Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/535/4156
Westminster parties are remote from life
THE START of the week and the same pressure begins. From behind a bank of screens a worker mutters: "So they want us to become bloody monarchists now?" He's just read about Gordon Brown's plans to get school pupils to swear allegiance to the Queen.
I look up and he says Labour sounds just like the Tories now, "cos that's what they'd say and support". I say well, that's who our union supports with our money. He gives a resigned sigh, and with his eyes rolling up in disdain, shakes his head and laughs.
Having Campaign for a New Workers Party (CNWP) material in my bag I hand him a leaflet. "Here", I say, "this is what I'm campaigning for in the union". He stops work and reads on. Says nothing more.
Two days later I ask him: "So, what did you think of it then?" There's no hostility, rather a look of trying to figure out the bigger picture and how it'll happen, given that no such party exists yet and the scale of the task. "Nice idea" he says, continuing: "Come the revolution it'll happen eh?"
Joking aside, it's clear he's circulated my leaflet more widely. His mate across the way - a Liberal voter, joins in. For years he's been lobbying to get his daughter council house accommodation; at the same time he can't afford new glasses that he needs and the credit card bills are mounting.
"What we need is a common sense party, one that identifies with us", he adds. Both workers agree that "Westminster is shit" and that everyone in the parties within are disconnected from the reality we live in.
Both these workers have yet to consciously say that we need a new workers' party. Both don't know what a "common sense party" would look like as there is no credible model yet; there isn't even the outline of one. But the idea of a party representing their interests has not been dismissed in the conversation.
Workers' unity needed
What they do know is that all the parties at Westminster are of no use or benefit to them now. The shout goes out: "Anyone want to join Steve's party?" as they depart for the tea room with more immediate concerns on their minds.
What this conversation shows is that it is workers' direct experiences that are key, and that disappointingly for middle-class media commentators, the working class is debating just how it can be represented politically. It doesn't need a series called "White" on the BBC. It doesn't need navel-gazing from the chattering classes or 'head in hands' from detached union leaders saying: "there is no alternative to Labour".
This has no place in the workplace today. There are serious questions to be asked, but who will be there to answer the questions? So, this comment comes with a caveat.
I was there in my workplace, to hand others a CNWP leaflet. What if the far-right BNP or UKIP had been there instead? It's highly probable that given the developing polarisation alongside a feeling of 'no-one gives a toss about us', that these two workers could have given an ear to the racist and populist right's ideas.
On this score, it's touch and go who can get there first. Already an area of Bristol, Barton Hill, is called by workmates 'little Somalia', due to the sheer speed of change as migrant workers settle in the area and open small businesses like shops. But housing is scarce and people are feeling utterly disenfranchised, with no place and no one to address their concerns to. So frustration is reflected verbally. Next stop, politically?
Unfortunately, if a new far-right political party was set up, with a populist message, I am sure it would get the ear of many of my workmates. Likewise if a credible workers' party or even pre-party was set up, it too could potentially gain the audience. It's in the balance - whose agenda will win?
In The Socialist 28 May 2008:
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party women
Youth and crime
Socialist Party feature
International socialist analysis
Socialist Party review
Socialist Party workplace news