The left: striking back in Hackney?

Submitted by Janine on 13 October, 2003 - 3:29

This article is from Hackney Solidarity, the local Workers' Liberty newsletter. It was published in an edition produced for a Socialist Alliance public meeting at which Tommy Sheridan and Michael Lavalette spoke, the title of which was 'The Left Strikes Back'.
In Hackney, you can find most of the ill effects of capitalism and the rotten politicians that run it. Hackney has high levels of poverty, unemployment and poor housing. Public buildings are being replaced by luxury apartments which only City high-flyers can afford. The Council is handing over public services to quangos which are run by much the same people, but are beyond the reach of democratic accountability. Education has already gone this way: the remainder of the Council housing stock could be next.
All around Hackney, there are people fighting back. To get their local pool re-opened, to stop their estate being privatised, to win better pay and conditions at work, to force the Council to improve their housing, to stop their friends and families being deported.
We have to build these campaigns. We also need to fight a battle of ideas against the right wing: we need to offer socialist answers.
And we need to fight politically. New Labour's big project is to drive the working class out of politics. Blair would have us believe that politics is about who can do the best for business. Our priority must be to insist on the opposite. That politics is about class, and we want the working class to win - and, in the first place, to be represented.
Sadly, some of the left has been shy of mentioning class, but we have to put it back at centre stage. The issue that faces us is not just what the left should do, but what the working-class movement should do.
Hackney's fightback suffers from being locked into separate campaigns and competing groups. We need unity. But you do not get unity just by saying that you want it. If the left in Hackney is really to be a positive force for unity, then it must:
- put in long-term work in the communities and workplaces, rather than hopping around from one issue to the next;
- understand that unity means respecting that there are different views, rather than expect everyone to fall in line behind the biggest group;
- look at how the working-class movement as a whole can go forward, rather than try to build something separate.
The formation of the Socialist Alliance was a big step forward towards uniting the left. It also enabled us to stand together in elections against Labour candidates who attack the working class.
We all knew at the start that it would have to grow beyond the alliance of socialist groups which set it up, to attract lots of new people and bring together trade unionists and other campaigners. But it has not done this.
The Socialist Alliance is now in crisis, the depth of which is shown by the large number of Alliance members who met up last weekend to express two big grievances:
- That the SA is now dominated by the SWP, which has abused its dominant position to silence those who disagree with its views.
- That the SA, on the initiative of the SWP, has tried to relaunch itself not as a broader working-class alliance, but as a lash-up with the religious hierarchy of the mosques. Of course we want to reach out to ordinary Muslims, but this should not mean sacrificing our socialist politics to accommodate to conservative religious leaders.
We may need to refound a united left. We certainly need a debate on the future of socialist politics and working-class representation. Not just a series of rallies: a genuine debate where all views are welcome.

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