We need a working-class voice

Submitted by martin on 30 August, 2004 - 5:37

Unite the socialists for the general election!

Some union leaders are claiming that they have won significant concessions from Blair and reshaped New Labour's manifesto for 2005. But even they cannot seriously deny that John Cridland of the bosses' federation, the CBI, was basically right when he said that New Labour's deal with the unions at its 23-25 July Policy Forum "left things roughly where they were".

Tony Woodley of the TGWU concedes that "the argument between new Labour, with its pro-business and warlike tendencies, and the left will continue" and that "the argument about the nature of Labour... to make the Party once more genuinely representative of working people's interests and aspirations" has not been won.

In other words, New Labour is still defined by "pro-business and warlike tendencies" and is not "representative of working people's interests and aspirations". Whether that position will ever be changed by Woodley's "softly, softly" tactics is a moot point.

The rank and file of the Labour-affiliated union can still, in principle, force their leaders to take a stand for working-class representation and against Blair and Brown. In the long term of the years ahead, that battle within the unions is of cardinal importance.

But the simple facts of the calendar - the schedules of union and Labour conferences - make it practically impossible for the unions to be pushed into reasserting themselves politically in the span between now and the next general election, probably in summer 2005. So what are socialists to do, those of us who see working-class representation in politics and the fight for a workers' government as essential?

Can we just vote for Blair New Labour across the board, explaining to working-class voters angry with Blair that we hope that the unions, in due course, will flex their muscles and make New Labour into something quite different from what its record and its manifesto indicate?

Can we do that when all the evidence is that, if and when the unions do move in a concerted way, the whole Blair-Brown New Labour machine will prefer to break the link with the unions completely rather than go the unions' way?

Can we simply watch on, with hopes for the future but no public initiative in the present, as New Labour panders to the white racist communalism of the BNP, and Respect counterposes... Muslim communalism?

Can we have nothing to add when "Unite Against Fascism" - supported by everyone from Brendan Barber through to the SWP and some Lib-Dems and Tories - tells demoralised working-class voters tempted by the BNP that they should instead vote for one or another party of the Establishment, any of them of as long as it is not the BNP?

The AWL calls on all working-class socialists to join together in presenting a working-class voice at the general election.

We appeal in particular to the Alliance for Green Socialism, the Socialist Party, the Scottish Socialist Party, the activists continuing to identify with the Socialist Alliance, and those around the Liverpool-based initiative for a "United Socialist Party", to discuss with us the possibilities of united action at the general election.

Debates about how the different activist left factions can be united into a single organisation, let alone about how a new mass working-class party can be built, will not be resolved before the general election. It would be irresponsible for us to let those debates prevent us from acting together where we have agreement and to the extent we have agreement.

What is achievable is a working-class socialist electoral alliance for the General Election.

It would not be sensible for it to attempt to contest every seat. But it could run enough serious campaigns, for enough candidates, to let voters know that there is an alternative.

It could do again what was positive about the Socialist Alliance campaign in the 2001 general election, while avoiding some of the shortcomings of that election - the lack of a clear political axis of working-class representation, the tendency to reduce socialism to a "shopping-list" of demands deemed popular, the proliferation of "paper" candidates incapable of making an impact, the foolish reliance on mass leafletting alone in place of taking the arguments face-to-face to the doorsteps.

It could reach out to those in the trade union movement who are seeking allies in fighting against New Labour and for working-class representation, and are properly sceptical of Respect.

It could give trade unionists affiliated to Labour a chance to use the ballot box to express their discontent with the policies of Brown and Blair.

It could help socialists see our way to higher levels of unity and coordination.

How much unity can we achieve for the general election? We can find out only by detailed discussion.

Perhaps we can only agree to divide up constituencies so as to ensure socialists do not directly oppose each other, and to have some common press conferences and press releases.

Perhaps we can agree on a common name and insignia under which to stand; perhaps we can agree a joint political declaration, in addition to which different socialist groups would also promote their own more detailed manifestos; perhaps we could agree on practical collaboration by all the socialist groups in every area where there is a socialist candidate, of any group, to unite to back that candidate, with common meetings and so on.

The details will need discussion. One thing is certain, though: unity is strength, division is weakness. And silence, or a scattered volley of separate small voices, should not be an option for socialists in 2005.

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