘fairly involved.’
“At the moment I’m the chair of the national Fujitsu combine committee which is reps across the company.
“I also sit on our regional committee and have done for about nine years. I’m on the regional political committee – currently I’m chairing that.”
On to Labour in Leeds. “As a Labour Party member and activist, and also as a trade unionist, I see the problems in various parts of the community,” he says.
“Where I live in Leeds it’s considered quite a leafy suburb – but even here there are definite pockets of poverty and poor quality housing. That’s part of the reason I want to be a Labour councillor – to bring the standard of living for everybody up. You can’t win by just looking at one section of the community. It’s about what we can do for the community as a whole.”
John has been very impressed by Marcus Rashford’s campaign against holiday hunger. “I’m a school governor and the school I’m at takes in from some of the more deprived areas of Horsforth. I’ve persuaded the town council to set up a fund to work with the schools. Schools know who the vulnerable children are.
“The schools can apply for funding to provide food over the school holidays, for families who fall through the cracks – those who are not on free school meals but – especially at the moment when a lot of families have been furloughed – they’ve been struggling financially. They aren’t eligible for Universal Credit – but they’ve still got that shortfall.
“We’ve already had applications to that fund. They’re often from areas where you wouldn’t necessarily think would have children who are vulnerable. There are problems across the town.”
John tells us of his vision should he be elected. “The broader picture for me in becoming a councillor is to try to improve the city as a whole.
“Leeds is one of the few cities that hasn’t closed its children centres. We’ve got six across Leeds. That’s quite a few. We haven’t closed any of them. Horsforth has three.
“I believe that supporting local businesses is key. Leeds has spent quite a lot money in the past year setting up funds and grants for businesses to keep them going. And then there’s the environmental emergency,” he says. “Leeds has declared a climate emergency. I co-wrote the climate emergency motion that went through Horsforth Town Council.”
We asked John what he believes are the key ingredients to being a successful Labour councillor.
‘Knowing how residents feel’
“It’s knowing how your residents feel. I’ve been a candidate, I’ve been a town councillor, I’ve been on the doorstep. People are concerned about their jobs. The age group hit most by job losses are the under 35s which is quite scary. The younger people are in precarious employment anyway. There’s work there to be done in getting them organised and into unions. Many under 35s have young families. We’ve got to put investment in to replace jobs that have been lost and help these families.
He believes the council should lead by example. “Leeds Council is a Living Wage employer and the biggest employer in the area, with around 30,000 staff – many of whom are Unite members. We have to maintain these high standards.
“But we know from amendments that Tories are planning to put in to the budget cuts that will seriously affect those people currently on the Living Wage. They do not support Living Wage within Leeds.
“With a Labour council you’ll have a council that will look after the vulnerable in society – this is what Labour councils do up and down the country.
“Sixty per cent of Leeds’ income is now spent on adult and childrens’ services. They are the most vulnerable people in society and we’ll be looking at how to make their lives better.
“If we don’t look after the vulnerable in society then how can we call ourselves civilised? So that’s where I come from.
“The Labour Party has to look after that and also has to make sure that businesses can make a profit. This will enable a business to reinvest in their staff, to grow the economy and to grow jobs. Some say business should be afraid of Labour – but really there is absolutely no need. I’ve always said – only poor employers are scared of trade unions. We want an organised workforce, successful businesses I’ve said to managers before we want successful businesses – where the workforce gets a fair share of any profits.”
If you live in the Yorkshire and Humber area and want to help John and other local Unite candidates contact the Unite North East, Yorkshire and Humberside regional office and ask to speak to the regional political officer.
Wherever you live if would like to help Unite candidates in your area or to find out more see here
By Hajera Blagg and Amanda Campbell
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