Socialist Alternative

Frances O’Grady, we need a national trade union movement to fight for the working class

Dear Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary:

Trade unionists would have been shocked and appalled to read your article in the Murdoch paper the Times (20th April) headlined “We need a national council of reconstruction to rebuild the country”.

In the article you outline the supposed lessons of the Second World War, arguing that what we need now is for trade unions, bosses and the Tory government to ‘come together’ to weather the economic storm rapidly approaching. However, many workers, due to their experience since 2008 and during the coronavirus crisis, resoundingly reject the lie that “we’re all in this together”.

You praise Captain Tom Moore for raising £18 million for the NHS, heroically doing laps of his garden, but your article contains not one word of criticism of the decade of cuts, privatisation and underfunding of public services by the Tory government – undoubtedly the main reason that health workers are struggling to tackle the virus. This is when 100 health workers have died from Covid-19 because they don’t have sufficient PPE!

The TUC needs to fight

You praise Ernest Bevin, right-wing general secretary of the TGWU and Minister of Labour in the wartime coalition government, for being supported by Churchill in his concessions to working class people, but make no mention of the strikes by miners, dockers and more during the war. You as the general secretary of the TUC shouldn’t have to be reminded that gains for workers are won by workers’ action, not the benevolence of governments or bosses. It was this continuing struggle, plus the experience of workers during the war that made them determined to not allow a return to the 1930s and to fight for a genuine ‘land fit for heroes’.

Your predecessors played a similar role in the inter-war period. The Triple Alliance of the unions of miners, railway workers and transport workers betrayed the miners by calling off a strike in support of them on 15th April 1921 – dubbed ‘Black Friday’. This led to a drop in trade union membership from 8.3m to 5.6m the following year as workers left disgusted. Rank and file trade unionists were forced to organise independently through the National Minority Movement in the run up to the 1926 general strike – which was also betrayed by the TUC general council, who favoured negotiations with the government behind closed doors instead of supporting the workers on strike.

Internationally, the response by the working class to the 1930s Great Depression – where unemployment hit 40m in the industrialised countries – was revolution. The response by the establishment was to repress that and in some cases to support fascist movements. Churchill, who you uncritically refer to in your article, supported Hitler and Mussolini in the years before the war. His idea was that Hitler’s expansion would help to defeat the Soviet Union. He wrote about Mussolini in his memoirs “The alternative to his role could easily have been a communist Italy, which would have brought other kinds of dangers and misfortunes upon the Italian people and Europe.” He was booed off stage when he tried to address workers in 1945.

What happened to Churchill?

You speak favourably of the national coalition government during the war years but forget to say that the first opportunity that workers got after the war, they voted out Churchill. The Labour Party won its first majority in a landslide election. This wasn’t won on the basis of working with the employers or the Tory government, but on the basis of a radical manifesto promising a welfare state, nationalisation and council housing.

The revolutionary movements which spread across Europe at the end of the Second World War were reflected in Britain by this election. The capitalist class were forced to make concessions such as the NHS and welfare state in order to stave off revolution. Of course, since then, successive governments have clawed back some of those crumbs off the table in the form of erosive cuts and privatisation.

What we need today

You talk about how Britain was ‘unbowed’ after the war, that we had ‘come through it together’. Your whole article argues in favour of unity in the national interest. But do you really think that this exists? How can workers have the same interests as their employers? You say “you cannot separate the needs of workers from the needs of the economy”, but what does this mean? Because we have seen the ‘needs of the economy’ reflected in the 1m people who have been forced to claim Universal Credit because they have lost their jobs and those who are only receiving 80% of their wages, through no fault of their own, while big business is raking in government subsidies. And this inadequate ‘job retention scheme’ is the TUC’s biggest contribution to working class people during this crisis.

You say that to set our economy back on its feet we need a continuation of ‘common purpose, collectivism, consent’ – a completely meaningless phrase. What we will actually need is an almighty battle to prevent the working class being forced to pay for another economic crisis not of their making. As the economy faces its biggest recession since the 1930s we do not need ‘consent’ – we need organisation! We need collectivism – that which the TUC is meant to be providing – but with the demands of nationalisation of public services, immediate pay rises for all workers and workers’ democratic control over decision making. We don’t have a ‘common purpose’ with those who want to put wealth before health and prematurely lift the lockdown in order to defend profits, nor with the architects of the failed “herd immunity” strategy.

So Frances O’Grady, we reject your call on the government to establish a National Council for Reconstruction and Recovery. We won’t be making a ‘generous offer’ to the government (who have been far from generous to working class people). And it is offensive to call on workers to “get stuck in” when it is workers who have kept society running during this crisis while the likes of Richard Branson ‘isolate’ on their private islands. Members of Socialist Alternative, along with hundreds of thousands of trade unionists up and down the country, will continue to struggle for our livelihoods, for PPE, against evictions and for affordable housing, to defend the NHS, for equality and more. If you are not prepared to give a lead in this fight, then step aside so that the working class can find leaders who are.

Yours

Socialist Alternative

Covid-19: what we fight for

Under huge pressure, Boris Johnson’s Tory government has been forced to spend billions on schemes to try to mitigate the social and economic catastrophe flowing from the Coronavirus crisis. But they and the capitalist system they represent have no real solutions – we need a socialist alternative. Socialist Alternative calls for mass trade union-led struggle for the following:

1. Equip key workers for this fight!

  • Widespread testing now! Emergency mass testing of all key workers and their families. Urgently roll out community testing
  • Sufficient stocks of appropriate PPE for all who need it
  • Democratic committees of health workers and scientists to determine how many ventilators will be needed in each setting, these to be available without delay
  • A state-funded, national plan – decided democratically by workers and trade unions – to rapidly repurpose all possible research, production and distribution to enable quick provision of testing, PPE, ventilators and other medical equipment to meet need
  • Proper protection of all workers’ health – including mental health, – safety and working conditions
  • No professional liability for healthcare workers stretched to breaking point in the Covid effort
  • Escalated rates of pay for overtime for all key workers
  • A coordinated, international strategy, to fight the virus and develop a vaccine to be free and accessible to everyone – don’t leave it to the corporations and big pharma!

2. No faith in the Tory government to decide what measures are necessary or for how long

  • No attacks on democratic and trade union rights in the name of fighting the virus
  • For democratic trade union and community committees to decide on recommendations for social distancing etc
  • Elected workplace committees to decide whether the work being carried out is essential – trade union action to close those where this is not the case

3. Work or full pay for all

  • Furlough pay to be increased to 100%, including for precarious and zero-hour contract workers
  • Free childcare for all children of key workers
  • No compulsion for workers to endanger their health – key workers should be asked to continue going to work on a voluntary basis only
  • No sickness absence monitoring to be undertaken during this crisis
  • Stop the redundancies! Open the books on firms pleading poverty. Nationalisation of big companies threatening layoffs and government grants for small businesses under threat to compensate for lost income

4. Save the NHS – now and for the future

  • Not a penny to the private health bosses turning over beds and staff to the effort against the virus
  • All privatised cleaning and ancillary services to be brought back into the public sector
  • Local councils to conduct emergency audits of social care capacity. Rapid expansion of residential and home help services to relieve pressure on acute hospitals. Central government to foot the bill
  • An end to all cuts, closures and privatisations in the NHS. Cancel all PFI debt! Huge investment to fund all necessary services, and to build in preparation for future shocks such as epidemics
  • Nationalise the pharmaceutical companies under democratic workers’ control and management

5. Don’t let workers pay the price for a crisis of capitalism’s making

  • End bulk buying – retail unions to set a cap on sales per customer of items under shortage. Improve and extend the special arrangements for elderly and vulnerable people, and key workers, to be able to get their shopping without endangering their health
  • Democratic workers’ control of supplies and prices of food and pharmaceuticals to prevent shortages
  • Write off rent and mortgage arrears caused by inability to work, no intimidation or evictions for arrears. Suspend utility bills for any affected worker.
  • An urgent expansion of shelters and safe homes for those experiencing domestic violence
  • Trade union oversight of expectations of workers able to work from home, including taking into account childcare obligations
  • Refund all fees for cancelled university lectures. Abolish student debt and invest in free education
  • A mass trade-union led movement against any future austerity drive to pay for the government debt accrued to fund current emergency measures
  • A democratic, socialist world where the means of production are collectively owned and planned to meet the needs of all, rather than the profits of the tiny few

Labour leadership race: mobilise to defend socialist policies

Labour’s 2019 election result is a setback but not the apocalyptical catastrophe the media paint it as. The Labour vote exceeded that obtained by Blair in 2005 and Brown in 2010. Many of the newly elected Tory MPs have very slender majorities which could easily be overturned, if a combative, mobilising, socialist strategy is adopted.

Labour’s campaign in 2017 achieved a 40% vote share by offering a radical programme to end austerity. Huge rallies and a popular manifesto inspired a new generation of voters and gave hope to older ones. Unfortunately, the momentum reached in 2017 was squandered in the subsequent two years. Corbyn came under pressure from the right in the party to allow a further referendum on EU membership, and the Labour leadership, distracted by parliamentary manoeuvres, appeared hesitant about a general election for which the party was consequently ill-prepared.

In the wake of the defeat Corbyn shouldn’t have announced he was standing down. He should have stayed to defend the left programme he had fought for, learning the lessons necessary to complete the socialist transformation of the Labour Party and to drive the further democratisation of the party.

However, a leadership contest is under way and the most important task, for party members, trade unionists and socialists, is to ensure that there is no backtracking on the pro-working-class pledges contained in the manifestos of 2017 and 2019, or on the left policies agreed by Labour’s conferences since Corbyn became leader. On the contrary, what is needed is a strategy to go further, deepening the process of converting the party into a mass socialist force.

It is undoubtedly the case that Labour needs to reconnect with the working class and it can only do this by becoming a party of struggle, based on the working class and open to socialists. To do this the party must not only take sides with striking workers, service users opposing cuts and school students campaigning against climate change, but be prepared to mobilise and unite them as well as to inspire the broader movement to act in solidarity with such struggles. Labour must offer clear policies which show that they are just as determined to defend the interests of the working class as the Tories are to defend the interests of the capitalists. This means fighting the Tories’ austerity policies and insisting that Labour councils who over the last ten years have implemented Tory cuts now adopt policies to defend and extend services, using reserves and borrowing powers to resist making cuts and launch a mass campaign of opposition aimed at winning back the resources which councils have been deprived of.

We think there needs to be a discussion about why Labour’s support has decreased so much in Scotland. Socialist Alternative believes that the failure to support the right of self-determination was a major barrier to winning support, and allowed the SNP to appear to be the only ones championing national and democratic rights. An anti-austerity programme, linked to fighting for self determination, including supporting the fight for an independent socialist Scotland as part of a socialist federation, could start to win back support.

There must be maximum opportunities for the rank and file of the Labour and trade union movement across the country to hear candidates and question them, and to evaluate their political positions and programmes. In this context, it is utterly wrong that the leadership of public sector union Unison has stated its position before the first stage of the ballot had closed and based on the view of a handful of senior union officials, consistent with their Blairite approach.

There should be special, accessible meetings held to hear debates before nominations are made, if necessary with agreed representatives of the candidates.

As the parliamentary stage of the contest closes it is clear that the following candidates are validly nominated by the required 22 MPs or MEPs for the position of leader: Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips, Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry.

And for Deputy Leader: Rosena Allin-Khan, Richard Burgon, Dawn Butler, Ian Murray, Angela Rayner.

Now all candidates must secure backing from either 5% of local parties – a total of 33 – or three affiliated organisations including two trade unions adding up to 5% of the affiliated membership. This means in many local areas battles may now commence over candidate nominations through CLPs, as well as potentially within the unions. It is vital that Corbyn supporters are organised and mobilised, fighting to ensure the candidates clearly pledging to defend socialist policies are nominated.

Long Bailey and Burgon

Socialist Alternative is critically supporting Rebecca Long-Bailey for Leader and Richard Burgon for Deputy Leader. Why?

Rebecca Long-Bailey is clearly the closest to a Corbyn ‘continuity candidate’, and the victory of any other candidate would be a significant defeat for our movement and an important strategic victory for the rich and powerful who desire a clear step away from positions held while Corbyn was leader of the party. From their point of view, this would allow a return to “normality”, in which British capitalism has two major parties it can rely on to faithfully represent its interests and which can alternate in government.

Long-Bailey has been firmly associated with Jeremy Corbyn, has publicly described herself as a socialist, calling for “democratic socialism in our lifetime”, and is the candidate most likely to pursue a left programme. She has identified herself with workers’ struggles and with community campaigns in her Salford constituency, even at the cost of some embarrassment to the local Labour council.

She has also spoken about the need to deepen democracy in the party. Labour Party policies must be democratically determined, but democratisation must also mean the mandatory reselection of MPs and full democratisation of policy-making. This should include restoring a full democratic role for trade unions within the party, and immediately reversing all aspects of the ‘reforms’ undermining workers’ participation in the party’s decision making carried out in the Blair years. Long-Bailey should explicitly back the increasingly popular demand for mandatory reselection.

In relation to anti-Semitism, which has no place in the labour movement, Long-Bailey needs to recognise that the charge of anti-Semitism against many (not all) has often been based on legitimately expressed concerns about the Israeli state’s treatment of the Palestinian people, and directed against those who also supported Corbyn’s attempts to shift the Labour Party in a socialist direction.

However, in our view it was a major mistake by Rebecca Long Bailey to endorse the Board of Deputies of British Jews’ “ten Labour leadership pledges”, along with all the other candidates for leader. This isn’t because we don’t take concerns about anti-Semitism seriously. Any allegations of discrimination should be acted upon, and all forms of racism represent poison for the workers’ movement and must be fought. However, the approach outlined in these pledges, and that has been advocated more generally by the Board of Deputies since Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, has in our view been aimed at redefining anti-Semitism in a way that risks equating criticism of the role of the Israeli state in the oppression of the Palestinians with racism against Jewish people.

Anti-Semitism

This approach is confirmed in these pledges, one of which demands full adoption of the IHRA ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism, without the caveat previously agreed under Corbyn which seeks to protect the right to free speech on the conflict in Israel-Palestine.

Perhaps even more worryingly, the Board of Deputies also demands the setting up of an ‘independent’ body to oversee disciplinary cases within the party relating to this issue. While this demand may sound innocuous, the reality is that there is no such thing as political ‘independence’ in a society such as ours – one in which the working-class majority face hardship and exploitation while a tiny minority of ultra-rich individuals (of all religions and nationalities) own and control vast swathes of our economy, and consequently the lives of millions. The right of working-class organisations to set and enforce their own rules, as well as to carry out their own disciplinary procedures, is actually of fundamental importance to building organisations which can independently represent workers’ interests against those of the capitalists.

The pledges also seek special rights for groups they deem to be the ‘mainstream’ representatives of British Jews, such as the Board of Deputies itself. But this is just one organisation of the Jewish community among many that may have a different approach.

Jewish people are not one homogeneous group. Among Jews there are people of all classes, there are differences in religious practice or lack thereof, and there is a diverse range of political views on all issues, including those related to the question of Israel-Palestine. No organisation can therefore claim to automatically represent the views of all Jews in Britain.

The main motivation behind the Board of Deputies’ pledges, as with the intervention by the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis during the election campaign, is a political opposition to the policies of Corbyn and the left. Left-wing Jewish groups, such as the Jewish Socialists Group and Jewish Voice for Labour supported Corbyn in the general election.

Agreeing to these demands is a mistake by Rebecca Long-Bailey which reflects pressure of both the capitalist press and the Blairite wing of the Labour Party, who have used whatever means they can, no matter how hypocritical, to attack Corbyn since he was elected leader. Fundamentally, this is because they are opposed to taking the Labour Party in an anti-austerity or socialist direction.

Rebecca Long-Bailey should learn that no matter how many concessions Corbyn made to the right, they were never satisfied and it only served to increase their confidence to make further attacks. Long-Bailey’s comments that she would “press the button” when it comes to using a nuclear deterrent is another mistake in this thread.

The pressure from the capitalists to move to the right will only grow. This will be all the more so if the party follows her unwise recommendation and elects Angela Rayner as Deputy.

Notwithstanding her engaging ‘back story’ and high public profile, Rayner was an integral part of the right-wing machine in Unison when she was a branch secretary, failed to endorse Corbyn for leader in 2015 and shamefully abstained on the Tories’ draconian welfare bill during the Cameron years. We recommend support for Richard Burgon who has been a steadfast supporter of Corbyn, and a more effective advocate for left policies in the media.

This is the team we believe is most likely to defend and further the position of the left in the party. We understand activists’ concerns at the lack of diversity in a team of two white solicitors. But no other candidates, of whatever ethnic background, have been so closely identified with the Corbyn ‘project’ and no-one else is likely to attempt to take it forward.

If Long-Bailey and Burgon are to be successful in being elected, as well as being able to carry out the transformation of the Labour Party, it is not just a question of what policies they stand by or for. They also need to launch a mass campaign to mobilise the membership and supporters outside of the party in defence of such a programme. They should organise mass rallies and protests, linking with the climate strikes and the UCU university strikes in February, and beginning the process now of transforming the party into one of struggle. It was this type of approach which Corbyn had in 2016 after the ‘chicken-coup’ which embarrassed his opponent Owen Smith and generated mass support. Unfortunately, Corbyn did not continue with this approach outside of election time, which will need to be a mistake that is not repeated if Long-Bailey wins.

Socialist Alternative did not simply cheerlead for Corbyn’s programme during the election period. We believe he should have gone further, for example on nationalisation, and in recognising, and preparing to counter, the resistance from the boss class to a radical Labour government. But that programme marked a huge step forward for the movement and drew literally hundreds of thousands into the Labour Party. It is a tribute to those ideas, and to that mass membership, that none of the candidates has been willing to mount a frontal assault on Corbyn’s legacy. We believe that the left can win this election, if it unites behind a single candidate for each post on clear policies with a massive campaign to mobilise the membership in the ballot, and take further the battle for socialism inside and outside the Labour Party.

Covid-19: What way forward for young people and students?

The outbreak of COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across the world. The pandemic has hit over a hundred countries, and the world now sits at the cusp of a new recession, likely to be worse than the last. While recorded cases double every four days, Johnson’s ignorance and inaction has added to the outrage of millions of ordinary people.

t will be the over-65s that will feel the biggest impact from this crisis in lots of ways. But young people also have a right to be concerned. Aside from the obvious health risks, for those of paying skyrocketing tuition fees for our education, our education will be impacted due to months of cancelled face-to-face lectures.

At the same time, young workers in the gig economy are still in many cases being bullied into increasingly risk-laden work and non-essential workplaces like bars, restaurants and clubs are kept open for so long To see why, we need to look no further than the profits making their way to the top. Every last bit of profit is being squeezed out of us before a real lockdown is announced. Young workers must join their unions and fight to defend their conditions and pay at work. We’re only strong enough to protect ourselves and fight for our rights when organised!

The outbreak is also bound to hit the conditions of young people in housing. The ongoing housing crisis has, over the last few decades, pushed more and more of us in the private rental sector, often at the mercy of exploiting landlords. Students living in shared accomodation will, in many cases, have to move home to avoid the rapid spread of infection. While Johnson has so far announced nothing so far in terms of protecting this section of society, Corbyn has raised the correct demand for cancellation of rent payments and a temporary ban on evictions through the duration of the outbreak. While this is something we would completely support, we would also need to make this permanent as part of a genuine socialist housing policy.

UCU strikes – the fight doesn’t end here!

Over the past weeks, members of Socialist Alternative have been out in support of striking university staff on over 60 campuses, in their action on the ‘four fights’ – pay, pensions, casualisation and the gender pay gap.

Many universities will be closing their doors for the duration of the crisis, while lecturers will be expected to teach online courses. It is important that students and staff are kept safe in Higher Education. But it is just as important that this will not mean a new wave of attacks. Any online lectures should only be carried out after being democratically approved by University and College Union branches.

We must uphold the right of all university workers to strike, and for full sick pay over the course of the pandemic. We have to be prepared for a new round of struggle on the campuses in the future, especially since management have been unwilling to make serious offers for our overworked and underpaid staff. Students must continue to show solidarity, organising online with classmates and keeping up pressure on university management.

Climate revolt will continue

Many of us will be disappointed to see that the three-day climate strike from 22-24 April will be either cancelled or severely impacted in most areas of the country. Of course, we have a responsibility to be cautious in not risking increased infection, whether that be for ourselves or family members and at-risk people. But this does NOT mean we should let the ruling elites off the hook for driving us towards climate catastrophe!

Covid-19 must not stop up from organising. Local strike organising groups must link up locally, regionally and nationally. An online mass climate assembly could be called, bringing together climate groups, trade union branches and all those wanting to discuss joint action between students of all ages and workers, to challenge big business’ pollution of our planet. Preparations should still be made for a mass strike at the November United Nations COP26 talks in Glasgow.

Our movement will have to be prepared to mount a battle on a higher scale than ever before post-Covid. Their profits will still be killing our planet. And we’ll need to hit them with a tidal wave of resistance!

Capitalism is the real disease

The Coronavirus has exposed the totally chaotic and unplanned nature of the system we live under – capitalism. Any system set up for the private gain of a tiny elite will never effectively act in the way that is needed to protect the health of workers and young people.

Any action taken by the capitalists will be too little, too late.The outbreak will force many to rethink whether or not this system will deliver for ordinary people. We can’t come out of this with business as usual! If you agree with our ideas for youth and students, join us now and fight for a socialist solution to the crisis!

We say:

  • Close all non-essential workplaces. Full sick pay for all, including workers on zero-hours contracts. The response must be led by workers and youth. No profits from disease!
  • Support rent strikes. Ban evictions and cancel rent arrears for students and workers renting privately.
  • Reimburse fees during lost face-to-face hours. Fight to kick the market out of education. Free education now.
  • Take the wealth off the capitalists! Nationalise the banks, big pharma and major companies under democratic control, to invest in an emergency response to the system under a democratic socialist plan of production.

Budget overshadowed by market crash and COVID-19 – we won’t pay for another capitalist crisis

Budget overshadowed by market crash and COVID-19 – we won’t pay for another capitalist crisis

Socialist Alternative issue 6 editorial

Just a few short months have separated the election of a majority Conservative government and the onset of what looks set to develop into a new historic crisis of the capitalist system. Now dubbed ‘Black Monday’, 9 March saw a huge collapse of the world’s stock markets. In Britain, £125 billion was wiped off the FTSE 100 – a fall of almost 8%. Meanwhile, in the US, the Dow Jones closed down 2000 points – the worst fall in its history.

A day that began with panic on the markets ended with the Italian government dramatically announcing a new nationwide lockdown – banning all public gatherings and imposing new travel restrictions. The Coronavirus crisis is spiralling out of control. Capitalist governments that have implemented devastating austerity for more than a decade – forcing working-class people to pay for the 2008 crisis – now find they are unable to cope with a growing public health emergency (see page 15).

But this developing pandemic is also unmasking the deep and unresolved economic contradictions that underlay the so-called recovery – built as it was on the unprecedented injections of liquidity into the economy that came through bail-outs, Quantitative Easing and sustained low interest rates. Meanwhile the US-China trade war and the growing division of the world into competing spheres means the kind of coordination that took place among capitalist regimes the world over to save their system following the 2008 crash now seems impossible – even when faced with COVID-19.

All this means the virus now looks likely to be the trigger which tips the global downturn which had already set in into a fully blown recession. Even among capitalist commentators there is skant optimism that 9 March’s stock market crash will mark a temporary blip, only to be followed by a hasty rebound and recovery.

This is the context in which Johnson’s government will deliver its first budget. An event that will now be overshadowed by growing economic gloom and a public health crisis. Since sacking former Chancellor Sajid Javid last month, Johnson has attempted to shift his image away from that of a traditional Tory austerity politician. Under the direction of Cummings, he has instead placed Rishi Sunak in the ‘number two’ position. Sunak, himself a former banker with Goldman Sachs and the son-in-law of India’s sixth-richest man, is an odd choice for a Prime Minister positioning himself as a ‘man of the people’. But really this move is all about Johnson exerting far more direct control over the treasury’s decisions – part and parcel of him remoulding the Tory party in his own image.

Regardless, the capitalist press have taken to pronouncing this budget as a signal for a new age of ‘interventionism’, where the Tories will recognise their past mistakes and chart more humane course away from the austerity that characterised the last decade. To this end, Sunak has pledged to halt the 2% corporation tax cut, along with rumours of a potential tax on high-value properties to be announced in the autumn.

Bosses and the budget

The budget is set to reveal a complicated relationship between the ruling class and Johnson’s wing of the Tory party. No doubt, the Tories are still the political representatives of the capitalists, doing what is necessary to defend their profits and their system. Nonetheless, the more forward thinking corners of the elite, around the Treasury and mainstream capitalist think tanks have expressed doubt about the prospects for the budget.

Their message to him has been simple: austerity cannot be ended in a situation of capitalist crisis like this. Any Tory chancellor basing their strategy on low taxes for the rich, high spending and strict budgetary targets will set themselves an impossible task on the basis of capitalism. This is what lies behind the delay of the real meat of the budget until the autumn, using the Coronavirus as a convenient cover. As Torsten Bell, chair of the neoliberal think tank the Resolution Foundation pointed out, “The idea that it all gets magically easier by the autumn goes against the laws of history” (Financial Times, 27/2/2020).

In fact, if the current market crash does develop into a full-blown recession as seems likely, the ruling class, including Johnson, will inevitably attempt to foist the cost of it onto working-class people. Not only will that mean no move away from austerity, it is probable that it will mean attempts at a devastating ratcheting up of punishing cutbacks – at the same time as companies threaten closures and layoffs. Any fresh cuts will be made to services already at breaking point, to workers’ pay after a decade of wage restraint, and to welfare claimants who face daily hunger as things stand. Preventing such devastation requires the development of an almighty movement of the working class, for which there is already much potential.

In reality, in times of severe crisis, the wealthy elite under capitalism is regularly divided, torn down the middle on the question of how to defend their system. The divisions that brought the Tory party to the brink of tearing itself apart over Brexit have not gone away. At the time of writing, on 10 March, more than 26 Tory MPs are planning to vote against Johnson’s deal with Huawei for 5G technology – many of them the hard ‘brexiteers’ who previously formed part of his support base. Meanwhile, measures being touted as part of the March budget are controversial among big business and their political representatives. For example, there is significant business opposition to Sunak’s pledge to scrap ‘entrepreneurs’ tax relief’. Now, any company with gains below £10m would have to pay their full (but still meagre) capital gains tax of 20%. As socialists, we recognise that this policy, even if enacted, would provide no serious challenge to the power of big business. In fact, it could do a favour to the giant monopolies that dominate the economy by reducing competition from smaller firms.

Many employers, particularly around the construction industry have also registered their opposition to Johnson’s newly-planned immigration system. As Sarah Wrack points out in this issue of Socialist Alternative (see pages 8-9), Johnson has tried to bolster his rule by pitting workers against one another on a racist basis. But the further toughening immigration controls is opposed by those capitalists who fear it will damage the profitable exploitation of migrant workers. In reality, migrants do not push down workers’ wages and conditions; bosses do.

Home Secretary Priti Patel, when she is not (allegedly) driving staff members to attempted suicide due to bullying and discrimination, has responded to ruling-class fears of labour shortages by pointing to the 8.5 million people who are what she terms ‘economically inactive’ in the UK.

Of this figure, just 1.56 million are actually officially unemployed – though it is also true that there is a vast army of ‘underemployed’ workers who are currently unable to get enough hours to pay their bills. But employers would rather not foot the cost of training such workers in areas of skills shortages. Moreover, given the choice, they would rather bring workers from abroad who they believe will face greater precarity and therefore be easier to exploit. If Patel’s supposed ‘reserve army’ of 8.5 million was really to be used it would actually mean forcing a heightened number of retirees and disabled people into low-paid and precarious employment. It would mean an intensification of the benefit-capping regime of the last decade, which has already inflicted misery and thousands of excess deaths in its wake, exposing the cruelty of Tory austerity.

Johnson’s gamble

As we pointed out following the last general election (see “Vicious Tories win with lies – but mass struggle looms on the horizon”, Issue 4), the election of Johnson’s government does not reflect the British working class as a whole shifting to the right. In reality, a shift to the left has taken place overall since the 2008 economic crash. It was only possible for Johnson to gain this victory on the basis of Brexit and appearing to offer, on the basis of leaving the EU, an end to austerity. Talk of “there is no magic money tree” in the style of May no longer cuts it for working-class people.

Johnson, for all it is worth, has understood this. His entire approach hinges on catering to it. This is a dangerous strategy though. By adopting some nominally anti-austerity language, talking of ‘levelling up’ and (marginally) increasing taxes to fund public services, he risks increasing the confidence of working people to demand more, to demand a more substantial break from austerity policies. The ruling class is terrified of this scenario, and the Tories would squarely fail to deliver on it.

This all reveals a government desperately trying to hold together an electoral coalition that has, from day one, been weak. Many Northern working-class people who lent their votes to Johnson will be liable to abandon him in the event of him betraying their aspirations for economic improvement. A new crisis means his inability to do so will be all the more stark.

It is clear that Johnson’s ‘honeymoon period’ is already coming to an abrupt end.

Cracks showing

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, despite Johnson’s bravado, his government inherited a weak economic situation. The Bank of England had estimated growth of just 1% over the next few years – far below anything that could be considered ‘healthy’. Despite a slight uptick in January, 2019’s last quarter saw zero GDP growth! With the world’s economy now spiralling into a possibly very serious recession, these growth forecasts, while themselves gloomy, are actually likely to prove extremely over-optimistic.

Chinese exports, the lifeblood of global capitalism, have decreased by one-fifth since the outbreak, which could be set to increase even more. Chaos has broken out in the financial world, in a way not seen since the collapse of Lehman Brothers 12 years ago.

Through his 80-seat majority, Johnson has projected an image of strength for himself. Behind his faux ‘strongman’ image, though, the cracks are already beginning to surface. Divisions in the Tory party have been revealed more and more, including on the question of the budget. At the same time, the budget itself is built on sand. A crisis-prone economy, a sceptical ruling class, and continued uncertainty surrounding EU trade talks could spell crisis for Tory rule. It is vital now for working-class people and youth to be organised and prepared to say: we will not be paying for another crisis!

A revitalised workers’ movement, with a fighting leadership will have to be built, ready to take on the bosses’ offensive through determined trade union action and mass movements on the streets.

Workers need political representation too. Keir Starmer, who is unfortunately predicted to win in the upcoming Labour leadership election will not answer this need. In fact, his election would mean a slide back towards Blairism, potentially delivering even more votes to the Tories in the process.

Socialist Alternative calls for a critical vote for Rebecca Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon. But electing the most left-wing candidates for the leadership is not enough. For Labour to begin acting as a genuine vehicle for working-class struggle, it would be necessary for these figures to be prepared to lead a battle to totally transform the party. That would mean uniting workers and young people around a programme which includes no retreat Labour’s anti-austerity and pro-public ownership policies from its 2019 manifesto – and which instead goes further. It would also mean backing RLBs call for open selection of MPs. But instead of welcoming back arch-rightwingers who have left the party as RLB has also unfortunately pledged, she should instead lead a campaign to kick out the Blairites – transforming the currently right-wing dominated Parliamentary Labour Party.

And most importantly, what’s needed now is a socialist programme – which can pose an alternative to the chaotic and crisis-ridden capitalism – the continuation of which can only mean untold suffering for working-class people the world over.

What we say

Organise local conferences of resistance, in order to discuss the way forward in planning coordinated action against the Tories.

No to Johnson’s racist immigration plans. Defend migrant workers’ right to stay. Workers must unite and fight across borders.

We won’t pay for another crisis! Organise to fight all austerity measures and attacks on the working class End capitalist chaos. For democratic public ownership of the banks and major corporations that dominate the economy. For public spending to be controlled by elected committees of workers, young people, retirees and students.

Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey

Labour leadership race: mobilise to defend socialist policies

Labour’s 2019 election result is a setback but not the apocalyptical catastrophe the media paint it as. The Labour vote exceeded that obtained by Blair in 2005 and Brown in 2010. Many of the newly elected Tory MPs have very slender majorities which could easily be overturned, if a combative, mobilising, socialist strategy is adopted.

Labour’s campaign in 2017 achieved a 40% vote share by offering a radical programme to end austerity. Huge rallies and a popular manifesto inspired a new generation of voters and gave hope to older ones. Unfortunately, the momentum reached in 2017 was squandered in the subsequent two years. Corbyn came under pressure from the right in the party to allow a further referendum on EU membership, and the Labour leadership, distracted by parliamentary manoeuvres, appeared hesitant about a general election for which the party was consequently ill-prepared.

In the wake of the defeat Corbyn shouldn’t have announced he was standing down. He should have stayed to defend the left programme he had fought for, learning the lessons necessary to complete the socialist transformation of the Labour Party and to drive the further democratisation of the party.

However, a leadership contest is under way and the most important task, for party members, trade unionists and socialists, is to ensure that there is no backtracking on the pro-working-class pledges contained in the manifestos of 2017 and 2019, or on the left policies agreed by Labour’s conferences since Corbyn became leader. On the contrary, what is needed is a strategy to go further, deepening the process of converting the party into a mass socialist force.

It is undoubtedly the case that Labour needs to reconnect with the working class and it can only do this by becoming a party of struggle, based on the working class and open to socialists. To do this the party must not only take sides with striking workers, service users opposing cuts and school students campaigning against climate change, but be prepared to mobilise and unite them as well as to inspire the broader movement to act in solidarity with such struggles. Labour must offer clear policies which show that they are just as determined to defend the interests of the working class as the Tories are to defend the interests of the capitalists. This means fighting the Tories’ austerity policies and insisting that Labour councils who over the last ten years have implemented Tory cuts now adopt policies to defend and extend services, using reserves and borrowing powers to resist making cuts and launch a mass campaign of opposition aimed at winning back the resources which councils have been deprived of.

We think there needs to be a discussion about why Labour’s support has decreased so much in Scotland. Socialist Alternative believes that the failure to support the right of self-determination was a major barrier to winning support, and allowed the SNP to appear to be the only ones championing national and democratic rights. An anti-austerity programme, linked to fighting for self determination, including supporting the fight for an independent socialist Scotland as part of a socialist federation, could start to win back support.

There must be maximum opportunities for the rank and file of the Labour and trade union movement across the country to hear candidates and question them, and to evaluate their political positions and programmes. In this context, it is utterly wrong that the leadership of public sector union Unison has stated its position before the first stage of the ballot had closed and based on the view of a handful of senior union officials, consistent with their Blairite approach.

There should be special, accessible meetings held to hear debates before nominations are made, if necessary with agreed representatives of the candidates.

As the parliamentary stage of the contest closes it is clear that the following candidates are validly nominated by the required 22 MPs or MEPs for the position of leader: Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips, Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry.

And for Deputy Leader: Rosena Allin-Khan, Richard Burgon, Dawn Butler, Ian Murray, Angela Rayner.

Now all candidates must secure backing from either 5% of local parties – a total of 33 – or three affiliated organisations including two trade unions adding up to 5% of the affiliated membership. This means in many local areas battles may now commence over candidate nominations through CLPs, as well as potentially within the unions. It is vital that Corbyn supporters are organised and mobilised, fighting to ensure the candidates clearly pledging to defend socialist policies are nominated.

Long Bailey and Burgon

Socialist Alternative is critically supporting Rebecca Long-Bailey for Leader and Richard Burgon for Deputy Leader. Why?

Rebecca Long-Bailey is clearly the closest to a Corbyn ‘continuity candidate’, and the victory of any other candidate would be a significant defeat for our movement and an important strategic victory for the rich and powerful who desire a clear step away from positions held while Corbyn was leader of the party. From their point of view, this would allow a return to “normality”, in which British capitalism has two major parties it can rely on to faithfully represent its interests and which can alternate in government.

Long-Bailey has been firmly associated with Jeremy Corbyn, has publicly described herself as a socialist, calling for “democratic socialism in our lifetime”, and is the candidate most likely to pursue a left programme. She has identified herself with workers’ struggles and with community campaigns in her Salford constituency, even at the cost of some embarrassment to the local Labour council.

She has also spoken about the need to deepen democracy in the party. Labour Party policies must be democratically determined, but democratisation must also mean the mandatory reselection of MPs and full democratisation of policy-making. This should include restoring a full democratic role for trade unions within the party, and immediately reversing all aspects of the ‘reforms’ undermining workers’ participation in the party’s decision making carried out in the Blair years. Long-Bailey should explicitly back the increasingly popular demand for mandatory reselection.

In relation to anti-Semitism, which has no place in the labour movement, Long-Bailey needs to recognise that the charge of anti-Semitism against many (not all) has often been based on legitimately expressed concerns about the Israeli state’s treatment of the Palestinian people, and directed against those who also supported Corbyn’s attempts to shift the Labour Party in a socialist direction.

However, in our view it was a major mistake by Rebecca Long Bailey to endorse the Board of Deputies of British Jews’ “ten Labour leadership pledges”, along with all the other candidates for leader. This isn’t because we don’t take concerns about anti-Semitism seriously. Any allegations of discrimination should be acted upon, and all forms of racism represent poison for the workers’ movement and must be fought. However, the approach outlined in these pledges, and that has been advocated more generally by the Board of Deputies since Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, has in our view been aimed at redefining anti-Semitism in a way that risks equating criticism of the role of the Israeli state in the oppression of the Palestinians with racism against Jewish people.

Anti-Semitism

This approach is confirmed in these pledges, one of which demands full adoption of the IHRA ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism, without the caveat previously agreed under Corbyn which seeks to protect the right to free speech on the conflict in Israel-Palestine.

Perhaps even more worryingly, the Board of Deputies also demands the setting up of an ‘independent’ body to oversee disciplinary cases within the party relating to this issue. While this demand may sound innocuous, the reality is that there is no such thing as political ‘independence’ in a society such as ours – one in which the working-class majority face hardship and exploitation while a tiny minority of ultra-rich individuals (of all religions and nationalities) own and control vast swathes of our economy, and consequently the lives of millions. The right of working-class organisations to set and enforce their own rules, as well as to carry out their own disciplinary procedures, is actually of fundamental importance to building organisations which can independently represent workers’ interests against those of the capitalists.

The pledges also seek special rights for groups they deem to be the ‘mainstream’ representatives of British Jews, such as the Board of Deputies itself. But this is just one organisation of the Jewish community among many that may have a different approach.

Jewish people are not one homogeneous group. Among Jews there are people of all classes, there are differences in religious practice or lack thereof, and there is a diverse range of political views on all issues, including those related to the question of Israel-Palestine. No organisation can therefore claim to automatically represent the views of all Jews in Britain.

The main motivation behind the Board of Deputies’ pledges, as with the intervention by the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis during the election campaign, is a political opposition to the policies of Corbyn and the left. Left-wing Jewish groups, such as the Jewish Socialists Group and Jewish Voice for Labour supported Corbyn in the general election.

Agreeing to these demands is a mistake by Rebecca Long-Bailey which reflects pressure of both the capitalist press and the Blairite wing of the Labour Party, who have used whatever means they can, no matter how hypocritical, to attack Corbyn since he was elected leader. Fundamentally, this is because they are opposed to taking the Labour Party in an anti-austerity or socialist direction.

Rebecca Long-Bailey should learn that no matter how many concessions Corbyn made to the right, they were never satisfied and it only served to increase their confidence to make further attacks. Long-Bailey’s comments that she would “press the button” when it comes to using a nuclear deterrent is another mistake in this thread.

The pressure from the capitalists to move to the right will only grow. This will be all the more so if the party follows her unwise recommendation and elects Angela Rayner as Deputy.

Notwithstanding her engaging ‘back story’ and high public profile, Rayner was an integral part of the right-wing machine in Unison when she was a branch secretary, failed to endorse Corbyn for leader in 2015 and shamefully abstained on the Tories’ draconian welfare bill during the Cameron years. We recommend support for Richard Burgon who has been a steadfast supporter of Corbyn, and a more effective advocate for left policies in the media.

This is the team we believe is most likely to defend and further the position of the left in the party. We understand activists’ concerns at the lack of diversity in a team of two white solicitors. But no other candidates, of whatever ethnic background, have been so closely identified with the Corbyn ‘project’ and no-one else is likely to attempt to take it forward.

If Long-Bailey and Burgon are to be successful in being elected, as well as being able to carry out the transformation of the Labour Party, it is not just a question of what policies they stand by or for. They also need to launch a mass campaign to mobilise the membership and supporters outside of the party in defence of such a programme. They should organise mass rallies and protests, linking with the climate strikes and the UCU university strikes in February, and beginning the process now of transforming the party into one of struggle. It was this type of approach which Corbyn had in 2016 after the ‘chicken-coup’ which embarrassed his opponent Owen Smith and generated mass support. Unfortunately, Corbyn did not continue with this approach outside of election time, which will need to be a mistake that is not repeated if Long-Bailey wins.

Socialist Alternative did not simply cheerlead for Corbyn’s programme during the election period. We believe he should have gone further, for example on nationalisation, and in recognising, and preparing to counter, the resistance from the boss class to a radical Labour government. But that programme marked a huge step forward for the movement and drew literally hundreds of thousands into the Labour Party. It is a tribute to those ideas, and to that mass membership, that none of the candidates has been willing to mount a frontal assault on Corbyn’s legacy. We believe that the left can win this election, if it unites behind a single candidate for each post on clear policies with a massive campaign to mobilise the membership in the ballot, and take further the battle for socialism inside and outside the Labour Party.

Vicious Tories win with lies – but mass struggle looms on horizon

The Conservative victory at the general election is a major setback for the working class and youth of Britain. The bumbling bigot Johnson will whip up prejudice and launch further attacks on our services, livelihoods and environment. This will meet with resistance which we will support and help organise.

Local “conferences of resistance” should be convened everywhere, by trade unions, climate strike bodies and local Labour parties where those are on the left, drawing together all those who are fighting back or who want to fight back. To mount the most effective resistance we need to understand the reasons for this election result.

This was not a Trump-like victory. Trump mobilized a base – organizing mass rallies, for example. In contrast, Johnson boycotted debates and hid in a fridge! The Tory share of the vote was 43% (up 1% point, gaining 300,000 votes) with no Boris surge. Compared to 2017, when Labour surged to 40%, the turnout was slightly lower and Labour’s vote fell by 2.5 million and its share to 32%. Substantial parts of Labour’s vote went to the smaller parties.

The savage media onslaught against Corbyn and Labour exceeded everything to date. This was not limited to the traditionally Tory press. At the BBC, which covered the campaigns in a scandalously biased way, it was as if all pretence of impartiality had been completely abandoned.

In the light of this pernicious press campaign, some people are likely to conclude that there’s nothing that can be done in the face of such forces. Worse, others could even accept the idea that it’s necessary to move towards the right to become “acceptable” to the capitalist media and to ultimately win elections.

This is not true. In fact, every single “centrist” defector from Labour and the Tories embarrassingly lost their seat in this election. Corbyn got more votes than Miliband in 2015, Brown in 2010, or Blair in 2005. Socialist ideas have not been and cannot be buried in a period of global crisis and revolutionary movements.

The colossal swing of voters under 44 towards Labour, and particularly young people under 24, is the music of the future. The youth climate strike movement has the potential to grow rapidly with Johnson in government. We do not embrace the ‘generation wars’ idea fed by the liberal media and some on the left. But we do see the huge opportunities for struggle by young people. The climate strike movement should convene climate assemblies around the next wave of action, for a real discussion about the way forward against a government of climate-deniers.

The right will argue that this defeat shows that it is impossible for left ideas to win support at the ballot box. We would strongly disagree with this. The recent experience in Seattle, where Socialist Alternative City Council Member Kshama Sawant decisively beat her Amazon-backed opponent to win a key election for the left and working class, shows what’s possible. Amazon and Jeff Bezos poured in over $1 million dollars to attempting to defeat Kshama. But Socialist Alternative beat big business by mobilizing mass campaigns on rent control, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, housing and much more. This shows the sort of methods – revolutionary methods – that can win elections against the 1%.

“Tories Out Demonstration” by Manos Simonides is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Corbyn’s Policies Popular

The ideas which Corbyn put forward were popular and will become more so. But in this complicated period it is not enough to just have some popular policies. For them to be implemented, it’s necessary to have a mass organisation capable of getting round the capitalist media to take them directly to the whole working class. This means building an organisation which is not focused solely on elections and parliament, but which is also campaigning all-year-round in defense of “the many not the few.” It requires being actively connected with struggles such as those currently being waged by postal workers, university staff and the climate strikes movement. Labour has not been sufficiently transformed from its Blairite past for it to have been capable of that kind of approach on a consistent basis in the last months or years.

The Tories’ real agenda is a savage right-wing assault against the many for the few. They do not have a mandate for their policies, and the Tories in general and Boris in particular lack a stable social base of support. This is clear when you compare this government to those headed by the likes of Trump in the U.S., Bolsonaro in Brazil or Modi in India.

In Britain, we have seen up to half of voters changing their allegiance at election time in recent years. This was a prominent feature in this contest, with many traditional Labour voters “lending” their votes to Johnson in the hope that he delivers on his promise to “get Brexit done.” The endless Brexit saga has undoubtedly frustrated millions of people who want it to be sorted out. This weariness and cynicism was tapped into by Johnson who promised a return to normality.

Brexit Election

It wasn’t automatic that this was the “Brexit election.” As the polls narrowed once Labour started its campaign, evidence showed that the NHS was the biggest issue for the most voters, followed by the economy for male voters. Labour had some popular answers on those questions but was unable to cut through the tidal wave from the Tories and the media about Brexit. Nonetheless, it would be wrong to suggest that the press campaign was the only reason that this was the case.

Since 2017, Labour has not organised any serious mass campaigning, and when the election was called the party was often sluggishly organised on the ground despite the enthusiastic surge of thousands of activists to try to help. Mass canvasses and some large rallies were organized. But there were nowhere near enough rallies, and they were often held as semi-secret ticket-only events which tend to lose the impact on wider society.

The half-million-strong membership was not mobilized systematically enough – though many thousands did take part during the course of the campaign. There has not been sufficient engagement with the mass of society except for door-knocking in the last few weeks. While Corbyn spoke at the huge earth strike that took place in September and the Labour leadership has offered support to workers taking action, there was not enough connection built with the struggles which are taking place by young people, among university staff and in Royal Mail. While some Labour candidates did this off their own bat, the Labour leadership ought to have played a far more active role in both supporting and helping to initiate struggle against austerity. So the Labour manifesto was unheard by many voters, while everyone knows Boris “will get Brexit done.”

Some Tory voters will most likely desert the party within a matter of months. Johnson is likely to suffer a backlash like Trump, with falling approval ratings, especially because, similar to his American counterpart, he is no statesman. Nor will he be able to deliver Brexit in a way which fully satisfies the Brexiteers without angering huge swathes of the population.

Nonetheless this is the first Tory government with a substantial majority since Labour lost in 2010. The newly elected Tory MPs are probably in the Johnson mould as he did what Corbyn didn’t and dealt with his oppositional MPs by expelling them. Johnson will rule in a chaotic and populist fashion, but it is now less likely that the Tory party will collapse by itself while it is supported by the capitalist class. Central to determining the fate of this government will be the intervention of mass protest and the workers’ movement.

Johnson has secured the interests of the capitalists, many of whom felt threatened by a Corbyn government, though some of the ruling class are not convinced by Johnson. While this is not likely to be a government of instant crisis, neither will it be one that solves any underlying problems either. It faces multiple political crises including a likely huge surge for Scottish independence as well as the potential rise of new forms of sectarianism in Northern Ireland and in Welsh nationalism.

The National Question

In Scotland, while the SNP surged, the Tories fell back despite opinion polls which claimed they would hold their positions. Labour collapsed to one MP. Labour’s position on the national question in Scotland – including its opposition to independence and Corbyn’s failure to give support to a referendum on the question – was ultimately to blame for this.

The demand for Scottish independence by one means or another, and for a second referendum, will almost certainly carry increasing weight, as illusions in independence to escape from Tory rule will grow enormously. While the SNP have been able to increase their support, ultimately their pro-capitalist politics will mean they are unable to meet the aspirations of those who elected them. It is also likely that they ultimately betray the struggle for genuine independence, especially should achieving it prove impossible through the SNP’s preferred means of a Westminster-sanctioned referendum.

In the Spanish state, a relatively strong, right-wing government came unstuck over the movement for national rights in Catalonia. The response of the Tories in becoming even more English nationalist will fan the flames of independence, and potentially even the flames of religious sectarianism with a unionist appeal to some Scottish Protestants.

Socialist Alternative defends the right to self-determination. We support a referendum on independence. In the next period, our role will be to advocate class unity against sectarianism, and workers’ struggle against the British capitalist state machine which will not easily grant meaningful political independence to Scotland. Socialist Alternative stands for independence on a socialist basis, to address the huge social problems facing the Scottish working class. We argue for a voluntary federation of socialist nations and regions across England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, in which the rights of minorities are fully guaranteed. We stand for a voluntary socialist confederation of countries and peoples of Europe, in a socialist world.

In Northern Ireland, both main parties – the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein – saw a significant fall in their share of the vote (5.4% and 6.7% respectively). Brexit partly explains this, with Protestant voters punishing the DUP for propping up a Johnson government which negotiated a withdrawal agreement that will put a border down the Irish Sea, while a layer of Catholics tactically switched from abstentionist Sinn Féin to other parties because they wanted MPs who would actually go to Westminster to oppose Brexit and Johnson. However, voters also punished both parties for the ongoing political stalemate, as we approach the third anniversary of the collapse of the devolved Stormont Assembly, and by extension for the crises in health, education and rising poverty.

The smaller parties increased their votes across the board, especially the Alliance Party, sister organization of the Lib Dems, which got an 8.8% increase. This self-described non-sectarian party takes a strong Remain position over the EU. It won one seat and is an emerging as a third “center” pole of attraction.

Despite their neoliberal policies, this reflects a search for an alternative to the sectarian parties. Independent labour and trade union candidate Caroline Wheeler won a modest but significant vote in the sectarian battleground constituency of Fermanagh & South Tyrone, a positive indication of the potential for anti-sectarian left politics to develop.

There will now be renewed talks aimed at re-establishing the devolved Assembly at Stormont, and the main parties will be under increased pressure to do a deal in light of the election results. However, the Assembly parties and politicians have no answers. Re-establishing the power-sharing institutions would show them up, against the backdrop of an increase in industrial struggle and potential struggle against any attempt to roll back the decriminalisation of abortion and on other social questions. A restored Stormont administration would be racked with crisis, under pressure on class questions but also from the sectarian forces which the main parties rely upon but are unable to fully control.

Brexit will continue to have an impact. It has the potential to increase sectarianism, creating further problems for the Tory government. This is the first time since the establishment of the Northern Ireland state that Unionist parties don’t have a majority of the MPs, as the DUP lost two seats to nationalists in the face of a “Remain alliance.” Many Protestants will feel threatened by the loss of the Unionist majority, the idea of a border in the Irish Sea and Scottish independence.

On the other hand, Sinn Féin are increasingly pushing the question of a referendum on the reunification of Ireland – commonly known as a border poll. This demand will increase among nationalists, due to Brexit and the Tory government. The trade unions will need to move into action against sectarianism and for workers’ unity, and our sister organisation in the North, the Socialist Party, will be looking at how it can push forward the project of building a cross-community, working-class political alternative in the coming period.

Capitalist Crisis Building

The current slow-boil economic crisis threatens to break into an outright recession in the next period. Even now, the service sector is sluggish while manufacturing and construction are declining. If the working class is better prepared politically for a new crash than it was in 2008, the ruling class will have inevitably learned nothing – preparing another huge crisis but one with potentially more serious consequences for them and their system.

The Tory government can be caught flat-footed in its response to this. Any attempt to go on the attack against workers’ living conditions in the mold of the Thatcher government could lead to a mass revolt, of a similar nature to the gigantic Poll Tax rebellion in the late ’80s and early ’90s, where 18 million people refused to pay up.

The Brexit trade deal negotiations will drag on for some time to come. So far, Johnson has only got a withdrawal agreement, not an exit deal. The questions on border controls remain, especially in relation to Northern Ireland and migration. Then there are the future trading arrangements to be agreed with the EU, as well as potential trade deals to be struck with the U.S. and the rest of world along with customs arrangements. These are all issues which the government will have to deal with and over which it can easily lose support on both sides. All Tory options will lead to attacks on workers’ living conditions.

Potential for Mass Struggle

Under this government of climate deniers, it is likely that the ongoing youth climate strikes will continue to be built and mobilized. Young people understand the need to fight not just the climate emergency, but the big business interests that lie behind it. The call for “system change” has been twinned with a growing anti-capitalism among youth. Socialist Alternative will throw itself into building this movement, mobilizing for the strikes. This will ultimately need to be linked to a mass movement of millions of working-class people and youth, mobilized around a clear demand for a socialist Green New Deal.

Public services face further catastrophe and collapse. NHS waiting times are at a record high, Accident & Emergency departments are in meltdown, and hospitals are at full stretch. Some health-workers will be feeling despondent, but we, in collaboration with other NHS campaigners, will be looking at how to fight back in the new year. If or when a deal is reached on pharmaceutical companies’ access to the NHS then there will be further anger and the basis for further struggle.

Social care has been cut to the bone and cannot recover under a Tory government, while huge cuts and privatization have left the probation service unable to cope. A Tory law-and-order “lock-them-up” response will worsen the already profound problems in the prisons. There will be community resistance to attacks on public services.

Fighting the Right

With the election of a more blatantly right-wing populist Tory government, there is a serious risk of bigotry and discrimination increasing. This could mean a rise in physical attacks on all those that the Tories seek to single out – women, LGBTQ+ people, Black and Minority and Ethnic people and migrants. This would be tacitly encouraged by the government and Tory MPs, as they try to shore up their shaky electoral base with anti-migrant policies, and potentially even through attacks on women’s reproductive rights.

The kind of struggles we saw in the U.S. against Trump’s immediate attempts to introduce discriminatory policies – with the huge women’s marches and airport protests against the so-called Muslim ban, in which our co-thinkers Socialist Alternative played a major role – will come here too if Johnson goes down the same road.

Where attacks happen we support immediate community protests in defense and response, reaching out to other local communities, unions and left-led Constituency Labour Parties, in order to build demonstrations that could stamp them out.

There is a very real danger of increased divisions between migrant and non-migrant workers. Some of the smallest trade unions have shown that the most oppressed workers can be unionized and mobilized in struggle for equal pay and a living wage. This is the best answer to the divisive narrative of migrants “undercutting” wages. It is urgent that the biggest trade unions wake up and start seriously organizing migrant workers in unorganized workplaces, linking anti-racist campaigning with the need to defend jobs in the private and public sectors through unity and struggle. When Johnson disappoints over Brexit, then the far right can start growing again in an organised way.

A number of these factors will combine at a certain stage for a major catastrophe with the government. Johnson has not yet remade the Tory party as fully in his image as Trump has with the U.S. Republicans. The social base for this government is less solid than Trump’s support. And because British capitalism is globally a lot less important than U.S. imperialism then the capitalist class, both here and especially elsewhere in the world, are less inclined to put up with Trump-style stupidity from Johnson.

Labour’s Heartland Losses

In this election, Labour saw a repeat of what happened following the Scottish independence referendum, losing seats in a number of its traditional ‘heartland’ areas. These losses have a number of causes. Among them is the ongoing issue of the role of Labour-run councils in passing on Tory austerity. Their continued slashing away of services, along with the legacy of Blairism, has contributed to declining turn out and growing disillusionment with Labour over a long period.

More specifically to this election, Labour also lost a large number of votes from some of its traditional supporters because of Brexit. Corbyn’s attempt at a compromise position, arrived at under huge pressure from Labour’s right to adopt a wholesale Remain stance, ultimately failed to do what was necessary. To win this election, Corbyn needed to unite voters who supported both Leave and Remain on the basis of an independent, working-class approach to this question – as well as to all others. The failure to do so has opened the door to right-wing populism to fill the vacuum.

Role of the Blairites

This mistake, as with so many others that have cost Corbyn since 2015, was ultimately rooted in his doomed attempt to square the circle with the Blairite MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party, whose pro-austerity, pro-imperialist politics ultimately represents the interests of the capitalist class. This has allowed the right within Labour to conduct a sustained and slanderous campaign of sabotage – seizing on every possible opportunity to attack and undermine Corbyn’s leadership.

Far from this campaign being suspended for the duration of the election, it was instead intensified. Even Corbyn’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth stabbed Corbyn in the back two days before polling day with his leaked “joshing” with his Tory friend. Ultimately, failing to take on the “Red Tories” handed seats held by right-wing Labour MPs and ex-Labour MPs to the blue Tories.

The Blairites are to blame for some of the heaviest defeats. Dudley North now has an 11,000 Tory majority and was held by Ian Austin – an arch-Blairite MP who resigned from Labour and campaigned for a Tory vote in this election. In Bassetlaw, John Mann gifted the Tories a 28 percentage point majority. In Redcar the MP was an open anti-Corbyn right-winger and now the Tories hold it with a 3,000 vote majority. In Barrow-in-Furness, John Woodcock helped the Conservatives to a 14 point lead. In Bury South where Labour lost by 1%, Blairite Ivan Lewis ran as independent and got 2% of the vote.

If these people had been dealt with earlier they would not have caused this problem. Instead they were left in place. In some areas, Labour party members took matters into their own hands and ousted some especially pernicious Blairite MPs. Nonetheless, the Labour leadership, the treacherous tops of Momentum’s undemocratic leadership, most of the trade union leaders, and in some places also the constituency activists, failed to oust the Blairites collectively with mandatory reselection or individually through the trigger ballot process.

The capitalist press has tried to explain this result by posing a divide between “lefty middle-class youth” in the metropolitan areas, against a uniformly more right-wing, and especially “socially conservative,” working-class. This is completely inaccurate. Where the Tories have made gains, their majority has often been extremely narrow. In north west Durham, left-winger Laura Pidcock lost her seat by only 2.5%. This contrasts with the huge margin of losses by right-wingers in nearby seats such as the 11% Tory majority in Sedgefield.

In 2017, McDonnell argued that Labour would have won if the campaign had continued for another fortnight, which was probably true. These seats would be held by Labour MPs now if the campaign had not stopped in mid-2017 for two years.

The 2017 vote was taken for granted and it was not there when Labour went back to it. Union leaders and the Momentum leadership, together with the right-wing of the Labour party, pushed Corbyn into a non-credible position on Brexit which was widely seen as a Remain position, not least because Keir Starmer was free to put forward a Remain position in the media as Labour’s Brexit spokesperson. Corbyn didn’t sufficiently explain what ‘pro-worker’ policies he would campaign for in renewed negotiations with the EU. What’s more, he came across indecisive when he wouldn’t commit to supporting his own negotiated Brexit deal in a referendum offering the option alongside Remain. He also didn’t successfully expose the neoliberal nature of the EU and which progressive policies would require a left government to defy EU rules in order to implement.

Additionally, mistaken positions held by Corbyn and a section of the left – although not including our forerunner organisations such as Militant – in the past on conflicts such as Northern Ireland or the Middle East were used against Corbyn to some effect. Whereas Corbyn comes from a tradition on the Labour Left that tended to side with one national group against another – genuine Marxists fought for, and continue to fight for, united working class struggle across national, religious and ethnic divides whilst resolutely defending the right to self-determination, pointing out that capitalism provides no answer to sectarian conflicts.

Combative Approach Needed

Corbyn’s failure to adopt a more combative, class-struggle based approach, coupled with the weak and unclear position in relation to the EU, has allowed the Labour right to shoehorn him into a position of appearing indecisive to a large portion of the working class in Britain.

The great Militant-supporting Labour MP Pat Wall once said “we need leaders of our movement as ruthless in defense of our class as Thatcher is of theirs.” We need leaders armed with clear Marxist ideas that are devoted to their class and able to act decisively when the situation arises, not least against the likes of the Blairites who have achieved what they wanted to achieve in sabotaging Corbyn from winning the election and now going on the offensive for a change of leadership.

Leadership Contest

We think it was a mistake for Corbyn to have announced he will step down, and even worse for McDonnell to have volunteered his and Corbyn’s resignation before the election in the event of a Labour loss. Without a sufficient mobilization of the left rank-and-file membership in the CLPs, there is a serious risk of a change in leadership marking a shift away from the most radical aspects of Corbyn’s policies. This has to be resisted strongly and all socialists must make a clear stand for socialist ideas against the Blairites’ offensive.

Now we need Corbyn to use his remaining time most usefully, not just to oversee the leadership election but to help transform Labour from a primarily electoralist organisation into a struggle-based party. Unite the Union leader Len McCluskey is right to pin the main blame for the defeat on the Brexit position and to advocate retaining anti-austerity and class policies, but he is absolutely wrong to attack the manifesto and Corbyn personally, including for his “failure to apologize for anti-Semitism.” These criticisms can only help the right, avoid addressing what kind of campaign was needed and, incidentally, the almost complete absence of much of the trade union movement from any mobilization to assist Labour winning the election.

Momentum and John McDonnell’s grouping in the Labour party are responsible for a lot of the current mess and will likely encourage the next leader, even if they are drawn from the left, to move to the right of Corbyn. Any candidate from the right or the so-called soft-left, including some of the names currently floated like Emily Thornberry or Lisa Nandy, would be merely a device for moving Labour back to the Miliband era and wasting all of what is left of the potential from Corbynism. Remainers like Thornberry, supported on occasions by McDonnell, bear a huge responsibility for the election defeat.

The most left-wing potential candidate seems to be Rebecca Long-Bailey. Any real left would-be leader needs to stand by all the pro-working-class policies contained in the manifestos of 2017 and 2019 plus the more radical conference policies passed since Corbyn was elected leader. They need to support struggles including strikes and demonstrations. And more than that, they need to be prepared to mobilize struggle against austerity without waiting for someone else to do it. Where struggle is taking place now, such as in the climate strikes and university strikes, a new leader would need to be prepared to actively mobilize for it. Crucially, with more punishing austerity on the way under a Johnson government they must call on all Labour-run councils to fight cuts instead of implementing them.

Labour’s parliamentary left, including the new Corbynista MPs, will now be tested out. They should organise themselves as a distinct pole, alongside playing a part in organising and mobilising at rank-and-file level.

An important lesson of the last three years while Corbyn has been leader, is that of those over 150 weeks, only about 30 weeks have been used to actually campaign in public on a large scale. Instead, most of this time has been spent with Corbyn’s leadership focussed on the goings-on in parliament, and in attempts to appease the Blairite saboteurs in the Parliamentary Labour Party.

If those 30 weeks show how polls can be narrowed in the 2017 and 2019 elections, then another 120 weeks spent engaging in the living struggles of workers and young people, as well as campaigning for socialist policies that could offer an alternative to the misery of austerity, would have allowed Corbynism to take root far more deeply among the working class. Such an approach would have increased Corbyn’s own confidence to take on the right and resist their attempts to hem him in. It would almost certainly have led to a different outcome in 2019. Genuine socialist change cannot ultimately be achieved through electoral politics alone.

Next year’s local elections will likely see a backlash against the result of this election and quite possibly whatever the Tories have managed with Brexit. By then, the further damage they intend to public services will also be clearer. Labour now should urgently select left candidates to resist the inevitable Tory attempts to smash what’s left of local government services. At the same time, they should set about “no-confidencing” what’s left of the Blairites. Most of all, the left and the ranks need to start mobilizing independently, immediately engaging with supporters and discussing how to resist the Tories, linking up with fighting sections of the wider movement in local conferences of resistance.

With few exceptions, the trade union tops and bureaucracies were fast asleep for the last few months. They bear significant blame for this result. Having said ‘wait for Corbyn’ while pushing a pro-EU line and blocking mandatory reselection, and drifting to political lobbying approach, there was no serious attempt to fight Tories when the government was in crisis and no serious attempt to mobilize their memberships to campaign for Labour at the general election.

Most of these leaderships have been found completely wanting and the movement needs new leaders representing a completely new era of resistance. Faced with a further round of austerity, many workers may turn toward workplace struggle in order to defend themselves from the onslaught.

Mass Movements on the Horizon

We can gain a glimpse of our possible future by looking to the movements developing internationally. Revolutionary movements in Hong Kong, Lebanon, Iraq, Chile, and others all show the potential that exists. All have been spearheaded by young people.

The private sector now faces utter deindustrialization with whatever trade deal is agreed in or out of the EU. Boris investment promises are worthless. Unite has to start fighting in a coordinated way across sectors and between disputes or it will lose its base bit by bit. The public sector faces obliteration in local government by a Tory party which hates it, and the NHS faces being opened up to private companies completely.

In Unison, the largest public sector union, it is urgent that the right-wing general secretary and NHS service group leaderships are replaced at next year’s elections by those willing to fight, and that the left unites around one candidate for general secretary.

Developing a serious base of workplace activists will be an immediate priority for the trade union movement. The National Education Union has proposed a campaign of “winning in the workplace.” Socialist Alternative (England and Wales) agrees with the spirit of this, but we are keen to see detailed plans for how to make this a reality. A recent statement by Communication Workers’ Union leader Dave Ward, hit the right notes. He correctly points out the that trade unions are the “first line of defense” for working-class people. With the CWU in the frontline taking action over attacks on postal workers, it’s vital that a movement of solidarity is organised to support them.

Key practical steps necessary in most unions include: training reps properly (in some, at all) in how to deal with viciously hostile employers, organizing industrial action, delivering support for reps from the officials and wider structures, having branches based on workplaces and centered on workplace activists, clear structures which deliver reps a voice in the union structures, meetings organised in ways which assist reps to attend and a serious battle for facility time where necessary.

The most fundamental role of a union is resisting workers’ immediate employer on basic workplace issues. If done seriously this will bring forward a new layer of fighting workers who can then be integrated it with union branches and renew the structures of the movement.

More anti-union laws are certain, as Johnson has outlined. The trade union leaders should resist these and the union ranks and left need to demand action. Since the tops weren’t prepared to fight against the Tories’ last Trade Union Act, we cannot expect much from most of them unless there is colossal organised pressure from the base.

Where action is blocked legally then unofficial action will be needed, in local disputes and wider ones. The tactic of workers in the U.S. of using the “mass sickie” when the mass strike is not possible is something which has potential to catch on in Britain. Unite’s policy of not repudiating action called by stewards unofficially, and of removing a constitutional commitment to obey the law, needs to be adhered to and extended to the rest of the movement. It needs to be translated into practice which again means rebuilding the workplace activist layer numerically and in terms of ideas and resources.

In this new period there will be an anti-Tory backlash and a determination to struggle. The scale of media onslaught including the liberal media shows need for a different kind of party and struggle to social-democratic electoralism. Since Thursday night, we have already received well over 100 applications to join, attracted by our two videos, two leaflets and very widely shared social media posts, as well as our public activity.

Socialist alternative campaigned energetically to see a Corbyn-led Labour government elected. Our members took part in mass canvassing sessions with the Labour party and raised our ideas and offered our material to a friendly audience. Equally as importantly, we also ran an independent, clearly socialist campaign in support of Corbyn, through which we sold over 1100 copies of our publication.

Now we are encouraging everyone who is angry about the election result and keen to organize to fight back and win: contact us, talk about joining us, get organised together with us. Let’s mobilize for the struggles that are already taking place. Let’s organize conferences of resistance to bring them together. Let’s discuss the need for socialism, and the revolutionary politics ultimately needed to achieve it. Workers and young people are central to that. Don’t mourn, organize!

LATEST NEWS