The last time I considered voting Labour was in 1990, when I had just turned 18. I saw the Labour Party then as a vehicle for the interests of the working class. This was before Blair abandoned even the pretense of socialist ideals when he got rid of Clause IV, and before internal democracy within Labour was dispensed with completely (although it had been under attack from Kinnock, with the witch-hunt of Militant).
Labour are now as much a party of the rich as the Tories or the Lib Dems. Speaking to some ex-Labour supporters, they can be seen as being much worse, because whereas the Tories are at least standing up for the interests of their class, the upper class, Labour have betrayed those who they should be standing up for. They have long since stopped being an effective opposition.
In my opinion, the Labour Party can no longer be reclaimed as a vehicle for us to win reforms. Conference decisions are ignored, Milliband has distanced himself from the link with the trade unions and the party is carrying out the same cuts as Tories and Lib Dems, albeit with mealy-mouthed apologies. Councillors who have stood up to the cuts (three in Southampton, one in London) have been either suspended or expelled. They should be supported and congratulated – and the Socialist Party is giving them our full support.
There have been numerous attempts and long struggles to remedy the situation. Left-wing groups combined within the Socialist Alliance in the early 1990s, before its dissolution in 2001 with the SWP wanting to take control over the organisation. In 1997, Arthur Scargill formed the Socialist Labour Party. I can remember my abject disappointment in the general election of 2001 when Scargill was beaten in Hartlepool by Peter Mandelson, of all people, getting just 912 votes. I have many differences with Scargill over democracy within a party and the need for bottom-up rather than top-down control, but how could the people of Hartlepool not see through the treachery and doubletalk of New Labour? It was later that their protest vote came, with the election of their football mascot H’Angus the Monkey on a promise of free bananas for everyone – but why not make a serious protest vote a year earlier? The election of Scargill would at least have given working people a voice in Parliament.
The first-past-the-post system clearly plays its part, along with the massive discrepancy in funding of “minor” political parties and the bias of the media, in ignoring small parties. The party I am now part of used to be a household name in the late eighties and early nineties, when it was still part of the Labour Party, as “Militant” and we have had our fair share of brickbats thrown at us by the press in those days. However, we stood firm in our strongholds because of a principled opposition to all cuts and a fighting programme, based on mobilising communities in campaigns for better services.
How can we turn this around? The example of Syriza in Greece gives us a lot of hope. From nowhere, it has been seen as a voice for the dispossessed – those suffering the full effects of the IMF loans, which have demanded swingeing cuts in services and as a result had a terrible effects on the living standards of ordinary people. The left are the true voice of ordinary people, and following on from magnificent struggles in the shape of dozens of general strikes by the trade unions, they found a political voice. We need to do develop a working-class party in Britain, before things get as bad as the situation in Greece, with children fainting from malnutrition in school classes, with one of the highest suicide rates in Europe (they used to be amongst the lowest) and with poverty for even those who have a job – the minimum wage was reduced by a fifth to 600 Euros per month this year. Why should the poorest in society have to pay for the misdeeds of the extremely wealthy?
Trade unionists, the Socialist Party, the Walsall Democratic Labour Party the remnants of the Socialist Alliance, and other left groups initially backed the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party in 2006. That has grown, now with official support from the RMT and the historic vote by the PCS unions to donate to candidates who support a programme of no cuts to public services, into TUSC – the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.
The vast majority of people in Britain urgently need an alternative voice which will speak for them. Workers despite all the oppression by the state and by bosses have formed unions, struck and fought for their rights. Like Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, this resistance to attacks on our living standards is indestructible. George Orwell called this the “crystal spirit”. There remains a willingness to stand up and fight – the massive demonstration of unity and strength on November 30th showed that. This is what gives me hope. What is lacking is a leadership, both in the large Labour-affiliated unions and politically. TUSC is the only force which is standing up to the cuts consensus of the three main parties (and sadly the Greens in Brighton), and has the potential, with more support from the trade unions, to grow into a mass alternative for ordinary people. This is urgently required.
The next conference of TUSC is being held on Saturday 22nd September, from 11am to 5pm, at Birkbeck College, Malet Street, London WC1E. Come along and show your support.