The US Presidential election has shown once again how the idea of democracy can be far removed from the reality. Just like 4 years ago and 4 years before that and so on the American public were able to choose between blue and red. Once again there was barely any difference between the main candidates and once again the voters had a choice between brands. The dominant ideology continues and would have done so regardless of the result.
Meanwhile Trade union democracy is always of concern to those of us who participate in the running of such organisations. We often hear how our unions are ‘member led’ and have embedded ‘democratic structures’. Normally it’s the union leaders telling us this but some unions are better than others in terms of their structures and procedures.
The truth about democracy in general and in the two arenas above is that it is far from adequate or fit for purpose. I often think that the word ‘democracy’ is being used satirically. Back about half my life ago I did a Masters in Democratic Studies and I’m finding it hard not to link that subject to my current studies in international trade union matters. So I’ve decided not to try; just let it flow.
Back then, just as now I considered democracy to mean a great deal more than simply a matter of placing an X in a box every few years. Democracy should be about empowerment at the grass roots and participation tempered by checks and balances to ensure fairness. Direct democracy is an ideal but not one that should be retired simply because it is idealistic. It is far from impossible, as the Occupy movement has ably demonstrated as have rank and file trade union movements over the years.
The problems we face in the system crafted around and over us is that it leaves little time to organise and get things done. No wonder that people vote to hand over their power to others and then watch them use it for a few years. Until more of us decide to get involved and demand our voices be heard we will be hampered by those willing to act on our behalf. Representative democracy will flourish but it will be at our expense.
Surely, when you witness elections like the one in the USA, and then you witness a lack of democratic control within your workplace structures it is time to act. Until we represent ourselves directly there will always be a democratic deficit.