Dave Nellist addressing a National Shop Stewards Network demonstration to lobby of the TUC. credit: Paul Mattsson
Dave Nellist addressing a NSSN demonstration credit: Paul Mattsson

An ‘Erdington byelection special’ four-page wrap-around with the Socialist issue 1169

  • A workers’ MP on a worker’s wage
  • Vote Socialist in Erdington on 3 March

Voting for more of the same will only get us more of the same. And, when that ‘same’ means soaring energy bills for us – and soaring energy profits for them – we can’t take any more of the same! Cuts to public services hit us hard, while billionaires get even richer.

A vote for Labour or the Tories will be seen by Boris Johnson, or Sir Keir Starmer, as support for their approach: to carry on privatising our NHS, letting the bosses get away with fire and rehire, saddling our young people with tens of thousands of pounds of student debt, and so on.

At best, there will be a discussion on how working-class people should pay for the crisis we didn’t cause. No party in Westminster says ‘make the billionaires pay instead’ – because working-class people don’t have our own political voice, our own party.

Dave Nellist, a member of the Socialist Party, is standing as the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate so we can use our vote to send a message to Westminster that we have had enough and want an alternative to their ‘same old, same old’.

Dave will be a voice for us instead. He has a record of being a workers’ MP who only took a worker’s wage and as a fighter for working-class people. The result in this by-election won’t change the government, but a vote for Dave can shake up the establishment. Dave’s campaign is also part of the fight to build a powerful voice for the working class – a new mass workers’ party.

Join the socialist stand against Birmingham’s cutting councillors

Youth clubs, home care, school budgets, swimming pools, libraries – many have disappeared, and more have been cut beyond recognition, privatised by profiteering corner-cutting companies, or now carry hefty charges. The decent public services needed for dignity, support and a start in life are being destroyed.

These attacks represent political choices about which part of society should foot the bill – which class. The Tories made their position clear from the get-go in 2010, with the slashing of £40 billion of funding for councils in the years since. In that period, the amount paid by FTSE 100 companies in dividends to shareholders doubled to a record £110 billion in 2019. This is still the fifth-richest country on the planet.

Birmingham City Council, like all the Labour-led councils across the country, has dutifully accepted the Tory line – and cut over £770 million from services since 2010. Over 13,000 jobs have been slashed. Birmingham Labour council has closed 43 youth centres, 12 nurseries, 21 children’s centres, five children’s homes, four libraries and countless community and leisure facilities. And then privatised or sold off most of what’s left, as it’s trying to do with Short Heath playing fields too.

Labour cuts

The Labour candidate for Erdington, Paulette Hamilton, was a council cabinet member in 2018 when Birmingham care workers in Unison took strike action against the council plan to cut their hours. Some workers faced a cut from 37 hours to just 14 hours a week! Their 20-month strike defeated the plan, and the new rota was dropped. Unite and Unison refuse workers were also forced to strike against cuts in 2019.

Paulette has no defence, as she told LabourList: “I’ve had that portfolio for over seven years – they can only name two disputes. I have managed a budget of over £354 million. I have also managed the public health budget each year of over £100 million. And they have highlighted two disputes that happened over five years ago, when we were looking at how we could upgrade a service. We had cross-party agreement when it was all decided.” That’s ‘cross-party’ with the Tories by the way…

In Coventry, the Labour council is brutally attacking the trade unions trying to defend services and jobs. That council is refusing to pay bin drivers the rate for the job. But even worse, it is paying outside workers twice the going rate to do the work of their own workforce, spending over £2 million in an attempt to break the strike in defence of fair pay.

The socialist-led Liverpool Labour council in the 1980s provides a lesson of what a fighting council could do if it chose to represent and mobilise the working class. Its legacy is undeniable. It includes 4,800 houses and bungalows built; six new nursery classes built and opened; five new sports centres, one with a leisure pool attached; three new parks built; and rents frozen for five years.

The council defeated Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, winning £60 million for Liverpool. It was achieved on the basis of workers and young people taking a democratic part in the decision process. That was in the form of mass meetings – but also mass demonstrations and strike action to fight for what had been agreed in the council chamber.

Councils today have a lot of power to fight back against Tory attacks. Councils in England, for example, are responsible for over one fifth of all public spending. If they were to use their reserves and borrowing powers to produce budgets based on what’s needed, and combine this with a Liverpool-style struggle, a mass movement could be inspired and built to end Tory austerity – and kick them out.

New mass workers’ party

Today this type of struggle against the Tories is necessary – but it is impossible in Starmer’s New Labour. As we go to press, Labour councillors who say they might vote against this year’s cuts face being expelled; Jeremy Corbyn is not allowed to sit as a Labour MP; and Starmer takes the side of Coventry council against the workers. The lesson is that cuts can be fought – but we require councillors and a party with a no-cuts programme. Labour is not that. A new party must be built.

That can start now. Elections are taking place on 5 May with over 6,000 council seats up. In its existence since 2010, thousands of working-class fighters have stood as no-cuts candidates for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) – trade unionists, socialists, community campaigners, student activists – people with a record of standing up to the bosses and campaigning for their community and pledged to vote against cuts.

Standing no-cuts candidates has meant there’s a real choice on the ballot paper in those areas. This can also help spread the idea of building a new mass workers’ party. It can also be an effective way of putting pressure on councillors – they don’t like a challenge to what they see as their right to rule. So why not be part of that?

See www.tusc.org.uk for info.

Nationalise to save jobs at GKN

Birmingham’s unemployment rate of 12.6% is the highest of any major British city. Now Erdington’s GKN plant is set to close with the loss of 500-plus skilled jobs. Johnson’s Tory government could have intervened, nationalised and saved GKN, but instead it let it go to the wall. The Socialist Party fights for the nationalisation of GKN under democratic workers’ control and management.

A workers’ alternative to a bosses’ Brexit

Boris Johnson claimed the Tories wanted Brexit to ‘level up’ working-class communities, but their Brexit is about freedom for the bosses to exploit us. Dave, in contrast, led one of the three national campaigns to leave the EU, explaining it is Thatcherism on a continental scale which limits a government’s ability to defend working-class interests – for example to nationalise plants threatened with closure.

 Johnson’s plan for Brexit is the same as the EU’s: giving big employers more liberty to attack workers’ pay, rights and conditions and to sell off our NHS to US private health companies. We need an MP to cut through both Tory and Labour Brexit jargon and put workers first.

Fight for a future for youth

Ben Robinson, an organiser of Youth March for Jobs

Dave Nellist has been a longstanding campaigner for young people’s rights. As an MP in the 1980s, Dave’s maiden speech was against Thatcher’s Youth Training Scheme forcing young people into low-paid work, and helping to build the movement against it.

Just over a decade ago, I was one of the Youth Fight for Jobs marchers who walked through Coventry on the way from Jarrow to London, following in the footsteps of the 1936 Jarrow march for jobs. In the aftermath of the 2007-8 financial crash, politicians and big business were asking working-class people to pay the price. Youth unemployment shot up to around a million 16 to 24-year-olds.

Again, Dave was one of our biggest supporters, joining us early in the march and helping to organise a rally and protest in Coventry, where he was a Socialist Party councillor. As we marched through the streets, local young people joined us and cheered as we spoke about fighting the Labour council’s attacks, including to the local college, and the need for a socialist fightback.

These are just a few examples of Dave’s record. With fresh attacks on education, and low pay and job insecurity still rife for young people, we need a fightback. Dave has proven time and again that he is a fighter for young people and the working class, and will use any position to build that fightback. Vote for a fighter, vote Nellist!

Dave Nellist, photo SP
Dave Nellist, photo SP

Build a mass party that fights for free education

Adam Powell-Davies, Socialist Students

Every year, hundreds of thousands of students leave university into a world of low pay and temporary contracts, owing the government close to £30,000. The moment we graduate, this figure starts growing. And that’s just to cover tuition, leaving aside loans to cover the cost of rent and food.

However, there is no question that the wealth exists in society for education to be run as a free public service, available to all. After all, billionaires’ wealth has increased by $5 trillion to $13.8 trillion since March 2021. The question is: who owns and controls this wealth, and how is it used?

Free education is entirely possible. After all, university tuition fees were not introduced in Britain until 1998, under newly elected New Labour prime minister Tony Blair. In contrast, as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn showed the huge support for free higher education when students, young people and workers joined mass rallies in the run up to the 2017 general election. The 2019 election manifesto ‘grey book’ estimated the cost of abolishing tuition fees and restoring maintenance grants for full-time and part-time students at £13.6 billion. The obstacle is the profit system and the defenders of capitalism.

Corbyn’s anti-austerity programme was met with disdain by Tory and right-wing Labour MPs, who claimed there is ‘no magic money tree’. Yet the same Tory government has shown that the money can be found when the capitalist system they defend is under threat – spending over £400 billion since Covid struck, including the £37 billion set aside for the botched test-and-trace system.

The current tuition fee system leaves university graduates saddled with debt for much of our working lives. In fact, the government predicts that only 25% of current undergraduates will have paid off their debt by the time they retire. The situation is only set to worsen following the Tories’ announcement that the student loan debt repayment window will be extended – from 30 to 40 years – and the repayment threshold lowered.

Alongside free education, we need institutions that are fully funded by government, and controlled by students, workers and the wider working class. This would bring to an end the university managements’ vicious attacks on the conditions of staff in the name of ‘balancing the books’.

But who will launch the fight for free education? Under Keir Starmer, the Labour Party has taken a clear rightward turn to the side of big business. As of yet, the current Labour leader has not officially renounced his 2020 campaign pledge to ‘support the abolition of tuition fees’. But he has retreated from nationalising utilities, suspended Jeremy and introduced rule changes designed to lock out the left from taking the leadership again.

And where was Starmer when students were organising rent strikes last year? When Young Labour urged him to back the rent strikes, he did not respond. A Labour spokesperson refused to confirm the party’s position. Starmer’s right-wing machine has even gone as far as prohibiting access to Young Labour social media accounts, in an attempt to censor Labour’s official youth wing. Starmer is hell-bent on completing Labour’s reconfiguration into a safe pair of hands for British capitalism. It is difficult to imagine him ever demanding the super-rich pay for education.

This is why it is time for students to build a new mass movement, starting with campus-wide rallies of students and university workers already on strike, to discuss the next steps to fight cuts and marketisation.

But without a political alternative outside the Labour Party, students would be fighting with one hand tied behind our backs. A mass movement of students fighting for free education would be strengthened by representatives in Westminster like Dave Nellist, fighting on our side against the bosses.

Even just a modest tax or levy on the vast wealth of the super-rich would be enough to provide free education and reinstate maintenance grants. But why should the capitalists maintain their control over our education, and over the economy and the rest of society?

Socialists fight for the wealth and resources to be owned and controlled by the majority, the working class. By nationalising the banks and big business to be run under democratic workers’ control and management, a socialist government could plan production to meet everyone’s needs. Only such socialist measures, coordinated with socialist movements internationally, could guarantee a flourishing, free education system on a permanent basis.

‘Why I’m backing Dave Nellist’

Ian Hodson, President Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union: As a founder and funder, and after 119 years of support for the Labour Party, our members decided that they could no longer be supportive of a political organisation riven by factionalism, and more interested in securing positions in its own ranks than dealing with the huge inequalities and hardship so many in our society face.

We have witnessed in recent weeks the actions of Labour in power with its treatment of its bin workers. They are no different to those of the Tory party. We need a fresh start, and Erdington offers an opportunity to send a real shot across the bows of the Westminster elite. By electing Dave Nellist, the people of Erdington will be sending one of their own – someone who will be a powerful voice for ending the hardship we see daily in our society. Be it food, energy or housing poverty, it is a political choice – by voting Dave Nellist you will be saying “it’s time for change, and time for a better society for all.”

Pete Randall, Unite rep for Coventry bin strikers: Dave stands on the side of workers, the community and is honest. So honest, he pledges to take a worker’s wage! This isn’t about greed, it’s about delivering for the people. He’s done it before, he’ll do it again.

Chris Williamson, ex-Labour MP and Resist: I have known Dave Nellist for over 30 years. He is a real community champion. No other candidate can match his track record. By contrast, the Labour Party ignores the interests of local people and Labour’s response to the cost of living crisis is almost identical to the Conservatives.

Joe Simpson, Deputy General Secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association: I support Dave Nellist simply because of who he is. Dave is a sincere, genuine working-class man who will speak up for his constituents in Erdington and will protect them from the devastating cuts which will come in the next few years. No other candidate is speaking up for the people of Erdington and giving them a voice in parliament – they will just take the money, sit on their hands and vote in favour of the party they belong to.

That is the exact opposite of what Dave will deliver, he will deliver a working-class voice on a working-class wage with a working-class agenda.

Naomi Byron, Unison NEC (personal capacity) and NHS worker: If Dave is elected to Parliament again he will be a real workers’ representative there. I know Dave will always fight to defend the NHS and for its renationalisation. He stands with health workers and outsourced workers. He fought against the Private Finance Initiative when New Labour introduced it, he is fighting against the Health and Care Bill, for proper NHS funding, and a proper pay rise for all.

Hugo Pierre, Unison NEC (personal capacity) and school worker: I am confident, that if elected, Dave would make a great MP for Erdington. Dave knows the West Midlands and has fought against the drop in workers’ living standards as formerly skilled, well-paid jobs have been replaced with low-paid precarious work.

He supported and gave solidarity to the Birmingham bin and home care workers who were attacked by the Labour council.

As a trade unionist, support for your struggle is the key. I’m backing Dave in Erdington because he will have your backs. But workers across the country will also have a principled and determined socialist fighting for our cause.

Tosh McDonald, retired President of ASLEF the train drivers union and former councillor for Doncaster Town ward: By voting for Dave Nellist, the voters of Erdington have the chance to make a real change to Britain’s political landscape. With no real difference between Westminster’s main parties and their careerist politicians, Dave is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Taking a worker’s wage instead of lining his own pocket, standing up for people instead of big business, Dave is a real peoples’ politician. A vote for Dave is a vote to change politics in Birmingham and beyond.

Vote Nellist - ballot paper image

Join the Socialist Party

The Socialist Party is part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, working with trade unions and others to stand no-cuts, fighting candidates, and take those first necessary steps towards building the new mass workers’ party we so urgently need.

Within the campaign for working-class political representation, the Socialist Party fights for a bold socialist programme that shows how we can really transform things. The first step is nationalisation of the biggest 150 banks and corporations that dominate the economy, under democratic working-class control and management. This would put the levers for the first steps towards a socialist planned economy, democratically run to meet the needs of all, into workers’ hands – not those of the bosses.

The pandemic revealed the potential power of workers many times, forcing bosses to take safety measures they didn’t want to take. What could the six-and-a-half million members of the trade unions do if we acted together? Combine that with those not yet in a union, linked up with young people, and communities!

Key to bringing that potential power to bear is the mass organisation of workers, including building a workers’ political voice. It also means strengthening the trade unions, the main workers’ organisations in the workplaces, where workers confront the bosses in the struggles over safety, pay, and conditions.

But it also means joining the Socialist Party. We stand firm for socialism come what may – standing up against the bosses, the Tories, and the Labour Blairites, charting a way forward to build the maximum unity of the working class in the struggle for socialist change.

Fighting for a socialist alternative to war, poverty and inequality is an international struggle against an international capitalist system. The Socialist Party is affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) to build a worldwide struggle for socialism.