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TUSC discusses new tasks after Corbyn victory
Clive Heemskerk, Socialist Party executive committee and TUSC national election agent
The first meeting of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) national steering committee since Jeremy Corbyn's decisive re-election victory agreed to make a new appeal to Labour councillors to join the resistance to the Tories' austerity agenda.
Nobody can dispute that local government public services are in crisis after years of underfunding. A recent leaked report from the Care Quality Commission found that social care services, for example, are in an "unsustainable" position due to council cuts, with enormous knock-on implications for the NHS as patients cannot be safely discharged.
Responding to the leak Labour's shadow minister for social care, Barbara Keeley, rightly denounced the Tories. But Labour councillors are implementing the cuts when they could be resisting them - and, by joining the fightback, playing a key role in defeating the Tories.
The TUSC steering committee agreed a model letter to Labour councillors calling on them to support no-cuts budgets in next year's council budget-making meetings. The letter takes up the counter-argument of the right-wing, that such a course is 'illegal', which was behind the disappointing vote at Labour's conference to now make it a party disciplinary offence for a councillor to support "any proposal to set an illegal budget".
TUSC, the letter makes clear, "is not opposed to actions which take the labour movement and its representatives outside unfair and unjust laws". As an example, it supports Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell's public pledges to "stand with trade unions that find themselves involved in 'illegal action' under the anti-union laws".
But as the letter goes on to say, TUSC also believes "it is possible for Labour councils to produce 'legally balanced' budgets that avoid cuts in the short term and provide a breathing space to build a campaign" for more government funding. It points to the TUSC briefing document, 'Preparing a no-cuts People's Budget', and asks Labour councillors to discuss this with TUSC.
As part of the autumn campaigning around the new round of council cuts 'consultations' that will soon be under way, local TUSC groups should circulate the letter to Labour councillors and get the debate going.
The Socialist Party, one of the TUSC constituent organisations, also presented other proposals to the steering committee on the role TUSC could play in helping to consolidate Jeremy Corbyn's leadership against the right.
We highlighted the importance of fighting for trade unions to have their leading role within the Labour Party restored and that socialists excluded from Labour should be reinstated, with socialist organisations allowed to affiliate.
To facilitate discussions with Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters on these issues, as well as the campaign against council cuts, the Socialist Party proposed that TUSC make no further preparations for contesting the May 2017 elections in England and Wales.
These proposals however, unlike the model letter to councillors, were left on the table for the next steering committee meeting in November.
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) supported suspending electoral activity. But they disagreed with the very idea that the Labour Party could, in the words of the Socialist Party's statement, "be fully consolidated as a working class, socialist, anti-austerity mass movement". This reflects their view that because "Labour remains a parliamentary party", its "structures and politics restrict the capacity for it to become a social movement, let alone an instrument for socialist transformation" (Socialist Worker, 20 September).
This approach seems very radical - politics must be "dragged from the parliamentary chambers into the streets" they wrote.
But it does not concretely point Corbyn's supporters to what alternative 'structures and politics' are actually needed to defeat the real forces of the capitalist establishment that remain within the Labour Party.
These include the big majority of Labour's 7,000 local councillors. Meanwhile the electoral weapon - standing anti-cuts candidates -ญญ that could be used against the Labour right is given up.
On the other hand the other TUSC constituent organisation, and its largest, the RMT transport workers' union, had not yet been able to fully discuss all the issues raised.
The RMT's 2016 annual delegate general meeting (AGM) recorded that there was "no mood to re-affiliate to the Labour Party" in the union, even as it pledged support for Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. Would agreeing a TUSC declaration in support of restored rights for trade unions in the Labour Party contradict that position?
The AGM confirmed the union's continued participation in TUSC. It also agreed to continue supporting individual candidates in elections, TUSC or Labour, who "support the union's key policies. We back candidates that back us".
Would that fit with the union's representatives on the TUSC committee supporting a blanket decision for TUSC candidates in England and Wales to suspend preparations to stand in 2017 pending discussions with Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters?
So the proposals were left on the table and the discussion on the role of TUSC in the aftermath of Jeremy Corbyn's re-election will resume at the November steering committee.
In the meantime, the committee agreed, the campaign continues to push Labour in local councils to become an anti-austerity party in action as well as words.