We are writing in response to the leaflet distributed at the 7 November conference sponsored by RMT which announced "a coalition to stand trade union and socialist candidates in the general election". We address this letter to the CPB, SP, and AGS, the sponsoring groups of that projected coalition; to the individual sponsors of the coalition; and to groups such as the SWP which are not so far part of the coalition but have signalled a desire to become part.
The leaflet calls for the participation of "all those who want to see a pro-working-class alternative presented at the election" and invites those who "want to get involved" to contact the organisers. The name and core policies of the coalition are still to be worked out.
We want to take part in the discussions about a coalition. As you will know, we are already campaigning on the streets and the doorsteps in Camberwell and Peckham for Jill Mountford as a socialist candidate there.
Obviously a coalition's policies are not going to be exactly what any one component of the coalition would wish. They will not be perfect and fully-rounded. We are not making any ultimatums before discussion. But we do want to flag up issues which we see as critical to making an election coalition a productive effort.
A structure allowing open, lively, democratic political decision-making in the coalition is vital. The leaflet rightly focuses on the "lack of political representation of... working-class people". To contribute to working-class representation, it is not enough to say that you want to do that, or to appear for a few weeks of election campaign and say some good things. An election campaign has to be a tool to build politics and a political structure which can serve democratic working-class political self-expression.
The record of anti-Labour left candidacies over the 12 years of New Labour government has been very modest. For left candidates to appear at each election with a different policy and project from the previous one cannot but encourage working-class voters to hold back from a venture on such candidates until - to their eyes - we have sorted our act out in some stable way.
Realistically, the proposed coalition will judge its success not by winning seats, but by rallying a sizeable minority voice for a clear political message. It may get more than the 1.0% that "No2EU" got in the Euro-election, but cannot realistically expect to get radically more.
That makes it important that the political message is indeed clear. A small vote for a blurred, ambiguous, or inadequately working-class and socialist message is the worst of all worlds.
To aim just to put up candidate in opposition to New Labour, in abstraction from the politics, would be to make an a-political fetish of elections. The politics of the coalition are all-important.
To be useful, minority candidates should take a clear stand for the principle of independent working-class political representation. They should make it clear that they represent a workers', and not just a generic "people's", programme. They should indicate that their aim is a workers' government - a government which serves the working-class majority as loyally as New Labour and Tories serve the rich.
They should offer a clear answer to the working class on issues like jobs: a shorter working week; nationalisation of the whole of high finance to create a public banking, insurance, and finance service; nationalisation under workers' control, with minimal compensation, of enterprises declaring redundancies.
They should be clear against the anti-union laws, and for the right to strike and to picket in solidarity.
In view of the current rise of xenophobia and racism, they should take a clear stand in favour of free movement of people across borders, defending the rights that already exist within the European Union and arguing for them to be extended beyond the EU.
It will compromise any left slogans of the coalition if they are coupled with making "No to EU" or similar into a leading slogan. Pleas that the "no" to the EU is on the grounds of it being capitalist and neo-liberal make no sense to us. A Britain walled off from other European states would be equally capitalist, and more neo-liberal than the EU. That is why the British government sought and got an opt-out from the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights (with its codification of the right to strike), and has delayed and is delaying in implementing the EU Working Time Directive and Agency Workers Directive; that is why the serious anti-Lisbon-Treaty party is the Tories.
Anti-EU slogans do not convey an anti-capitalist or even anti-neo-liberal message. They cannot but nourish nationalist and anti-migrant rhetoric. The left should not go along with that.
All this, and more, needs to be discussed clearly and openly. We want to be part of that discussion. Please let us know about the procedures for getting involved in the talks towards the general election.
Alliance for Workers' Liberty