A socialist voice in the General Election

Submitted by AWL on 10 March, 2015 - 5:10 Author: Editorial

New anti-union laws which would effectively ban large strikes in public services by requiring impossibly high ballot votes for them. A drive to abolish union check-off and facility time. 153 new free schools.

About £50 billion further cuts in the next five years, including £21 billion welfare cuts (according to analysis by the conservative Institute for Fiscal Studies).

A renewed pledge to cut immigration, and maybe, by referendum, to tip Britain out of the European Union and end free movement of people between Europe and Britain.

If, after all they’ve done since 2010, the Tories win in May 2015, they will take it as a mandate for even more uninhibited spite.

Yet the polls show Tories level with Labour, and around 15% for the ultra-Tories of Ukip.

Since the collapse in December 2011 of the public service unions’ battle over pensions, three trends have chased each other in a vicious spiral.

Unions have become more defeatist. Even the self-proclaimedly left-wing unions like PCS and NUT no longer talk of any general ongoing campaign of industrial action to beat pay freeze and cuts.

Working-class people have not ceased to be angry, but have often slipped into seeing the cuts as inevitable.

As the cuts hurt more, and more obviously fail even to reduce government debt, the Labour Party leaders have adapted to them, softening their “too far, too fast” criticism more and more. Now Labour councils are passing cuts budgets without even their attempts of 2010 and 2011 to claim that the cuts are evils imposed on them by bad Tory policy. Not one says it will resist, or even finesse or evade cuts in the expectation that a Labour government after 2015 will remove the bad Tory imposition.

Each of the three trends accentuates the others.

The combination of claimed economic recovery — indeed, real economic recovery for some — with a continued squeeze on pay, jobs, and benefits, lays the basis for revolt to reverse that spiral.

Official statistics show the net rate of profit for manufacturing companies in late 2013 as the highest since 2002, and for service companies the highest since 1997.

The real earnings of chief executives of the top 100 companies have gone up 26% since 2010, or by £700,000 a year on average. Median (middling) real pay of full-time workers has gone down by proportions ranging from £3940 in London (10%) to £1663 in the North-East (6.3%).

We can see the beginnings, as yet only the beginnings, of a pay revolt. A bigger pay revolt will spill over into demands and action against cuts and inequality.

How does what socialists do in the May general election fit into this?

To say it makes no odds whether the Tories get back is to say that it makes no difference whether calls by the unions and by Labour (in which the unions still have a large say, if only they have the will to use it) to “make work pay” and win “a pay rise” are slapped down, or Labour is put on the spot about them.

To shrug and vote Labour as the lesser evil, without working to mobilise the labour movement to force Labour to come good on such promises (and to improve its promises!) is to opt out of active politics.

Solidarity is supporting the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory (SCLV), which will combine a Labour vote with agitation on the streets and in the unions for taxing the rich, for expropriating the banks, and for migrant rights and open borders. The aim of the campaign is to use election time not just to win votes, but to rally and organise activists.

We want a Labour government after 7 May to face insistent, rigorous demands. We want a re-elected Tory government, if that comes, to face radical resistance. We want to encourage activists to see their political aim — obviously not achievable on 7 May, but valid as a measure and a guide — as a workers’ government, a government created by and loyal to the labour movement which acts with the working class against capital.

The archetype is a campaign of the same name in 1978-9. That SCLV got six local Labour Parties, and activists in many more, to use its leaflets. It attracted wide interest, and became a driving force in the Labour left rebellion which erupted after the 1979 election.

There wasn’t much of a Labour left when that SCLV started in 1978. Even so, successes are obviously more difficult to get now.

We can’t know the speed of the revival of the labour movement, and it may be slow. The question is what we can do — with limited resources, within unconducive structures — to use the election campaign to accelerate revival rather than reinforce despondency.

Others on the left will work for a variety of anti-Labour left candidates on 7 May. In principle, the idea of promoting socialist organisation directly through socialist candidates is a good one. In 2001 we were an active, indeed an initiating, part of the Socialist Alliance, which united almost all the revolutionary socialist left to run 98 candidates in that year’s general election.

But in 2003 the Socialist Alliance was scuppered by the SWP, which dissolved it in order to chum up with George Galloway in an ignominous venture which ran in elections as “Respect (George Galloway)”.

Many gimcrack coalitions, alliances, and splits followed by the splitters then proclaiming themselves as representing the only valid “unity”, have followed. They have discredited socialism by presenting the electorate with a series of ever-more-minimalist, ever-more-evanescent platforms.

For 15 years after quitting the Labour Party (where they organised under the name Militant), the Socialist Party had a respectable small sprinkling of councillors across the country, elected as socialists. Now, running in elections as TUSC and No2EU, with the socialist message reduced to “anti-cuts” or even contradicted by Europhobia in order to win votes, they have none. TUSC has no real internal life, but is a cartel of the SP and the leading officials of the RMT union.

Thus we see the TUSC effort for 7 May as a much inferior way to build socialist awareness than the SCLV. TUSC is also running in many marginals (something previous minority socialist election campaigns have generally avoided), and that disdain for the labour movement’s wish to oust the Tories cannot help.

The Left Unity group, launched by Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson after they quit Respect, will also run a few candidates, but in general it is a small group pretending to be a “broad left” party like Die Linke in Germany, and neither politically nor organisationally better than TUSC.

If socialists are to use the election time to help socialist awareness and working-class consciousness develop, then the best way is to avoid cluttering our work with such ventures, and to argue clearly and simply that we want the labour movement to win, but the labour movement also to be transformed in a socialist direction.