- For a union-backed workers’ list of candidates
- Fight for a new mass workers’ party
Labour lead in the polls, the Tories took a drubbing in the 4 May local elections, all arrows point to Sir Keir Starmer being the next Prime Minister. But what will a Starmer-led government look like, and how should trade unionists and socialists prepare?
Speaking recently, Starmer said his tasks to prepare for government will be like “Clause IV on steroids” – in reference to Tony Blair’s 1995 rule change, abolishing Labour’s historic commitment to public ownership, as part of his counter-revolution transforming Labour from a party with the working class at its base into an out-and-out capitalist party.
But, unlike Blair’s New Labour Party coming to power in 1997, the next government will inherit a stagnant economy with stubborn inflation, and with living standards taking a decline of historic proportions. Starmer has already promised “fiscal restraint”.
It is clear that he has no intention of fully funding services and offering public sector workers an inflation-proof pay rise. In fact, Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting says he doesn’t support junior doctors striking for pay rises, and in defence of their profession and our NHS.
In Wales, Royal College of Nursing members are striking on 6-7 June and 12-13 July, demanding a pay rise from the Labour-run Welsh government. The Welsh Senedd has just passed a social partnership act, supposedly committing it and employers to working together with the trade unions.
Then why not give nurses and other public service workers the pay rises they deserve? And why not join the Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf in pledging not to issue work notices as part of Westminster’s new anti-strike laws?
Welsh Labour in power and cuts-making Labour councils around the country give a flavour of what a Starmer government will offer. The trade union movement needs to prepare now.
That’s why Socialist Party members are pushing for debates on workers’ political representation at this year’s trade union conferences. How can civil servants, for example, put maximum pressure on an incoming Labour government to offer pay rises, end job cuts and halt workplace closures? (see The motion PCS union leaders didn’t want debated, below)
How should Unite the Union, Labour’s biggest financial backer, be using its money to campaign politically? Socialist Party members in Unite are fighting for a rule change to allow the union’s funds to be used to back candidates beyond Labour, who back the union’s policies. This would free the union up to back Jeremy Corbyn’s stand at a general election, for example.
Having been challenged in the general election by a trade union-backed list of workers’ candidates, a Starmer-led government would govern under more working-class pressure. More still if even a handful of workers’ MPs were elected.
The Socialist Party campaigns for a new mass workers’ party, and puts demands on the trade unions to take steps towards its creation. The Socialist Party’s participation in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) – including standing candidates under its banner at the general election, if preparations are not made in time for a union-backed stand with more authority – is an important part of that fight.
TUSC invitation: discuss preparations for the next general election
After the 4 May local election results showed Keir Starmer on course for number 10, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) All-Britain Steering Committee has written to over twenty campaign groups and socialist organisations inviting them to join the discussion about the general election.
You will recall that last October the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition wrote to you, along with more than twenty other campaign groups and socialist organisations, to ask you to discuss with us your plans for the next general election (see tinyurl.com/4na5acj7).
We thank all those who responded, even if it was to inform us that they had no clear plans at that point. But we make no apology for returning to this matter again. The events of the intervening months – the ongoing strikes against the cost-of-living crisis; the formal exclusion of Jeremy Corbyn as a Labour candidate followed by the suspension of Diane Abbott; and now Keir Starmer’s open declaration that he will go “further and deeper than New Labour’s rewriting of Clause IV” to change the character of the Labour Party after Corbyn – are justification alone.
It is true that, since we wrote, there have not been definitive moves by the left-led trade unions with Jeremy to establish a new vehicle for working-class political representation; or even to co-ordinate a list of workers’ candidates to contest the general election, although steps towards this are being debated this summer at a number of union conferences. It is still our hope that something will be initiated by more authoritative forces than those currently involved in TUSC.
But the fact of TUSC organising a successful clearly identified working-class electoral challenge in the recent English local council elections – involving socialists from four different organisations and none – has renewed our belief that even in the absence of such an initiative it will still be possible to bring together a significant force of trade unionists, socialists and working-class community and social movement candidates in a common general election campaign.
We hope you think so too; and will begin serious discussions with us about the next steps.
The next steps for an election challenge
The TUSC All-Britain Steering Committee is planning to step up election organising on the ground, including working to establish local steering committees in local government areas or parliamentary constituencies where a general election challenge is being considered by any of our constituent organisations, as in our How TUSC Functions rules (see: tinyurl.com/y4asa76j). The participation of representatives from your organisation in such committees, with the same rights as all other participating organisations, would be very welcome.
The all-Britain steering committee is not recommending early moves to select candidates – we have not, for example, produced an Application Form for Parliamentary Candidates at this stage – but instead local campaigns for a workers’ candidate. This could include, we have suggested, along with public meetings, debates and so on, the organisation of local delegations of trade unionists, students, social movement campaigners etc to Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs), to see where they stand, particularly on the policies in Labour’s 2017 and 2019 manifestos under Jeremy Corbyn. Again, your organisation’s participation in this type of campaign would be most welcome.
The ‘fair media coverage’ issue and core policies
In our October letter we raised the issue of the threshold set by the broadcasting authorities for ‘fair media coverage’ in election periods – including a party election broadcast – of contesting 15% of the seats (which for a general election would be 98 for the UK as a whole) under one of the TUSC descriptions registered with the Electoral Commission or an additional agreed joint description. We would still like to explore this further with those who were non-committal on the matter, as we believe that reaching the threshold would make for a qualitatively different campaign compared to a ‘clash avoidance’ arrangement not to stand candidates against each other.
One factor in the responses, understandably, was a questioning of the political basis of a joint election challenge, with arguably a greater degree of agreement required to stand under a common name. As you know TUSC is actually constituted to include candidates on its lists from a wide range of organisations provided the candidate accepts a minimum core policy platform for the relevant election (beyond that they are free to run their election campaign in whatever way they wish). But there still has to be a minimum policy platform.
After a series of discussions, including at the TUSC conference in February, the all-Britain steering committee has produced a draft core policy platform for the next general election (see: tinyurl.com/yvmcfhnu). But again we see this as a draft minimum platform, which we would be happy to discuss with your organisation.
We ended our October letter with the observation that “none of us can be sure of the date of the next general election”. But also then with the appeal that “if a new authoritative working-class party has not been formed by the time it is called, at the very least the discussions that we have now can hopefully ensure that there will be the most unified and effective alternative possible available on the ballot paper that defends the basic principles of trade unionism and socialism”.
We still believe that to be so and look forward to engaging with you.
Dave Nellist, TUSC National Chairperson, former Labour MP 1983-1992
Clive Heemskerk, TUSC National Election Agent
TUSC to stand Unison shop steward in parliamentary by-election in Scotland
The Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) steering committee has agreed that Chris Sermanni, a leading trade unionist and a Cambuslang resident, will stand in the likely forthcoming Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election.
Chris is the shop stewards convenor for Glasgow City Unison social work department and played a leading role in the 2015 successful Homeless Caseworkers strike in Glasgow. He is a member of Socialist Party Scotland.
Chris said: “This likely by-election is taking place amidst an unbearable cost-of-living crisis for working-class people. The Tories’ pro-bosses policies have meant economic disaster, increases in poverty, inflation and devastating cuts to our NHS and council services.
“In the wake of an unprecedented strike wave by trade unionists over the past year, the need for a workers’ election alternative has never been greater. That’s why Scottish TUSC is standing in this election.
“With the SNP in a political crisis, rooted in their implementation of austerity and their support for anti-working class policies generally, there has never been a more important time to offer a socialist alternative.
“And nor will that come from the neo-Blairite dominated Labour Party, both at a UK and Scottish level. All vestiges of Corbynism have been eliminated. Labour offers no alternative for the working class as they have shown by implementing cuts locally in South Lanarkshire council.
“That’s why I’m prepared to stand on policies like the need for the trade unions to launch a new party for working-class people that would support no-cuts budgets, for above inflation pay and benefit rises, socialist nationalisation of energy, the banks and big industries like Royal Mail, as well as the right to a second independence referendum and an independent socialist Scotland.”
The motion PCS union leaders didn’t want debated
The following emergency motion, passed without opposition at the PCS Wigan area branch of civil servants’ union PCS, was not discussed at its Annual Delegate’s Conference (ADC). What reason did the PCS Left Unity leadership have to avoid debate on this crucial issue?
Conference notes the passage of A38 at ADC 2022 regarding political strategy. It agreed to “support political networks of PCS members active in political parties and campaigns to build support for our industrial demands within those organisations”.
Conference further notes that PCS took a clear position to give “national union support for a Corbyn-led Labour government” in 2018 not least because the manifesto, if implemented, would have clear benefits for all PCS members and in line with our policy objectives, not least his pledge to restore national pay bargaining for civil servants.
We note with regret the decision by the Labour Party National Executive on the 28 March to ban Jeremy Corbyn from standing for Labour at the next general election. Jeremy Corbyn’s consistent support for our strike action, and our union’s consistent support for his anti-austerity programme means that one of the few voices that fights for our members interests could be lost.
PCS took a clear position against the attempts within the Labour Party to sabotage Corbyn’s leadership. In 2016, our general secretary correctly made clear PCS’s support for Jeremy Corbyn against “a choreographed and undemocratic attempt to unseat him”.
Further, we note:
- That Keir Starmer has made clear his intention to ‘wipe the slate clean’ of Jeremy Corbyn’s 2019 anti-austerity election manifesto and that he has made no commitment on restoring national pay bargaining for civil servants.
- The ‘Blairite’ wing of Labour has now succeeded in their “choreographed and undemocratic attempt” to ban Corbyn and to abandon the programme he stood for.
- That two members of our parliamentary group, Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott, are now being blocked from standing as Labour MPs.
Conference believes that it is beneficial to our members to fight for voices in Parliament that support and will campaign for policies in line with the aspirations of PCS.
Conference therefore asserts:
- That it is time to enact our 2012 membership ballots 78.9% decision, to “stand or support candidates in national elections that would help to defend members’ jobs, pay, pensions and public services”. Average real pay fell by 7.75% last year, the biggest fall in over half a century. This constitutes the “exceptional circumstances” required to enact this decision.
- That we should give political and material support to Jeremy Corbyn if he stands in the general election, including should he stand as an independent candidate.
- That we should provide political and material support to other genuine pro-trade union, anti-austerity candidates in the next general election, with any elected executive committee of the union free to propose such support, and this support for candidates to be ratified by the NEC.