TUSC election challenge 2016

Getting the anti-austerity struggle onto the ballot paper

Dave Nellist with other TUSC candidates at the 2015 manifesto launch in London's Canary Wharf, photo Paul Mattsson

Dave Nellist with other TUSC candidates at the 2015 manifesto launch in London’s Canary Wharf, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), in which the Socialist Party is a key component, has stood candidates on a clear no-cuts platform since its formation in 2010. But won’t standing this time undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s aim to change Labour into an anti-austerity party? Socialist Party executive committee member Clive Heemskerk looks at the arguments.

With nominations about to close TUSC is likely to have well over 300 candidates in the English local council elections on 5 May, including candidates for the mayoral contests in Bristol and Liverpool. In addition there are three regional lists of TUSC candidates in the Welsh Assembly elections and six Scottish TUSC constituency candidates for the Scottish Parliament.

With the election last summer of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader the political situation has changed since TUSC was formed in 2010. It was co-founded by the late Bob Crow as a coalition involving the RMT transport workers’ union, the Socialist Party and other socialist organisations, individual leading trade unionists, and working class community campaigners.

Labour MPs

Although the forces of capitalism organised within the Labour Party are heavily entrenched, dominating the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and council Labour groups in particular, the battle between them and the anti-austerity forces that crystallised around Jeremy’s leadership campaign has still not reached its conclusion.

The TUSC national steering committee has taken into account the new opportunities that ‘Corbynism’ represents for re-building socialist working class political representation. There are no TUSC candidates standing against Labour councillors who have voted against cuts in the council chamber or new, Corbynista candidates who have made a pledge to do so.

But over 90% of Britain’s 7,000 Labour councillors did not support Jeremy Corbyn for leader and still continue to vote to slash local public services. They are the candidates which TUSC is standing against.

But won’t the pro-capitalist Labour right, with their PLP majority, use any sign from the May elections to move against Corbyn? Isn’t it better, the argument goes, even from some who sympathise with TUSC, to not stand candidates this time? To not take on the Labour right in the hope that Jeremy won’t be challenged before the next general election in 2020, or earlier as the Tories begin to implode?

These are questions that have to be addressed as the TUSC 2016 election challenge gets under way.

What is clear is that Labour is still not an anti-austerity party in practice. Despite Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory on an anti-cuts platform, six months later every Labour-led council has voted for further cuts to local public services.

Jobs lost

An early survey by the GMB union of the first 52 councils to set budgets identified a total of 25,165 planned job losses – with 22,128 being made by Labour-controlled councils. More job losses have been announced since then and, although there is not a national picture available yet, Labour councils will sack at least a similar number of workers this year as the number of those who face losing their jobs from the crisis in the steel industry.

And the slaughter has been, as Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell says about austerity generally, a matter of ‘political choice’. Just the 58 Labour-led councils with elections this year had combined useable reserves going into this year’s budget-making meetings of £4.5 billion.

If these had been pooled, and supplemented by using councils’ borrowing powers, no Labour council would have needed to make cuts this year, giving time to prepare a national confrontation with the Tories for more funding for local councils.

The mass anti-austerity sentiment revealed by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign still needs an electoral expression – because in the vast majority of cases it will not be the ‘Labour’ candidate that provides one on 5 May.

But won’t standing TUSC candidates, even just against austerity Labour councillors, provide the excuse for the right to move against Jeremy’s leadership? The truth is that whatever Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell may do to try and accommodate the right, Britain’s capitalist establishment, who the Labour right represent, are not reconciled with their leadership.

The Blairite Guardian columnist Martin Kettle made the point that John McDonnell’s plan for steel, “in which nationalisation would be strictly temporary to help stabilise Tata assets before selling them off”, is far weaker than the Labour right’s proposals for nationalisation in the 1960s.

But conceding to even the limited programme of ‘Corbynomics’ would be perceived as a victory by the working class, whetting their appetite and building confidence for a broader struggle, including support for clearer socialist ideas. So the Labour right will not be appeased.

Another example was the Corbyn and McDonnell letter on legal budgets sent to Labour council groups in December which, whatever its intentions were, was seized on by Labour councillors to justify passing on the Tory cuts (see ‘No retreat on resisting council cuts’ at socialistparty.org.uk).

But council workers have heard their anti-austerity phrases and, in January, the national bodies for council workers in both the Unison and Unite unions agreed policy calling for Labour councils to set no-cuts budgets by using their reserves and borrowing powers as a first step to a national campaign – the policy that TUSC candidates will put on the ballot paper in May.

The majority of Labour candidates, on the other hand, see winning in 2016 as a chance to be in place until 2020 and to use their public positions to organise against Corbyn and the anti-austerity movement.

And if there was a Corbyn-led Labour government, such figures would play a similar role to those Pasok officials and public representatives who joined Syriza as it overtook the Greek equivalents of New Labour, but who were then to the fore in pushing for it to accept austerity. Why should we meekly go out and canvass support for those who will use their positions won to do everything to defeat us?

At a recent PLP meeting Jeremy Corbyn refused to answer questions from the right on what he would consider to be a ‘good result’ in May’s elections – and rightly so. An opinion poll for Sunday’s Observer showed a sharp rise in disapproval of David Cameron, and the Tories just one point ahead of Labour. But the last time the English council seats were contested, in 2012, Labour was on 38%, seven points ahead.

In Scotland Labour is not guaranteed to win second place over the Tories. Whatever the results on 5 May the right will interpret them for their own purposes.

Tories in disarray

But there is no clause in Labour’s constitution that says the results in May should trigger a leadership contest – it would just be a pretext. Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters need to go on the offensive, including stating boldly that a party of struggle with fewer MPs but a fighting socialist programme, would have a bigger impact in defence of the working class than a party with a couple of hundred MPs but which accepts the policies demanded by capitalism.

The Tories are in disarray, forced to retreat on proposed cuts to tax credits and disability benefits and with a real prospect of rupture over the EU referendum. So why should right-wing Labour councillors not be put under pressure to resist their demands for austerity, by Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters in the Labour Party and TUSC candidates at the ballot box?

What is needed is the type of campaign that was mobilised, inside and outside the Labour Party, to secure Jeremy Corbyn’s victory – this time to take on the forces in Labour defending the capitalist establishment, not seeking ‘unity’ around their pro-austerity agenda.

The right wing will move against Jeremy Corbyn – it is not a case of if but when – and the important question is how can the anti-austerity movement that was mobilised by his leadership victory avoid being dissipated in May’s elections but be organised for the battles to come.

The simple message of TUSC’s election campaign, that politicians who vote for cuts cannot be allowed a free run at the ballot box, is part of that struggle.

  • 58 Labour councils have £4.5 billion in reserves that would make cuts obsolete

Good showing for TUSC in Dundee by-election

The Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) scored a decent result in the Dundee council Maryfield ward by-election held on 31 March.

The seat was retained by the Scottish National Party (SNP) with 1,383 votes, a 49.5% share. This was well ahead of Labour whose vote fell from 1,251 (36%) in the 2012 council elections, the last time the seat was contested, to 634 this time (22.7%).

The TUSC candidate, Stuart Fairweather, won 142 votes (5.1%), coming in fourth ahead of the Greens, the Liberal Democrats and Ukip, who all have a higher profile in the establishment media than TUSC.

What was also significant was the preference choices that were made, which voters have in Scottish council elections with the single-transferable vote proportional representation system.

TUSC was in third place among those who cast a second preference vote, with 14.7%, just 4% behind Labour.

This shows the underlying support that exists for a 100% anti-austerity and socialist alternative to the SNP in the city.

Scottish TUSC is standing six constituency candidates in May’s Scottish Parliament elections and planning a big challenge in next year’s council elections.

TUSC challenging Ukip in Wales

TUSC is standing candidates for the regional list seats in the Welsh Assembly in three of the five regions – South Wales West, South Wales Central, and South Wales East.

In the 2011 assembly elections Labour won 23 of the 24 constituency seats within these regions and so, under the additional member proportional representation system, did not win any regional list seats and is unlikely to do so this year.

The danger is that Ukip will win regional seats including South Wales East with the former Tory MP Mark Reckless.

Under the electoral system each elector has two votes, and a key part of the TUSC campaign will be to emphasise that Ukip can’t be stopped by voting Labour in the regional list ballot.

Welsh Labour has played its own part in bolstering Ukip by dutifully carrying out all the cuts to public spending demanded of it by the Tory UK government, including very unpopular closures of hospital units across Wales.

The South Wales West TUSC list is headed by the former RMT executive member Owen Herbert while young fast food worker and bakers’ union member Jaime Davies will take on Mark Reckless in South Wales East.

Mayor of Salford – TUSC blocked from standing against cutter

All applications to be a TUSC candidate are submitted for approval to the national steering committee where decisions have to be agreed by consensus. No applications have been approved where there is evidence that the Labour candidate is prepared to fight for a no-cuts position.

But some claims of ‘Corbynism’ have been dubious at best. Against the Socialist Party’s call for an anti-austerity challenge, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) blocked a prospective TUSC candidate, Matt Kilsby (a Unison local government branch chair), from standing for the mayor of Salford.

The Labour candidate, Paul Dennett, was the election agent for the pro-Corbyn local MP, Rebecca Long-Bailey. But Dennett is also a current assistant mayor, who voted for £22 million of cuts at February’s budget-making meeting. By this decision, the SWP has put itself up to take responsibility for Dennett’s future actions.