Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/423/4951
Time for a political alternative
Time for a new workers' party
AROUND CHRISTMAS, 3,000 City investment bankers were awarded at least £1 million each in bonuses, making a very tiny slice of British society as much as £5-6 billion better off.
At the same time, thousands of workers at Rentokil and the Co-op were being told that their retirement was to be poorer because their pension rights were to be radically changed.
There wasn't a single national political voice raised in opposition to a clear case of the rich getting richer and the rest getting poorer.
That's why we need to build something new, argues Coventry Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist, who spoke to the socialist about his support for the Campaign for a New Workers' Party.
Would a change of leader make a difference to the Labour Party?
Not even if it was to be Tony Benn to be honest with you!
It is not just the fact that Tony Blair has moved the Labour Party politically to the right so much that, for example, simply by standing still, Roy Hattersley, who 20 years ago was considered to be on the right of the party, is now considered to be on the left.
In 10 years Tony Blair has accelerated a process that was begun under Neil Kinnock in the 1980s but now, replacing him with someone else would not make a difference.
The whole way in which the party is organised now is very clearly from the top down compared to the Labour Party I was in 30 years ago.
Then, Labour Party members would discuss an idea in a local meeting, get a constituency or city-wide body to adopt it then send it to conference. If conference adopted it, from the bottom upwards, Labour Party policy could be changed.
Today it is written by the acolytes of Blair and enforced on the party. The conference is now a media circus and last year, around one third of the 650 party organisations in the country did not even bother to send a delegate, it has so little role in determining policy.
The party is structurally different now and its democratic arteries have hardened up over the last 10 years making it impossible for it to be changed.
Would the unions have more influence outside Labour rather than inside?
At the moment, although at party conferences on certain issues the unions feel that they can get a policy through, they are totally ignored when decisions are made.
There are recent examples of this from the last conference. Inside the Labour Party, the trade unions are prisoners of that changed organisation.
Outside the Labour Party, as the RMT and the FBU already are, as well as some unions like the PCS who are not affiliated to the Labour Party, the unions could come together and decide to support either existing community campaigns or alternative socialist candidates. Or they could begin to stand trade union candidates in elections in a systematic way.
The trade unions could, by politically intervening at elections in support of campaigns and so on, have far more influence over the way in which politics is discussed than they have at the moment, being as they are, prisoners of the Labour machine.
Given the size and resources of the three main parties, is building an alternative too big a task?
We don't have proportional representation in England as they have in Germany where, in a matter of months a new left force could appear, gain 8% of the vote and end up with 54 MPs. What we could see here in Britain wouldn't be a rapid thing, although that and more is possible in the medium term.
But politics is not just about how people feel on one particular day when they cast their vote - what happens in between elections is just as important. For example, we don't win council seats in Coventry on election day, we win them in the 12 months between election days. We are out on the streets campaigning against hospital redundancies, against school closures, against inadequate wages for workers and on other issues. The trade unions could lay the basis for electoral results in the medium term by an independent political campaign showing that there is alternative to the three main parties.
How will we get the rest of the left to agree?
The proposal for a campaign for a new workers' party is not just about regroupment of the existing left.
What we are proposing is to try and reach thousands of new people to get them involved in political activity, building a working-class party opposed to the parties of capitalism that we have at the moment.
There are activists in the trade union movement who are or have been members of previous political organisations, which I know from my years as national chair of the Socialist Alliance, who would agree to 80% of a programme on, for example, the need for public ownership of the railways and other forms of transport, education, health and housing where acceleration of privatisation has taken place under Labour.
They would agree with raising the inadequate minimum wage and with abolishing the anti-trade union laws.
These laws were brought in under the Tories and retrenched under New Labour to become the most repressive anti-trade union laws in the European and advanced Western countries.
Of course there would be disagreement on some issues but I think we need to have a sense of proportion and realise that a new party would have structures where points of disagreement could be openly and democratically discussed. As long as we have agreement on coming together to fight against cuts, privatisation and neo-liberal policies, the party will be an important step forward.
How would you suggest that those who sign the declaration go forward and build support for the campaign?
Firstly, I think everyone who says they wish to see a new workers' party and signs the declaration in support of it, should find five or 10 other people at work or who are friends, neighbours or other people they know so that we can spread the news that a campaign is taking place.
Secondly, if they are members of a trade union or other organisation, organise a meeting to discuss the question of wider affiliation and involvement.
We should involve other campaigns such as those in defence of the health service or in opposition to city academies, then make sure that, as well as the practical campaigning on those issues, people realise that there is a campaign to try and build an alternative political organisation for working people.
The Socialist Party is trying to start off a movement but not give it a predetermined shape or to say that there are preconditions without which you are not allowed to be involved - that way it could be stillborn.
In The Socialist 19 January 2006: