Trade Union and Socialist Coalition
“The £11 million spent on Labour by the Unite union does nothing else than allow them to kick us in the teeth” said Hannah Sell, deputy leader of the Socialist Party as she opened last night’s launch rally for the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition.
The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, ‘TUSC’ is standing in many constituencies across the country to give voters an alternative to Labour in the general election. Chris Baugh, assistant general secretary of the PCS union said “we are all being told to pay the cost of the bosses’ crisis.” This coalition can “restate the idea that another world is possible.”
Last month’s launch rally was attended by more than 300 delegates and a large media presence. Speakers included Karen Reissman, a mental health nurse who was sacked from her job for ‘whistle blowing’ over patient care. She is standing for the Manchester Gorton constituency.
Brian Caton, leader of the Prison Officers Association spoke from the platform as did Dave Nellist, a Socialist Party Councilor standing in Coventry North East. Some of TUSC’s London candidates delivered strong speeches about their campaigns. Steve Hedley, of the RMT London region announced the breaking news of strike action on the railways.
We won’t pay for their crisis
A key argument from speakers was that billions have been given to the rich bankers, whilst workers and public services are being made to pay the cost. Chris Bough spoke about the propaganda campaign by the media to enforce this injustice.
To laughter in the audience, and in a snub to the media he joked about the number of hedge-fund managers who have recently appeared on the BBC’s Newsnight programme. He said the media had launched a “torrent of abuse” against trade unions, with the British Airways strike being a good example. But he said, “The public are with the unions. They are way to the left of the politicians. 50 per cent of the public don’t think that cuts are necessary”.
Karen Reissman agreed and continued along this theme. “People say to me: we’re glad you’re standing, representing what we think.” She said, “There are millions of people who don’t think they should be made to pay.” Tottenham candidate Jenny Sutton, a college teacher, said that education was a good example of what is happening to public services everywhere. “We are being absolutely hammered.”
We need a new party
Brian Caton said that working class people need a new political party “by the people, for the people. It’s time for socialism to become real. I supported Labour all my life and got nothing in return.”
Dave Nellist also called for a new workers’ party. He said the difference between Labour and the other parties could be reduced to whether the full extent of public sector cuts are brought through in “six years or seven.” “Indeed, last night, Alasdair Darling told the BBC that Labour would cut deeper than Thatcher.”
Nellist went on to say that success for TUSC won’t just be measured by the number of votes, but will “plant it’s flag in the ground – saying that an alternative is possible.” He said that TUSC could be the start to building an “independent trade union and socialist voice.” Hannah Sell said, “This is the modest beginning of something historic. We hope this will start the development of a mass party.”
Some TUSC candidates should do quite well – at least save their deposit. Karen Reissmann and Jenny Sutton (London regional secretary of UCU), for example. Dave Hill of Socialist Resistance is expected to do well in Brighton– And of course Paul Couchman in the Spelthorne constituency in Surrey. If 5-6 candidates save their deposits or do even better, then the pressure for a new party would be very high.
Paul Couchman is a paragon of what a candidate for a new workers’, anti-capitalist party should be. A Socialist Party branch organiser, he is a Unison branch secretary. He has consistently been involved in the community over many years and takes an active part in many local groups. He is the founder of “Save Surrey Services”, and is the founder and organiser of the campaign to save Surrey’s care homes. Paul is well known and respected throughout West Surrey and is known for his campaigning to keep schools and hospitals from closure.
For an anti-capitalist party!
When the capitalist parties like Labour, Tories and the Lib Dems are about to launch such a huge assault on working class people, it is important that many TUSC candidates and supporters recognise that we need a new party to defend ourselves.
But speakers also made clear that there are many obstacles we will have to overcome to form such a new party. Onay Kasab, a Unison branch organiser standing for Greenwich & Woolwich spoke about how he had been witch-hunted by the Unison leadership. The union is currently victimizing left-wing activists. He told us that a memo had gone round to branch secretaries telling them that to lobby for non-Labour candidates in the general election would result in expulsion from the union. He told a disgusted audience that the Unison orders were “gobs shut for Labour.” This is a declaration of war by the Unison leadership – vote Labour or else!
Steve Hedley said that the RMT union would only be supporting left-wing Labour candidates, although he admitted that these candidates were standing for the wrong party. He said that we urge left MPs like Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to break from Labour.
In doing this, RMT leaders are stepping back from the kind of fight that is necessary for a new party. Some candidates, including the Workers Power candidate in Vauxhall, Jeremy Drinkall, were barred from standing for TUSC because they were standing against ‘left’ Labour MPs (in Vaxhall this is Kate Hoey). PCS leaders have been similar in their procrastinating, whilst the Labour government have been laying the way for civil service job cuts by attacking redundancy pay.
Despite the potential of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, its weakness is that left-wing trade union leaders ultimately have a veto over all the decisions that are made. The launch meeting was very weak on the question of socialism with almost no mention of a goal for the coalition how to achieve it.
The PCS, RMT and other unions outside Labour – along with groups like the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party should have organised a mass conference to decide on the politics and policies of this coalition. They could have used it to galvanise support from workers and youth all over the country who are in struggle against the economic crisis with the explicit aim of forming a new political party to destroy capitalism for good.
This new formation should be federated and it’s members free to belong to other political organisations which support the new party. The branches of such a formation should act as pluralistic campaigning groups, and encompass anarchists, radical environmentalists and syndicalists as well as trades unionists and socialists. In-fact, all those who appreciate that capitalism is not working and that we need to fight for a better future, free from the rule of profit, the threat of war, fascism and global warming.
This has not been done. TUSC drafted its manifesto in secret meetings behind closed doors, asking workers to ‘like it or lump it’. As a result there are major weaknesses with the TUSC programme reducing it to an ‘old Labour’ manifesto seeking to reform capitalism, rather than abolish the rotten system for good.
Such a conference should still be called, to start preparing the ground for a new party. The next few weeks are due to see a huge number of strikes – highly unusual in the run-up to the general election. Why not call for such a conference now and bring in the BA, RMT and British Gas workers, civil servants and teachers who are all taking industrial action to save their jobs? Then socialists could start having the arguments around the kind of action and international solidarity needed to protect the class as a whole. -And begin to build an alternative society with an alternative economy – where workers and communities are the ones who control it.