Time to relaunch the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition

The Socialist Party has written to the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) proposing that discussions begin on contesting the various elections scheduled for May 2021.

The biggest component organisation of TUSC, the RMT transport workers’ union, is considering its response.

The Socialist Party’s proposal, set out in the letter printed below, was sent at the end of June – just before Keir Starmer’s sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey, which only confirmed the arguments made.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is an electoral alliance between the RMT union, Socialist Party and others to give an electoral alternative to cuts-making and pro-capitalist politicians, photo Socialist Party

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is an electoral alliance between the RMT union, Socialist Party and others to give an electoral alternative to cuts-making and pro-capitalist politicians, photo Socialist Party   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

The Socialist Party is writing to our partners in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition to propose that the current suspension of TUSC electoral activity is lifted for the various elections scheduled for May 2021.

These contests will include elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Senedd, the Greater London Authority (mayor and assembly), and English county councils; and the Metropolitan borough, district council, and city and Metro-mayor elections, postponed from this year.

As you will recall the TUSC national steering committee decided at the end of 2018 that it would no longer authorise candidates to stand under the TUSC name until further notice.

TUSC, founded in 2010, had already recalibrated its electoral activity under Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership.

It pursued a rigorously selective approach so that candidates could only stand against councillors and others who were continuing to implement austerity policies locally, and it did not contest the 2017 general election (and, obviously, 2019) at all.

But events have moved on, and the Socialist Party believes that we now need to revisit the 2018 decision and be prepared to authorise candidates for next year’s contests.

Changed situation

TUSC’s founding goal of helping to establish mass working-class socialist political representation could potentially have been realised through the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.

This would have been possible if fundamental changes to the party’s political basis and organisation inherited from Tony Blair’s New Labour had been carried through.

But the political and organisational legacy of New Labour was not, unfortunately, sufficiently expunged.

On the contrary, under Keir Starmer, it is being revived. This can be seen in the early policy retreats by the new leadership, but also in the appointment as the new party general secretary of a former assistant general secretary from the time of Tony Blair, who led the changes made then to weaken the role of the unions within the party. Once again working-class voters face being effectively disenfranchised.

Against the background of the deep economic and social crisis triggered by the Covid pandemic this will have serious consequences for workers and our communities.

Scotland, and other opportunities

The vacuum of political representation is particularly acute in Scotland, where Labour continued to haemorrhage working-class support even under Corbyn’s leadership of the party at Westminster.

This will only be exacerbated by Scottish Labour’s recent confirmation that it will oppose a second independence referendum in next May’s elections.

Our co-thinkers, Socialist Party Scotland, are firmly in favour of enabling Scottish TUSC to stand in 2021. The additional member seats system used in these elections provides a particular opportunity for working-class socialist voices standing for the right to independence to win representation in the Scottish Parliament.

It is also true that the electoral systems that will apply in some of the other contests taking place next May are favourable for a working-class electoral challenge.

The supplementary vote system for the London Mayor election, for example, means that voters could support a trade unionist and socialist candidate against Sadiq Khan, but then use their second preference vote against the Tories.

With the Transport for London funding crisis unresolved, along with the other issues facing working-class Londoners, the case for TUSC candidates to inject the arguments for a fighting alternative into next May’s GLA elections is a powerful one.

Additionally, the elections postponed from 2020 include a number of councils in the so-called ‘Red Wall’, whose acquiescence to ten years of austerity was an important factor in the general election results in these areas.

Presenting TUSC’s clear anti-cuts alternative will be important here, even if it cannot fully fill the vacuum. And another postponed election is for the mayor of Liverpool, which TUSC has contested on the two previous occasions, winning 4,950 votes in 2016 (a 5.1% share) and both times coming in ahead of the Tories.

While the exact scope of next year’s electoral activity will need to be discussed, one thing is clear: the central function set out for TUSC at its foundation – to enable fighters in the unions and our communities, and from different socialist organisations, to combine together electorally so that pro-capitalist politicians implementing anti-working class policies are not left unchallenged at the ballot box – is once again coming into its own.

How to proceed?

In order to properly prepare for next year’s elections, an in-principle decision on whether or not TUSC will resume authorising candidates is a necessary first step.

This would then enable a number of issues to be properly discussed between the TUSC partners and efforts made to expand the coalition, in particular within the trade unions.

Issues to address would include updating the TUSC election platform for the post-Covid era, reviewing procedures for approving candidates, and how a revived TUSC can function locally.

To this end we request that an early meeting of the TUSC national steering committee is convened – either virtually or socially distanced – to discuss our proposal.

Yours comradely, Hannah Sell, Socialist Party general secretary

Role of TUSC

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

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

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, an electoral alliance of trade unionists, community campaigners and socialists co-founded by the late Bob Crow, the Socialist Party, and others, was set up in 2010.

The RMT transport workers’ union has been officially represented on the TUSC steering committee since 2012.

The resolution agreed at that year’s RMT annual general meeting, which established the union’s formal participation within TUSC, supported the coalition as potentially “providing a nucleus” within the trade unions for “the hard, long-term task of rebuilding political representation for working-class people and communities”.

TUSC was never presented as being a mass electoral alternative to Blairite Labour politicians, certainly not as its finished expression, or as a substitute for the trade unions establishing a new workers’ party.

The 375,000 votes won by TUSC candidates since its foundation, in some cases forced right-wing Labour candidates to ‘look over their left shoulder’. But they have been only a modest hint of what could be achieved if even just the left-led unions took a serious lead.

For the Socialist Party, the significance of TUSC lay in its potential as a catalyst in the unions, both in the structures and below, for the idea of working-class political representation.

And in fact, TUSC saw a greater level of trade union leadership and involvement than any other left-of-Labour electoral formation, involving at various times not only the RMT, but leading officials from the PCS civil servants union, the National Union of Teachers, the Fire Brigades Union, and the Prison Officers Association.

TUSC’s other great strength is its federal character, with agreed core election policies, but with participating organisations, including the Socialist Party, retaining the freedom to campaign independently – a united front, marching separately but striking together at the ballot box. A number of anti-cuts rebel Labour councillors were also attracted to TUSC on this basis.

Corbyn’s unanticipated Labour leadership victory in 2015 changed the situation from the time of TUSC’s formation. But now the situation has changed again, and the question of how to push forward the struggle for working-class representation on a socialist programme is starkly posed.

Whether or not TUSC can be relaunched on the same basis as it existed prior to its suspension of electoral activity in 2018, the TUSC model remains as an example of how that struggle can be conducted.