Are the Greens a real alternative?

The Socialist, reader’s comment

Are the Greens a real alternative?

The Labour party ‘opposition’ has alienated many trade unionists, including some union leaders, especially over its failure to oppose Tory policies such as wage restraint and cuts. The Green Party leadership has been trying to encourage Labour Party members to support them instead. Alec Price comments.

Green leader Caroline Lucas MP and her party are attempting to build on the unions’ rift with Labour to encourage trade union support and funding to break from the Labour Party and support them instead.

Due to the demise of Labour as a mass workers’ party over recent decades it is easy to understand how the Greens may appeal to people disgusted by the lack of choice in the three main parties. This included me at one time! But, to decide whether the Greens are a real alternative we must look at how they act in power and decide if this represents a way forward or a dead end.

The Greens have little chance of becoming elected to government in Britain under the present electoral system. But in other countries (with different electoral systems) they have formed governments.

In Ireland the Greens, in coalition in government with the country’s main capitalist party Fianna Fáil, passed through Ireland’s biggest ever austerity package, including cutting the minimum wage. This led to their electoral wipe-out.

Green councillors

The Greens in Britain take no responsibility for their Irish counterparts – perhaps it is unfair to judge them on that? So let’s look closer to home… to Green councillors elected to local authorities in Britain.

The leader of the Norfolk Greens, Phillip Hardy, defected to the Tories late last year. The Greens argue that this is one rogue councillor – perhaps it is unfair to judge them on one incident?

Liverpool city council’s first budget after the 2010 election cut £91 million – including the axing of 2,000 council and charity jobs, which also hit the services they provide. The two Green councillors formed a coalition with Labour and other parties to draw up the £91million cuts budget. Councillor Sarah Jennings, leader of the Greens, said: “There will be major cuts, we are not just talking about trimming the fat.” The Greens then abstained on their own budget!

Perhaps it’s still unfair to judge them. Maybe if they controlled the council they would behave differently? The Greens control Brighton council – getting elected on a platform to fight against the cuts. The council is now committed to cutting the budget by £35 million over two years.

True, some of the Green talk is great and they have some decent members. But what do these deeds say about the Greens as a party in power? Socialists don’t bring this up to score points. If we want to build a new mass workers’ party then it has to be on a principled basis that would need to include, as an absolute minimum:

  • Opposition to all the cuts in jobs and services – in word and in deed
  • No coalitions with the capitalist parties
  • Rooted in the working class and labour movement i.e. the trade unions and the youth and community campaigns
  • Reject above-inflation increases in tax to compensate for government cuts
  • Oppose the privatisation or outsourcing etc of public services

The Green Party, when it is in power, does not do this. The Labour Party, as we all know, does not do this either and I don’t believe that attempts to reclaim it, however well intentioned, will meet with success.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is the best available electoral vehicle for trade unions and anti-cuts groups who wish to give a political shape to their fight. Trade unions should follow through their criticism of Labour to its logical conclusion and break the link with Labour – where they haven’t done so already.

They then should fund candidates who will represent their aims – this could be alongside funding the few individual anti-cuts Labour MPs or such Labour councillors as Kingsley Abrams (suspended for voting against cuts!). This May’s elections would be a good place to start!