TUSC local government conference report

Preparing our ‘troops’ for the council battleground elections on 5 May and the Erdington byelection

Photo: Brighton Socialist Party

Photo: Brighton Socialist Party   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Mark Best

“The working class across England and Wales is facing the biggest cost of living crisis in 30 years, and the last 30 years have not been milk, honey and plenty,” said chair Dave Nellist opening the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) 2022 local government conference.

In the midst of this crisis there is, in the main, a ‘choice’ between voting for the ‘red Tories’, the ‘blue Tories’ or the ‘yellow Tories’. Instead, workers urgently need a mass party which will act in the interests of our class.

The conference, attended online by over 250 people, was an important meeting to discuss the next steps in the fight for working-class political representation.

Hannah Sell, general secretary of the Socialist Party, pointed out that much of the capitalist media defends Keir Starmer, whereas they led the charge against Jeremy Corbyn. The media is acting in the interests of the bosses, and they know that the Labour Party under Starmer will represent their interests in power. He has made it clear that the Labour Party won’t back the nationalisation of the energy companies, support workers fighting for pay rises, or challenge austerity.

Naomi Byron, a member of Unison’s national executive council, spoke in a personal capacity about how the election of a Labour government would continue NHS privatisation.

Amy Murphy, former president of Usdaw, the shop workers’ union and member of the TUSC steering committee, spoke about the anger of working-class people at being forced to pay for the Covid crisis. The supermarket where she works “announced massive profits and within two weeks was announcing job losses.”

Workers are angry at the system but don’t have a party of their own that can channel that anger and fight for a real alternative.

Labour history

Jared Wood, National Executive Committee member of the RMT rail union, one of the constituent parts of TUSC, drew parallels between today and the situation over 100 years ago which led to the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (ASRS), one of the predecessors of the RMT, to take the steps which led to the creation of the Labour Party.

Workers then were faced with a choice between the Tories and the Liberals, two out-and-out capitalist parties. The capitalists then were attacking the unions’ ability to organise and using laws to prosecute workers who were fighting back.

The ARS concluded that there would be “no permanent settlement on behalf of workers without a change in the political system and without the representation of workers in that political system.”

For workers to have political representation independent of the two capitalist parties they then needed a party of their own. It’s the same choice today, as shown by the recent defection of the former Tory MP Christian Wakeford to join Starmer’s Labour Party. As the late RMT general secretary Bob Crow, one of the founding members of TUSC, put it, the programme put forward by the main parties amounts to the “same pie with different gravy.”

Workers across England and Wales are drawing conclusions following the defeat of Corbynism within the Labour Party, and Starmer’s successful campaign to make the party safe for the capitalists.

Ian Hodson, the bakers’ union (BFAWU) national president, gave the union’s greetings and wished Dave Nellist success in the Erdington byelection. Ian made clear that his members didn’t “decide to leave the Labour party because I was expelled” but because under Starmer’s leadership “the Labour Party no longer represented the communities that we live in.”

And the reason that the capitalist establishment was so intent on smashing the last traces of Corbynism in the Labour Party was because it represented an alternative and an inspiration for workers to fight back.

The bakers’ union is continuing to fight for these policies ie, for a £15 an hour minimum wage, an end to zero-hour contracts and an end to lower youth rates of pay. BFAWU will be backing political candidates that do so.

An important front in the ‘class war’ is the local councils. Chris Williamson of Resist, another constituent part of TUSC, made the point that councillors can resist austerity and build council houses, but lack the political will to do so.

Council battleground

Councils across England and Wales are setting their budgets for the coming year, but instead of fighting back, Labour-run councils are continuing to do the Tories’ dirty work by implementing the cuts at local level. Cuts to bus services, children’s services, disabled services, and cuts to unpaid carers, are being put forward. As Chris said: “You can’t manage the cuts in a compassionate way.”

Andy Walker, representing individual members in TUSC, spoke about the close links between councillors and property developers, which come at the expense of the working class.

In Bristol, the council is cutting union facility time by 75%. Tom Baldwin, a TUSC candidate in an upcoming by-election in the city, pointed out that it’s a very small amount of money in the budget, but is an attack on unions’ ability to organise.

Those same unions that affiliate and fund the Labour Party are under attack because the Labour council want to hamper their ability to fight for council workers’ interests against the cuts!

Hugo Pierre, a member of Unison’s NEC and a local government worker, speaking in a personal capacity, brought up the example of his local council, Tower Hamlets.

Instead of aiming at the bankers in Canary Wharf in Tower Hamlets, the Labour-run council made their workforce pay for austerity. It was one of the first employers to use ‘fire and rehire’ tactics; sacking workers and taking them back on with worse pay and conditions.

Over the last ten years there have been over 500,000 redundancies in local government and closer to one million jobs lost. Unison reasearch found that councils in England and Wales alone have a combined £10 billion deficit.

Dave Warren, TUSC Wales committee, said the situation facing Welsh workers is much the same, despite having had a Labour government in the Wales Senedd since its inception in 1999.

The Welsh government’s budget is, in effect, ‘missing’ £3 billion, if it had grown at the same rate as the economy. But Welsh Labour in the Senedd and in the local councils isn’t launching a fight to demand that £3 billion from the Westminster government.

There is an alternative to sadly, or not so sadly, implementing Tory austerity. Onay Kasab, Unite the Union’s lead officer for local government, spoke officially on behalf the union and reported that it is their policy to call “on all local authorities to pass needs-based, no cuts legal budgets, using reserves and borrowing powers to fill gaps. While also campaigning with communities and trade unions to win the funds that are needed.”

What’s required is for councils to take the ‘Liverpool road,’ following the example of the Militant-led socialist council in 1983-87 which refused to pass on Thatcher’s cuts.

Those councillors mobilised the working class of Liverpool to demand the resources the city needed, and won. They were then able to create thousands of jobs and build over 5,000 council houses, parks, schools and sports centres.

Unite has 75 active industrial disputes at the moment. These struggles can inspire other groups of workers to take action themselves. But as Onay said, those workers deserve to be given a chance to vote for candidates who will inspire them in turn. It is also Unite policy to only support candidates who support the union’s policies.

Jared Wood made the point that the RMT’s members are facing the dismantling of the rail network as it is now, and huge cuts to London Underground.

To convince workers of the need to fight and strike against this scale of attacks there needs to also be a political alternative. Otherwise workers are faced with permanent battles to defend themselves with no victory in sight.

Workers need their own political party to put forward and fight for a programme to end these constant attacks, which can then in turn give confidence to fight industrial battles.

Federal structure

TUSC is organised with a federal structure. It is a ‘coalition of equals’, similar to the early Labour Party. This enables all those who agree with the core policies of TUSC – which includes an opposition to all cuts, support for workers in struggle, and an opposition to all forms of oppression – to stand under its umbrella.

Individual candidates, campaigns, groups and parties can put forward their own programme and material that builds on this core policy in the elections and out of them. This is an important factor to build trust and the forces necessary for a new mass workers’ party.

TUSC also gives the right to the constituent parts of TUSC which includes the RMT trade union, the Socialist Party, Resist, and others, a veto over candidates or decisions. As Jared put it, out of all the organisations to the left of Labour, “TUSC has by far the most coherent link with the organised trade union movement.”

Dave Nellist, national chair of TUSC, made an appeal for candidates to stand in May’s elections. Socialist Party members will be standing candidates but we are also fighting for trade unionists, community campaigners, students and all those who want to fight back, to stand alongside us under the TUSC umbrella.

Erdington byelection

But coming before the council elections, Dave Nellist is the TUSC candidate in the Birmingham Erdington by-election on 3 March. Canvassing sessions are taking place every weekend. For TUSC to be able to have as much of an impact as possible, the more help the byelection campaign can get, the better.

In Erdington, as Hannah Sell put it: “There is huge class anger; a feeling that none of these parties stand up for us, that working class people have been ‘shoved under the bus’. That kind of fury is palpable.”

Corinthia, a Unite steward and Erdington resident, spoke about the disgust of workers when they found out the Labour candidate in the upcoming by-election, Paulette Hamilton, is the councillor responsible for the attacks on the homecare workers. She also was a council cabinet member while attacks to the bin workers’ employment terms were voted through.

Both these assaults on pay and conditions resulted in strike action across the city and wins for the workers involved.

Hannah emphasised that the byelection is a big opportunity for socialists. We can “convince some of these workers that instead of staying at home and not bothering to vote, they can instead vote for a socialist candidate who would be a workers’ MP.”

This task isn’t separate from the council elections. Young people and workers across the country who have been enthused by the TUSC campaign in Erdington, who have donated money or signed the petition in support, can’t leave it there.

The next step is standing themselves, to fight the cuts in the local elections, and to start the discussions in their unions, community groups or campaigns about the need for a new mass workers’ party armed with a socialist programme.

TUSC Local elections

  • Visit tusc.org.uk to see TUSC’s draft platform, core policies and how to stand as a candidate in 5 May elections.

Erdington byelection

  • There will be campaigning taking place every day from now to polling day.
  • To volunteer, fill in the form at bit.ly/TUSCErdingtonVolunteer and this way we can link you up with others who are coming to lend a hand.
  • You can also make a donation towards the campaign here – nellistforerdington.com/donate.html
  • For more info, phone/text 07530429441 or email [email protected]

Promoted by Joe Foster, 11 Kerby Rd, Birmingham B23 7EX on behalf of Dave Nellist

  • Stop Press: Unite LE1647 Bar and Restaurant workers’ branch has passed the TUSC motion encouraging people to stand as anti-cuts candidates. The motion will be circulated to all the branch’s members. Please consider moving the resolution in your union branch.
  • To see the model resolution search ‘Want to fight austerity?’ at socialistparty.org.uk