Socialist Party documents

British Perspectives 2013: a Socialist Party congress document


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Lack of enthusiasm for Labour

34. On the NHS Labour is now 30 points ahead in opinion polls, and is generally 'more trusted' to run public services.

As the Con-Dem carnage continues, Labour is likely to increase its lead in the polls. However, it is not lost on workers that most of the policies now being sledge-hammered through have their origins in New Labour's period in office.

In the NHS it is the Private Finance Initiative that is directly responsible for a number of hospitals going bankrupt.

Labour has promised to repeal the Health and Social Care Act, although Ed Miliband was reluctant even to commit to this, but has made no promise to reverse the wholesale privatisation of the NHS.

The lack of enthusiasm for Labour was demonstrated in the 2012 parliamentary by-elections. Labour won them, but the turnout in the Manchester Central by-election was the lowest ever in peacetime, at 18%.

Cardiff South and Penarth, and Middlesbrough were almost as bad at 25%, with Croydon North just beating them with 26%.

Even Corby, which was a battle between Tory and Labour, could only summon 44%. In every election a majority, and a big majority of the working class, did not vote.

It will be different in a general election. Larger numbers of workers will turn out 'holding their noses' to get rid of the Con-Dems, but this does not represent positive support for Labour, and will not automatically take place on a big enough scale to guarantee a majority Labour government.

35. It is not only a question of what Labour did in government, but what Labour local authorities are doing now.

In total local authority spending has been cut by 29.7%. The 50 councils worse affected face a reduction of 160 per head on average.

This will mean the annihilation of countless essential services. Recognising the horror these cuts will bring, leaders of three Labour councils - Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield - wrote a joint statement over Christmas begging the government to change tack because "forces of social unrest are starting to smoulder".

The possibility that they should mobilise and organise those forces of social unrest into a mass campaign against the cuts is utterly foreign to them.

On the contrary they were in reality begging the government to rescue them from the social unrest they can feel developing underneath them.

36. Incredibly, David Blunkett, Labour ex-home secretary, wrote an article speculating as to why - facing cuts even worse than those implemented by Thatcher in the 1980s - "there isn't the revolutionary fervour" which existed then.

He gives a number of reasons, including that local authorities do not have "the coherent campaigning voice they had in the 1980s" and the "defeats of the past" because, he says, "the high profile campaigns of the 1980s were temporarily effective but ultimately they failed".

Blunkett was himself part of the campaigns of the 1980s, when he was leader of Sheffield City Council, spearheaded by Liverpool City Council.

Twenty Labour councils then began a campaign of mass defiance of the government. Ultimately they "failed" because one by one the council leaders, including Blunkett, abandoned the field of battle, leaving only Liverpool, in which our predecessors Militant played the leading role, and Lambeth.

Despite this, Liverpool was able to win 60 million from the Thatcher government. The mass campaign in support of the council included citywide general strikes.

Blunkett, however, has long since aligned himself with the right-wing - Kinnock and then Blair - who set out to drive socialists out of the Labour Party and to transform it into a party that is safe for capitalism.

Hence the situation today, where not a single Labour council has been prepared to go even so far as Blunkett and others in the 1980s, and verbally declare that it is prepared to fight the cuts.

37. As if it was an act of nature, Blunkett comments that "councils contemplating measures such as combined action to refuse to implement cuts are treated with derision".

In fact, such is the Labour leadership's fear that any Labour council could contemplate the Liverpool road, that a serious campaign is being conducted to argue that defying the cuts is impossible because it is illegal, and would immediately result in Eric Pickles stepping in to run the council.

The old slogan of the Poplar councillors, later adopted by Liverpool, 'better to break the law than break the poor', is an abomination to Labour today.

However, as we have repeatedly explained, the government would not be able to quickly step in if a council refused to implement cuts - in fact, it would be legally more difficult now than in the 1980s.

Surcharging, used against the Liverpool councillors, has been abolished. And even then, the Thatcher government could only act against the Liverpool councillors four years into the campaign, and only then because the Labour leadership had led the charge against the Liverpool councillors.

If any council dared to defy the government it would become a beacon to the whole country, even more than Liverpool was, given the scale of the cuts today. Millions would flock to take part in a mass campaign in support of the council.

38. Most councils would not have to set a deficit budget this year in order to avoid cuts, thereby giving themselves a year to build a mass campaign in support of their stand of refusing to carry out cuts, setting a deficit budget, and demanding the necessary funds from central government.

By using reserves, which Pickles is actually encouraging councils to do for his own reasons, plus in some cases also using statutory borrowing powers, the majority of councils could avoid all cuts this year, giving time to build a mass campaign.

Blunkett, if he actually wanted to encourage 'revolutionary fervour', could easily demand that Labour promise to write off the debts of any councils that borrow in order to avoid cuts.

39. The pro-capitalist character of the Labour Party can be summed up by the tiny number of councillors who have so far refused to vote for cuts.

The Southampton two have been summarily expelled from the Labour Party for this crime. Their stand has received enthusiastic support from workers in Southampton.

Both Southampton UNITE and UNISON local government branches have, under the pressure of their members, pledged support for the councillors' stand.

UNITE have also given national backing to their stand, and Len McCluskey, general secretary, has pledged that UNITE will demand that Labour does not stand against the Southampton Two or any other councillors who have taken the same principled position.

40. Such is the extreme social tension being created by the cuts, it is possible, even probable, that other Labour councillors can be forced to follow the Southampton councillors' lead, including some who have previously carried through cuts.

After years of eye-watering austerity, in Greece there have been MPs from every party who have not had the stomach for further cuts and split from their parties.

We are at an earlier stage, but the same process can happen here, although it is possible that this year the same overwhelming majority of councillors as last year will vote to inflict misery on their electorates.

However, the pressure they will be under is shown by the fact that there are already even Tory Party councillors quailing at the consequences of their policies.

Barnet, the Tory council famous for trailblazing the Easyjet council, is now suffering internal schisms as some councillors have belatedly discovered they have no mandate to sell off 500 million worth of services.

41. This is before the forces of smouldering "social unrest" burst into flames. But explosive battles against the coming round of local authority cuts are inevitable.

The battle of the Southampton council workers in 2010 is likely to be forerunner of many struggles by local council workers.

In 2010 the leadership of UNISON, the biggest local authority union, was able to avoid sanctioning many ballots for strike action by arguing to channel all anger into the national campaign in defence of pensions.

This will not work so easily again. We have to demand national action on pay, linked to building for a 24-hour general strike, but equally importantly the fight for local action in defence of pay, conditions and services.

We also have to be prepared for more widespread community campaigns, including occupations, than have taken place up until now.

42. Women will undoubtedly be to the fore of these struggles. Women make up 65% of the public sector workforce, and a huge three quarters of the local government workforce.

Inevitably a majority of those losing their jobs are women, with female unemployment reaching its highest level in 25 years.

At the same time the Fawcett Society has estimated that of the 14.9 billion of cuts that have already been made to benefits, tax credits, pay and pensions, 74% has been taken from women's incomes.

Alongside economic attacks on working class women, the government has also shown itself capable of attacking the social gains women have made.

At the same time the Savile scandal has exposed the extent to which some men in positions of power and authority in capitalist society continue to abuse women with the apparent complicity of the institutions for which they work.

The reaction to this and the shocking accounts of the gang rape in India and the death of a woman in Ireland who was refused an abortion serve to illustrate the potential for building a movement to resist these assaults.

There is an ideological anger over the issue of sexism, particularly among a layer or radicalised young women.

If the Tories make further attacks, for example, by attempting to limit the right to choose, this will provoke a militant response from women, particularly young women.

Wherever possible we should take part in such movements and aim to win this layer to socialist ideas.

43. The degree of devastation wreaked by the recent floods is also related to the cuts. The amount being spent on flood defences has been cut, and is now less than it was in 2007 when the worst floods in sixty years took place.

The severity of the floods effects is also a consequence of the short-sighted character of modern capitalism, with widespread building on flood plains.

As global warming has been linked to more frequent incidences of 'extreme weather' this issue and other consequences of climate change are expected to come up again.

We can also see campaigns on other issues related to the environment, including opposition to the government's support for fracking and nuclear power and its reluctance to encourage investment in renewable energy.

44. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) has already played an important role in providing a banner under which anti-cuts and trade union candidates can stand.

It has acted to begin to popularise the idea that it is possible to have anti-cuts councillors, which has had a real effect on the struggle in Southampton.

The growing trade union support for TUSC, particularly the RMT's unanimous support for it at their last AGM, gives it potentially far more social weight than any of the previous attempts to build a new electoral formation in this era.

Nonetheless, it is still at an early, fragile stage. Electorally it has not yet made a qualitative breakthrough.

However, we have to be prepared for the possibility of the anti-cuts struggle leading to much wider support for workers taking the fight against cuts to the electoral plane.

While it may be under a Labour government that decisive steps towards a new mass workers' party take place, we cannot preclude earlier electoral breakthroughs.

The new NHS party, which criticises Labour as well as the current government, could be a precursor of future developments.

We should argue for TUSC to have a friendly response to such initiatives, while at the same time making the case for candidates who fight against all austerity and cuts.


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