In the forthcoming elections the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) will be standing against right-wing Labour councillors who refuse to back Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist leadership of the Labour Party. TUSC will, as ever, be campaigning hard to ensure that people get a chance to vote for genuine anti-austerity activists. Voters deserve a socialist alternative to the Blairite politics espoused by Corbyn’s enemies within — most notably by those councillors who are members of the so-called PROGRESS pressure group.
The decision for TUSC to stand against Labour was overwhelmingly agreed at this year’s annual TUSC conference, with the only critics of this position coming from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Evidently as a result of this disagreement the SWP have now “decided to suspend” their membership of TUSC (“The SWP, TUSC and Labour—how do we take on the Tories?,” Socialist Worker, March 7, 2017). To support this strange position they write:
“These elections will be seen as a referendum on Corbyn. It won’t matter if the candidates are right wingers. Every loss will be blamed on the left. For TUSC to stand at this point welds together Labour supporters and is a barrier to united front work with Labour people.”
They go on to add:
“Our unwillingness to put forward candidates is not because Labour councils are doing a good job. They are ruthlessly imposing Tory cuts. Many councils face a loss of 60 percent of their income between 2010 and 2020. Yet there have been no Labour-led national marches, no councillors’ revolt, no calls for defiance by councillors, unions and people who use the services.”
This argument flies in the face of reality. During the TUSC conference where the decision to stand or not was debated, Hannah Sell, moving the successful resolution to stand (on behalf of the Socialist Party), said that the key was to recognise that Labour was “two parties in one”.
“There are those inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity message, particularly the thousands of new joiners, who would respond to a clear call to transform the Labour Party from Blair’s ‘New Labour’ into a real socialist anti-austerity workers’ party. On the other hand there remains the right wing, representing the interests of the capitalist establishment who benefitted so much from Blairism, who will fight to the end to prevent this. Where the right stand as councillors, implementing draconian cuts to local public services, a ballot box challenge would strengthen the struggle against them not undermine it.”
Taking Leicester as a prime example of the SWP’s mistaken approach to electoral politics, we might observe that their main activism in recent months has revolved around their campaign, Stand Up to Racism. For those who don’t know, Leicester has 52 Labour councillors of 54 (there is one Tory and one Lib Dem) and on 1st February the SWP the chose to organise a Stand Up to Racism public meeting with the lone invited Labour speaker being the only councillor in the city to have held an elected position within PROGRESS.
During the meeting the PROGRESS councillor promised to take a motion to the next full Council meeting that would act to oppose racism. I subsequently spoke at the meeting and suggested that the councillor could raise a motion about fighting against Tory austerity and Tory cuts given that racism flourishes when public services are cut and people are fighting to even survive. In later conversations with the SWP’s main organiser in Leicester, I reiterated my proposal, and the end result was that the councillor raised a totally uncontroversial question (not a motion) about our city offering to increase its intake of child refugees. The councillor’s question was nice in itself, but perhaps the SWP did not make the best use of the councillors offer to raise an anti-racism motion during the full Council meeting.
Notably, about two weeks after the Stand Up to Racism meeting (and before the full Council meeting), the Leicester City branch of Unison submitted a proposal to the Labour Council to demand that they investigate setting a legal no cuts budget for our city. This is a popular idea that is gaining the official support of all manner of local trade union branches in our city, and has even garnered the public backing from the general secretary of Unite, who spoke in favour of Unison’s no cuts budget when he was in Leicester on February 28.
So returning to the disheartening article that was published by the SWP earlier today, it is worth recalling that the article notes that there have been “no calls for defiance” by unions — which is of course simply not the case. The Unison case in example in Leicester is a particularly refreshing example, but perhaps unsurprisingly this act of resistance has not yet made it into the pages of the SWP’s national newspaper. This omission is especially surprising considering that the SWP main organiser in Leicester is also a steward for the same Unison city branch that is demanding the no cuts budget!