Unions must lead fight for jobs and homes, not racism
A mass, trade union-led, socialist anti-racist campaign can defeat the far right
Paula Mitchell, Socialist Party executive committee
Thousands of people are marching against racism and fascism on the unity demonstration on 17 November.
They are marching to resist the attempts of the so-called ‘Democratic’ Football Lads Alliance, and racist individuals like Tommy Robinson, to form a new far-right street movement.
Thousands are marching to stand up against the racist rhetoric and policies of the Tories, such as Boris Johnson’s burka remarks and Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’.
Many are also marching because they are fearful about the rise of right-wing populist and far-right figures such as Trump in the US, Bolsonaro in Brazil and Orbán in Hungary.
The majority of working-class, middle-class and young people completely reject racism.
But ten years on from the financial crash and after eight years of savage austerity, far-right individuals and groups are trying to exploit the anger and alienation, that feeling of being left behind, and take it in a reactionary direction.
It is therefore good that the Trade Union Congress (TUC) – the body which brings together all the trade unions in the UK – has backed and advertised the demonstration.
But how much better would it have been if the TUC had called it, and marched at its head.
The trade unions organise over six million people. When it moves, there is no stronger force in society than the organised working class.
We welcome the decision of the TUC at its congress this year to launch a ‘jobs and homes, not racism’ campaign. The unity demo should be the launchpad of that campaign.
Let’s build an almighty anti-racist and anti-austerity campaign that fights for the jobs, homes, pay and services we all need.
That would speed up the end of this hated, weak Tory government, and sweep the ground from under the feet of the far right.
The anti-racism unity demonstration on Saturday takes place as the Tory government hangs by a thread.
The main task of this demonstration should be to help slash that thread: call for a general election now and fight for a Corbyn-led government that implements the policies that can cut across racism and the far right.
The Socialist Party thinks that it is essential to have a debate in the trade union and workers’ movement about the slogans and tactics, the methods and programme necessary to defeat the far right.
We are told by some involved in Stand Up to Racism, the organisers of the demonstration on 17 November, most particularly the SWP, that the threat of the far right is so great that we have to put all our differences aside and simply unite.
They argue that, in order to mobilise enough people on the streets, we need to draw together the widest possible spectrum of support – including from pro-austerity politicians, pop stars, footballers, religious leaders and so on – behind the simple call to stop the racists and fascists.
But, in our view, it is only the working class, organised in a mass fight for socialist policies – for jobs, homes, services and so on – that can draw behind it broader layers in society and wipe out support for the far right.
The battle to undercut support for the far right can only be successful long term if an anti-racist campaign is linked to a campaign for class demands.
Socialist measures are the only ones that can avert the miserable conditions which are the breeding ground for the politics of division.
There is a tremendous anger and revolt under the surface in society, which occasionally finds an outlet in a referendum or an election.
A Tory Brexit is looming, working-class living conditions are still worse than before the financial crash ten years ago and another economic crisis is on the horizon.
In this context, there is a widespread feeling of being left behind and having lost control. There is a distrust of capitalist politicians and a fear of chaos and crisis.
That general, inchoate mood can be led in the direction of reaction. But if a bold lead is given, it can also be drawn to the side of the organised working class and in the direction of a socialist alternative.
On an anti-racism demo we will march alongside anyone who opposes racism. But the problem with offering leading and speaking roles to forces which spend the rest of their time attacking working-class people’s lives, is that you run the risk not only of losing the active participation of working-class people, but of greatly reducing the chances of undermining support for the far right. What’s more you put out the wrong message on how racism must be countered.
Socialist policies and demands that could mobilise and unite working and middle-class people are ‘left at the door’ in order to keep the ‘liberal’ figures on board.
This approach does nothing about the conditions that breed support for the far right. Racist and fascist groups will keep coming back in different forms because the system is rotten and cannot provide a decent life for all.
Undoubtedly, the numbers that have been mobilised in the name of the ‘Democratic’ Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) are bigger than anything achieved by far-right organisations for decades. But the organised working class is a much, much bigger force.
There are high levels of integration of black and ethnic minority people in working-class communities and trade unions.
The DFLA’s pro-Trump demo of around 6,000 in July was dwarfed by the 250,000 who marched against Trump the day before – on a weekday.
In March 2011, three-quarters of a million marched under the banner of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) when they believed the trade unions were going to fight austerity.
The organised working class is capable of bringing behind it the alienated, unorganised, most downtrodden layers.
Our members, and others who agree with our approach, have been moving resolutions in trade union bodies around the country.
It is not a question of waiting for the TUC to act, but of putting pressure on them while mobilising from below.
Organisation at a local level in the unions, communities and among young people can have a big effect on the official leaderships.
Holding this debate, as has happened in Manchester and Waltham Forest trade union councils, for example, is important.
It means that, if the far right attempt to march in those areas, the trade union councils will be in a stronger position to campaign in the workplaces, to provide serious stewarding, and to lead the mobilisations against them.
John McDonnell called in August for a “new Anti-Nazi League-type cultural and political campaign”. But the most decisive way to undercut the DFLA – in addition to counter-demonstrations – is to mount a massive fight to get the Tories out and get a Corbyn-led government in.
This would need to go alongside building a mass movement to ensure it carries out the policies of building council houses, scrapping zero-hour contracts, creating good jobs, stopping the privatisation of the NHS, funding schools and stopping council cuts.
In other words, it would need to go alongside socialist policies. This means nationalising the banks and main parts of the economy so that the vast wealth in society is used democratically in the interests of us all.