Friday, 24 May 2013
Where is TUSC heading?
I often wonder this myself. The socialist party who I’m a member of are committed to TUSC for the foreseeable future and seem to be the one in the driving seat of the project with the RMT union. Yet I’m no more clearer which direction the project is heading. I know we are not a party and are simply an electoral vehicle for the socialist party and anti cuts campaigners who wish to standing election. So far only a minority of anti cuts campaigners have stood for TUSC with other groups staying away for now. I am disillusioned with our strategy with TUSC and what we see it transforming into. In June’s edition of the Socialist party’s monthly journal Socialism Today Clive HEEMSKERK takes a look at TUSC’s development and gives us his thoughts on TUSC’s results and prospects. I thought I’d give a few comments in reply to his points. “May’s local council elections showed, five years into the worst crisis of capitalism since the 1930s, how deep the alienation from Britain’s ‘traditional’ parties has become. The BBC made a projection of the national share of the vote from the 2013 results – the elections covered 24 million people, but did not include Scotland, Wales, or most big English cities. Despite this element of psychological guesswork, their figures were sobering for the establishment parties. Labour was ahead on 29%, the Tories on 25%, and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) third on 23%, with the Liberal Democrats on 14%. For the first time ever no party had reached over 30% of the vote. These trends were confirmed in the first Guardian/ICM series opinion poll taken after the council elections. It found the three main establishment parties all down four points on the previous month, the first time in the 29-year history of these surveys that all three had fallen at the same time (The Guardian, 14 May). Labour’s 34% is its lowest rating since the immediate aftermath of the 2010 general election defeat. The Tories’ 28% is a low point they had not reached since the 1997-98 Blair ‘honeymoon’. The Lib Dems were on 11%, their lowest score since September 1997. While the poll also showed limits to UKIP’s support – at just 2% in Scotland and 6% in Wales – overall it was up by nine points to 18%. The Guardian editorial correctly described these results as “a rejection of British mainstream politics without modern precedent”.” TUSC’s last few national election results have ranged from 10% to less than 1% more towards the 1% than anything else. In last months county council elections TUSC stood 119 candidates across the country gaining about 8000 votes with 17 of those candidates receiving less than 1% so we cannot pretend we’re having a break through in any shape or form. The lack of direction and analysis of such poor low results is skimmed over by many comrades and a sort of shrug and put it down to working class consciousness just hasn’t caught up. If only we had the trade unions more on side and well we’re only small anyway so we shouldn’t expect too much this side of 2015. Clives analysis of the UKIP vote is interesting and I think underestimates their ability to pull in votes in working class areas. This focus on UKIP just going for council and parliament seats is to miss the point. UKIP as I’ve mentioned before is having an influence in the media and having an affect on the other political parties just to do with its presence. Clive writes “A Guardian reporter interviewed one South Shields UKIP voter who explained: “I was very disappointed that Labour made no effort whatsoever to stand up for ordinary working people’s rights… They ought to change their name. But I’ve found a party now that represents some of the views that I would like”. (4 May) Meanwhile, in Yeovil, a 30-year-old pub worker “said he had not voted before but decided to back UKIP this time. ‘I think the party is the only one that speaks up for the ordinary working man. The rest seem to be more interested in keeping rich people happy’.” The real position of UKIP, for even more brutal austerity in the interests of the capitalist elite, is either not known or shrugged off in the urge to grab the most easily available stick to fight back with. Why not to a working-class alternative? So why is the developing anger not finding a mass electoral outlet in a working-class political alternative to the establishment parties? Clive asks” Well UKIP are not just a protest votes I’ve consistently pointed out they are of course picking up a protest vote element but there is more to this rise. UKIP is tapping into a racist vote element which the Tories used to occupy and have moved away from the working class Tory daily mail reader and are seen as out of touch by many of these former voters. UKIP speaks for the common man many feel now without understanding that they are more in favour of austerity than even the Tories yet they see a savvy politician in Nigel Ferrage who goes in the pubs and talks to ordinary people this is something the etonian Tory can no longer do or connect with the petti-bourgeois nationalist vote. This is summed up with genuine support in those voting UKIP as 25% of voters in the last county council elections could not all have been ignorant to what UKIP stand for surely ? Not surprisingly, one South Shields voter, a North Sea oil worker and former Labour voter, was quoted in the Guardian as backing UKIP because “I want a change. I know quite a bit about Nigel Farage. I’ve seen how he handles himself on Question Time” (4 May). This suggests people are quite aware in some regard what UKIP do stand for which we must respond to. As for TUSC Clive lays a bit of blame for not building a working class political alternative by trade union leaders yes those pesky leaders again who refuse to break with new labour he cries. Yes the same trade union leaders we are appealing to to go for a 24 hour general strike. Clive continues in his piece In its three years’ existence, 582 candidates have stood under the TUSC umbrella, in a range of contests from parliamentary elections, to city mayoral polls, to local council elections. In the recent county council elections, TUSC stood more candidates than the BNP – “the first time in recent history”, according to the New Statesman, that a left-wing party “will be better represented than Griffin’s mob”. This did not stop the BBC from carrying items on the BNP while refusing to acknowledge on its website that TUSC was standing any candidates at all, until the day before polling day. More than 100,000 votes have been cast for TUSC candidates in that three-year period – still a modest electoral record but not insignificant. Overall, TUSC is still only a ‘pre-formation’, a precursor of a future mass workers’ party that could impact decisively on the political struggle against austerity. What kind of precursor of a future mass workers party it is still not clear. How will we get from here to there? It’s these sorts of vague phrases which frustrate me how do we see TUSC. Sometimes we say it’s a first step towards a new workers party with no plan given how we get there other time we play it down saying it’s simply an electoral banner and something bigger may or may not come out of it. Clive claims but it is the most promising development, at this stage, and certainly not one to be lightly pushed aside for ‘the next new thing’. I beg to differ I can see TUSC being swept aside if say Len Mckluskey of unite pulls funding on the labour party however unlikely that is I can see TUSC being dropped like a stone in pursuit of another trade union leader on an adventure if unite went of a new workers party I could imagine we would head for that. An interesting part of Clives article states TUSC, as the name says, is a coalition, and has written to Respect, the National Health Action Party (launched in May 2012), the SLP, the Communist Party (CP) – and, most recently, Ken Loach – inviting them to discuss participation in TUSC, or at least electoral collaboration. The National Health Action Party and the SLP have not responded. Respect replied but declined the offer even of exploratory talks. The SLP and Respect, unfortunately, share the ‘dissolve into us’ ultimately stance of the Greens. Two meetings have taken place with CP officers and they provided a guest speaker to a 2012 TUSC conference, but they have not taken up the offer to join TUSC, with the full rights of a participating organisation and a place on the national steering committee. What is the problem here? It is not a question of TUSC being ‘narrow’ and ‘non-inclusive’, or that the Socialist Party allegedly ‘dominates TUSC’. The coalition is based on agreement on a quite limited core programme, although with a clear socialist clause for democratic public ownership of the banks and major monopolies, supplemented by policy statements for particular elections. Every TUSC candidate is asked to endorse these before they are issued with the legally necessary ‘certificate of authorisation’ ( Clive miss’s the point her what if these groups don’t want to just join a steering committee which I’m still not sure is the best way to organise things. Clive claims TUSC isn’t narrow and isn’t controlled by the socialist party but I can confirm to him I’ve heard from other independents that that is indeed the feeling from outside the main TUSC component groups at this stage and this must be addressed in my view. Later on Clive as you would expect launch’s into attack on the recent left unity project which sadly has not been taken seriously enough by the socialist party and TUSC in my view. A sense of arrogance that we’ve been here before and you’re doomed to fail is the sense you get from the SP when it comes to left unity. It’s barely been mentioned in our paper and there was no report on its national conference held on 11th of May sadly. “Unfortunately, this attractive feature of TUSC – unity with equal rights, not the domination of one group over others – has been used by some of the founders of Left Unity to dismiss TUSC as ‘undemocratic’. Counter-posing ‘one member, one vote’ (OMOV) to the democracy of organisations electing accountable representatives, they have often echoed the propaganda of the Blairite right-wing in the 1990s as they sought to transform the Labour Party into New Labour. John Prescott, who pushed through the OMOV constitutional changes – which, for example, abolished the role of local union delegates in selecting parliamentary candidates in favour of an individual membership ballot –, saw this as more significant in changing Labour than the abolition of its socialist ‘Clause Four’. The plebiscitary ‘online democracy’ of Grillo’s Five-Star movement in Italy, or the German Pirates’ Party – a cyber equivalent of US-style party primaries – is not a model for the workers’ movement.” I’m not sure how Clive has come to this decision the RMT themselves operate using this structure is it right we should be telling the RMT not to use this form of organisation either? Clive goes on and incorrectly states In fact, Left Unity itself is not operating on an OMOV basis. Eight thousand people clicked an online declaration supporting ‘Ken Loach’s appeal to discuss the formation of a new party’ following the release of his film, Spirit of 45, a Guardian article and other media publicity, and over 500 have been reported as attending local meetings. Its first national meeting was composed of local group representatives from ‘minuted meetings of no less than five people’ (and ‘volunteers’ from yet to be constituted local groups), which elected a committee. Well maybe Clive they haven’t yet had their founding conference or formally launched a party. Criticising them before this has happened which I’ve seen many SP comrades do is foolish. We can’t and should not write off Left unity just yet whatever we may feel about the people involved. Clive goes on to state that the RMT do indeed use the same structure so if it’s good enough for the RMT but not for left unity? Clive says “But how is that fundamentally structurally different to the RMT, with its national officers, executive committee and annual conference delegates all elected by union members, choosing its representatives on the TUSC national steering committee? Except that the RMT has 80,000 dues-paying members and has proved its ability through collective action – its social weight – to defend working-class interests. If a viable organisation emerges from the Left Unity initiative, why wouldn’t it want to come into the TUSC umbrella?” Well why haven’t we asked them? Maybe they don’t agree that TUSC’s structures are the right way of doing things and the direction is vague of how we get to a new party. TUSC has never stated it wants to become a party whereas Left unity has done that from the outset. “‘But TUSC stops individuals from participating’. No, that’s not true. The TUSC national steering committee agreed in June 2011 that individual members would have an elected place on the committee through a ‘TUSC Independent Socialist Network’, duly filled at its inaugural meeting in October that year. Nobody has been excluded from a local group, or prevented from setting one up.” The key in this bit is participating acting as foot soldiers not gaming voting rights or membership rights to join an organisation. I’ve said before there are many socialists who have no organisation who want to feel part of something so far you cannot join TUSC as it is not a party and doesn’t appear to want to be one. Yes you can maybe join the ISN or set up a branch but this still does not mean you’re a member of TUSC and have a voice in terms of influencing policy. Lastly Clive puts a lot of the frustration with TUSC down to the lack of a break through with elections. Whilst this is one frustration of course I don’t think this is the only one. I am glad Clive is engaging with independents who wish for a new workers party but engaging and being sectarian when it comes to left unity is an old habit of which the socialist party is finding hard to break with sadly. TUSC is still far too small with only a handful of RMT members involved in building TUSC. Clearly we need to be doing more. I’m glad a national branch officer has been appointed in Pete Mclaren I hope he can get something going on a national scale for those wishing to join TUSC. But now with left unity springing up TUSC will be forced in to discussions and vice versa both groups must find a way of discussing co orperation and genuine unity on a socialist basis. Not to water down our programmes or remain a limited organisation but to state our intentions are clear to remove this failing rotten capitalist system and replace it with a genuine democratic socialist order of society. If we keep watering our programme down to not scare off the working class they will never know what we truly stand for. That’s why I support the idea of a mass revolutionary Marxist party which is needed for now and the coming struggles. Marxism is the science of socialism and a party is necessary. I thank Clive for this article which you can read in June’s edition of socialism today I encourage Marxists to read it and respond in the debate for new workers party.