Keir Starmer photo Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: RWENDLAND/CC
Keir Starmer photo Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: RWENDLAND/CC

Editorial of the Socialist issue 1221

The Labour National Executive Committee (NEC)’s decision, by 22-12, that Jeremy Corbyn ‘will not be endorsed as a Labour Party candidate at the next general election’ was the latest demonstration by Starmer that his ‘New Labour Mark II’ will reliably defend the capitalist status quo. The status quo means growing poverty, real-terms pay cuts, crumbling and privatised public services, and unaffordable housing. So, with Labour in the grip of the pro-capitalist Starmerites, the question of how the working class can create a party which stands for its interests is very sharply posed.

As Jeremy Corbyn put it, writing in the Islington Tribune: “Keir Starmer has abandoned his pledges to defend trade unions, bring key industries into public ownership, reverse NHS privatisation, raise corporation tax, protect free movement, abolish tuition fees. Solidarity is now saved for CEOs, not striking workers. Trust is placed in corporate interests, not party members.”

However, yet again, the ruthlessness of the pro-capitalist Labour leadership has been met with silence, or open retreat, by most representatives of the Labour left. Jon Lansman, founder of Momentum (set up to support Corbyn’s leadership), got press coverage for comparing Starmer’s undemocratic actions to those of Putin, but then proceeded to beg Corbyn not to stand. John McDonnell MP condemned the decision, but limited himself to calls for ‘unity’, when it is clear to all that Starmer will only be happy when the final embers of Corbynism within Labour have been pounded to ashes.

Corbyn himself has so far only obliquely referred to his next steps by saying: “I have spent my life fighting for a fairer society on behalf of the people of Islington North, and I have no intention of stopping now.” This appears to be a hint that he will stand in the general election in Islington North, either as an independent or under the banner of a new party. 

There would be a huge response if Corbyn was to now move beyond hints and publicly declare his intention to stand, as a step towards the formation of a new democratic workers’ party based on the trade unions. Millions who are angry at Starmer ‘wiping the slate clean’ of Labour’s Corbyn-era anti-austerity policies would be enthused by such a call. However, it seems that Corbyn’s plans may not become clear until after the Islington North Constituency Labour Party has gone through the selection process, and probably been suspended for trying to select him as its candidate.

Working-class political representation

In the meantime, it is urgent that the workers’ movement begins to address how to solve the crisis of working-class political representation. So far, the response to the NEC decision has been distinctly muted. Sarah Woolley, General Secretary of the Bakers’ Union, BFAWU, which disaffiliated from Labour in 2021, has made a statement of ‘solidarity with Jeremy Corbyn’ which concludes that if Jeremy stands as an independent her union will “support his campaign”. The TSSA union also issued a statement, which quoted Nicola Jukes, TSSA Labour NEC member, saying: “The passing of this motion, on top of so many disappointing actions under Keir Starmer’s leadership, will prompt difficult discussions about Labour affiliation within our union.”

As well as Nicola Jukes, representatives from Unite, CWU, Aslef, and FBU all voted against Starmer’s NEC motion, unlike the Unison representative – who abstained – and the GMB and Musicians’ Union representatives who shamefully voted with Starmer. However, at the time of writing, BFAWU and TSSA are the only national unions to have made any public statement condemning the NEC’s refusal to support Corbyn, never mind proposing next steps.

Some organisations on the left are trying to evade the question of what the unions should do politically, using the excuse that what happens in parliament is less important than strikes. In reality this superficially ‘radical’ argumentation gives cover for the majority of union leaders’ failure to take steps towards a new mass workers’ party.

While it is true that taking strike action can be a ‘higher level’ of struggle than voting in an election, although not necessarily in all circumstances, most of the million-plus workers who have been on strike in recent months see the interrelationship between the two. The experience of strike action has strengthened the feeling that the working class also needs a political voice. CWU members can see how a party in parliament fighting for nationalisation of Royal Mail would aid their struggle, as rail workers want a party fighting for rail nationalisation. Across the whole workers’ movement many can see that a mass party fighting for the abolition of the undemocratic trade union laws would be an enormous asset.

With no such party currently in existence, the dominant mood is to grudgingly vote for Starmer’s New Labour in order to get the hated Tories out of office.  However, if even a couple of unions were to take steps to found a new party, millions of workers and young people would be inspired by it.

New mass workers’ party

Most importantly, the working class having its own mass party would be an important step towards understanding the huge potential collective strength of our class, and beginning to envisage how the working class could run society on a socialist basis, rather than being in a constant battle to win a few crumbs from the capitalist elite.

At many of this year’s trade union conferences there are likely to be a variety of resolutions on agendas relating to political representation. Each union has its own rules and traditions. Some are still affiliated to Labour, others – the RMT and BFAWU – have already broken that link, others have a history of ‘staying out’ of politics. While these different starting points will have an effect, it is likely to be an issue of discussion in almost every union.

Unions voting for resolutions to support Jeremy Corbyn standing would be an important and very positive step. However, what is needed is much more than support for one candidate in one constituency. The workers’ movement needs its own political voice. That does not mean simply funding a new ‘left project’ but starting to build a mass democratic party based on the trade union movement.

At some affiliated union conferences anger at Starmer’s pro-capitalist policies will mean that resolutions for disaffiliation from Labour will inevitably be on the agenda. Disaffiliating in order to ‘stay out of politics’, which effectively means leaving it to the pro-capitalist politicians, is not the answer. But any union disaffiliating to begin building something new would be a huge step forward.

It is possible, however, such resolutions might not mobilise the maximum support at this year’s union conferences for the next steps that are needed. The drive to get the Tories out, and the desperate hope that continued affiliation might force an incoming Labour government to give a few crumbs to the working class, may lead delegates to hold back from voting to break their unions’ link to Labour.

Also on the agenda of some conferences will, however, be resolutions – often moved by Socialist Party members – to open up political funds and to start backing, alongside Jeremy Corbyn, other genuine pro-trade union, anti-austerity candidates in the general election, as a step towards a mass party of the working class.

Model motion for trade unions:

  • This union organisation/conference believes that:
  • This is an utterly undemocratic act, removing Jeremy’s right to take part in a selection contest
  • As with Jeremy’s suspension from the Parliamentary Labour Party, this is a political statement by the Labour leadership, moving the party to the right politically, proving its credentials to big business and the capitalist establishment. It follows the refusal of Starmer to support striking workers, and the sacking of Sam Tarry from the shadow cabinet for speaking up for union action from the picket line
  • It is confirmation that, under Starmer’s leadership, Labour does not represent the interests of workers and working-class communities
  • Therefore, workers need political representation that supports their action against the cost-of-living squeeze, and stands for policies such as re-nationalisation, opposition to cuts, and for the repeal of the Tory anti-union laws
  • Therefore, this union organisation/conference agrees to:
  • Instruct the union NEC/EC/Executive to give full support to Jeremy Corbyn, and if necessary change the rules of the union to allow the union to campaign for his re-election as the Islington North MP if he decides to stand in the next general election, including as an independent candidate
  • To also provide political and material support to other genuine pro-trade union, anti-austerity candidates in the general election