As requested, here is the speech I made to close AWL conference a couple of weekends ago ...
As you know, I and Charlie McDonald are standing as Socialist Unity candidates in Hackney Central ward in next week's Council elections.
I want to tell you about the area, and about some of the issues - not because I think there is anything special about Hackney (although there is!), but because you will recognise these issues from where you live and work.
- We have a local Academy, Mossbourne. It operates a 60% adminssions quota to restrict the number of local, working-class kids who can get places. Even if your first kid gets in, there is no guarantee that your send will. A local mother has to take her three children to three different schools each morning. Presumably Mossbourne has this policy so that it can import youngsters from elsewhere to raise the tone - and the exam results.
- The next Academy due to open is Petchey - named after a man who made his millions as a second-hand car dealer and a dodgy timeshare baron. It's like having the Arthur Daley Academy, or the Del-Boy Trotter Academy, open on your doorstep.
- Over 100 jobs are going in the local NHS due to the funding crisis. And this in a part of London where babies are immunised against TB and hospitals treat cases of rickets.
- A Council tenant on my estate had a problem with her central heating which flooded part of her house. It took the Council nine years to fix it. Another Council tenant - a young single mum - showed me the fungus growing in her flat that the Council has failed to deal with. Those two people are both voting Socialist Unity.
- TfL has just announced that it will privatise the Tube's East London Line. ie. It will take one of the most unpopular policies of the last twenty years, and extend it.
- The Council sells off its assets, with public buildings being replaced by expensive apartment blocks. The other day, Jill rang the entryphone on one of these blocks and asked if she could come in to canvass. "No" (in very posh accent) came the reply: "The reason we have entryphones is to stop the likes of you coming in and wandering around."
- With the 2012 Olympics approaching, we now have the Central Hackney Area Action Plan, which describes Council estates as an "impediment" to the development of the area. Well, excuse us for living there.
- The largest estate in the ward, by far, is the Pembury. It has 1,000 homes, but no playground. It used to have one, but the landlord (Peabody) stuck an office on it.
All this is happening under a Labour Council and a Labour government. They hobnob with millionaires while many working-class people live in shitholes. It makes me sick.
I picked up a Labour leaflet the other day. It tells me that I should vote Labour to get more police, and that if I don't vote Labour, I might get cuts and privatisation! Well, that's me convinced (not).
There is one big thing that I've noticed while canvassing. Most people are well pissed off with the way they are treated. But most have very little hope that they can do anything about it. But when we get the chance to talk with people, that can start to change, even by the end of one conversation.
That's what socialists do. We give people hope.
And if we don't give people hope, where do they end up? Like the bloke who Duncan canvassed last week, who wanted to vote BNP.
Charlie and I are the only socialist candidates standing for Hackney Council. Four years ago, the Socialist Alliance stood 13 candidates across the borough - this year, there is only us. Look through the Mayoral manifestos booklet - which includes Respect, the Greens and others, as well as the main parties. The words 'socialism', 'socialist' and 'working class' do not appear once in the whole booklet. Not once.
Funnily enough, when I first encountered the SWP, 20-odd years ago, they used to say that the reason they weren't in the Labour Party was because standing in elections makes you right wing. That certainly seems to have proved true in their case.
It is because we have stood openly as socialist candidates fighting for working-class interests that RMT has given me its official backing in this election. I am the first non-Labour candidate in England that the union has backed since it changed its rules to allow it to do so.
We are telling Hackney people, and showing them, that working-class poeple can win. In our community, we won a battle to stop the Council privatising and demolishing our estate. In Charlie's workplace, he won a fight to stop a mobile phone mast being posted on top of the social security office.
And we are showing that the way to win is through workers' struggle. We have been giving full support to the local government workers' strike in defence of pensions, and on the two days immediately before the election, Charlie will be picketing the social security office in our ward as PCS members strike against DWP job cuts.
Whatever the result on May 4th, I think that Workers' Liberty can be proud of ourselves for what we have done during this election.
We can also be proud of ourselves for many other reasons:
- Our members, working with unions and the community, stopped a Christian fundamentalist millionaire taking over a school in Doncaster and teaching creationism to kids.
- As Paul mentioned yesterday, through No Sweat, we have helped workers to win important fights in Indonesia and Haiti.
- Our comrade, John Moloney, was the only member of the PCS Executive to voted against the pensions sell-out.
- We have held the line for secular education, for women's rights, for lesbian/gay/bisexual rights while much of the rest of the left crumbles.
- And we have insisted that for socialists, politics is first and foremost about class.
I want to end with quotes from two of my favourite philosophers - Yoda, and Professor Albus Dumbledore.
Yoda said an awful lot of daft things, particularly in the prequel trilogy. But in his finest hour, he told Luke Skywalker, "You must unlearn what you have learned." While we learn about socialist politics, we also have to unlearn what we have learned from the world around us.
- That land and productive wealth belong in private hands, and the rest of us can only sell our labour to its owners.
- That there will always be rich and poor.
- That war poverty, famine, inequality, children starving to death - that these things are facts of life.
From the labour movement leadership:
- That the best we can hope for at work is a bit more money or a slight improvement in working conditions.
- That the best we can hope for in government is Gordon Brown instead of Tony Blair.
From the mainstream 'left':
- That anyone who is against Bush deserves our support.
- That we should capitulate to prejduce instead of challenging it.
- That building a sect is a substitute for transforming the labour movement.
At the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Professor Dumbledore explains why, despite sharing many of Voldemort's powers, Harry is a very different person. He tells him: "It is not our talents that reveal who we truly are - it is our choices."
That's true for us to. You or I might have many skills, a good education, whatever. But that's not what make me who I am. No - What makes me who I am, and you who you are, is the choice we have made to use those skills in the cause of the fight for socialism.
Choosing to be principled Marxists, to be members of the AWL, is not an easy choice, but it's the right one. As Karen said yesterday, when she talked about organising No Sweat in London, it's about not giving up.