Unite trade union Coventry City Council bin workers HGV drivers pay strike protest demonstration rally in Coventry city centre

Fight for a new mass workers’ party

Editorial of the Socialist issue 1176

Government hypocrisy, scandal, deceit – what’s new?  The unprecedented fining of the top two government ministers in the partygate saga generated a new wave of outrage, but came on top of so much sleaze before, and more is no doubt to come.

Cash for questions and ‘access’, pandemic spending that lined the pockets of the Tories’ friends, the tax avoidance of Rishi Sunak’s family… it has come to the point where nothing better is expected of the Tory government. Confidence in Labour, parliament’s main opposition party, is little higher; a Savanta ComRes poll earlier this month put Keir Starmer only one percentage point ahead of Boris Johnson on who would be best as prime minister. While Labour is ahead of the Tories overall, its support is below the 43% achieved by the Tories at the last general election.

What’s new, however, is the depths to which Johnson & Co’s standing has sunk.  The same poll showed only 6% thinking that the Tories ‘keep their promises’, and just 11% thought that Labour would.

Tory MPs look on in horror as one crisis leads to another, whether it’s the disgrace of the Home Office deciding to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, or their constituents crying out for help with energy bills. But they are virtually paralysed with inaction, not seeing any good options, apart from citing the Ukraine war as a weakening argument for leaving Johnson in place.

Paradoxically, like when right-wing Labour MPs wanted Labour to do badly in elections under Jeremy Corbyn, there are now Tories who in desperation are looking to their party to do badly in the May local elections and the Wakefield parliamentary by-election in order to make Johnson’s position less tenable.

But who can they replace him with? They’re struggling to see a suitable alternative leader, and recent events have worsened that scenario further, following the sullying of Sunak and his resultant fall as a leadership contender. Such is the animosity and infighting in the Tories’ upper echelons that there were clearly some who welcomed the exposure of Sunak’s self-serving manoeuvres. The majority won by their party in the 2019 general election, and its record since, have done nothing to alter the long-term crisis of the party and its great instability.

If a political party representing the working class and based on the working class was in existence today, it would be able to crystallise all the anger and needs of ordinary people into a force that could sweep aside this government and assert workers’ interests on the national stage.

In the meantime, there is much that the trade union leaders could and should be doing, both to prepare the path towards such a party – which will need to have a backbone based in the trade unions – and to mobilise now the potential strength of the trade unions in a mass movement to demand emergency measures against the cost-of-living crisis. This would need to include calling for above-inflation rises in pay, benefits and pensions; and the nationalisation of the energy industry under democratic workers’ control and management.

Mélenchon vote in France

In France, workers and youth are facing a similar onslaught to workers in Britain, including rising prices, worsening public services, environmental degradation, and low-paid, insecure jobs – while there is super-enrichment at the top of society.

In the first round of this month’s presidential election, they were able to vote for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who put forward a left-wing manifesto that could start to answer the burning needs of ordinary people. He stood in clear distinction to the pro-capitalist politicians of all stripes who, at root, whatever their election promises, defend and promote the exploitation of people and the environment by big business.

The result was a magnificent 7.7 million votes for that left challenge, 22% of those who turned out, and just six percentage points below the vote of current president and first round leader Emmanuel Macron. Mélenchon topped the poll in many major cities, including Toulouse, Montpellier, Lille, Le Havre and Nantes. Nationally he was the most popular candidate for 18 to 34-year-olds, winning over 32% of their votes.

During the election campaign, his organisation, LFI/Union Populaire held rallies across the country, overall larger than those of the other candidates, including tens of thousands in Paris three weeks before the first voting day. The policies inspiring those turnouts included stopping fuel and food price rises, raising the minimum wage, increasing taxes on the rich, massive investment in green energy, defending public services, and lessening the financial burdens on students.

Mélenchon’s high vote came at the same time as an unprecedented collapse in support for the two mainstream pro-capitalist parties that dominated the French presidency and parliament for decades up until 2017. The former social-democratic ‘Parti Socialiste’ only achieved 1.7%, and the conservative ‘Les Républicains’ got 4.8%.

It was also significant that concern for the environment was not mainly expressed through illusions in France’s Green Party, ‘Europe Écologie Les Verts’. Rather, Mélenchon’s left programme was rightly seen as the route forward for countering environmental degradation.

Mélenchon and LFI/Union Populaire narrowly missed getting through to the second round of the election, not least because of the detrimental impact of several left candidates standing. The second round became a run-off between right-wing Macron and far-right Marine Le Pen.

Le Pen put forward right-wing populist ‘carrots’, such as a nil income tax rate for under-30s and removing VAT on essential foods, but behind these lay her party’s fundamentally pro-big business stance and its avid anti-immigrant racism. Macron has been unable to hide his pro-capitalist agenda and policies of austerity for the majority. He has had to resort to resting on the desire for stability through continuity of a mainly older layer, helped by the disruption to life during the Covid pandemic, and now alarm at the war in Ukraine.

A large layer of the population were dismayed to once again be facing a choice of him or Le Pen. It has brought home the urgency and necessity for workers in France to further build on the left pole of attraction that LFI/Union Populaire has been in this election, and crucially to build on it in a democratic, well-structured way. Genuine debate and discussion in the left can lead to focussing support in the next presidential election on one single combative left candidate with a bold socialist programme. In turn this could draw support from a section of the 26% of voters who abstained this time. The question of how best to maximise the strength of the left in June’s election for the French parliament is also urgently posed.

Anger on both sides of the channel

In Britain too, disillusionment and distrust towards the main pro-capitalist parties is only increasing and the potential exists for mass opposition to be mobilised when a lead is given. The wave of support for Corbyn’s left programme during his period as Labour leader – especially among young people – has already indicated that.

The end of the Corbyn era means that there is no longer a widely seen, authoritative political vehicle through which the widespread anger and discontent can be expressed. However, the anger still exists. How can it not, with the failures and lack of solutions of the pro-capitalist politicians so clear every day?

So the task of building a new mass workers’ party in Britain is becoming an ever-more urgent necessity, as too in France. Meanwhile, there is a step-up in workplace disputes and struggles; and the rottenness at the top of society, along with the capitalists’ determination to make ordinary people pay for the crisis of their system, are impacting on the consciousness of workers and young people.

The authority of the pro-capitalist politicians, Tory, Labour, Lib Dem and others, becomes weaker and weaker. While superficially it can appear that the Tory government – and whatever pro-capitalist successors might follow it – can ride out storm after storm, that would not be taking into account the huge build-up of anger, insecurity and need from below. The grounds are further being laid for mass struggles to arise, and for workers to organise to put forward their own political voice – to push for real change, for socialist change, and in that process setting a firm dividing line with capitalist interests.

  • The Socialist Party is standing as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) in the local elections on 5 May. By providing a banner for trade unionists and socialist activists to stand on a no-cuts platform, and with socialist policies, TUSC is doing important pioneering work in pushing forward the process towards a new mass workers’ party.