HOW CAN MOMENTUM DEFEAT LABOUR’S OWN TORIES?
Labour Party activists were moving left during the period from the 1960s onward. But they were defeated comprehensively by the “social democrats” during the 1980s. There are lessons from that period for Momentum and the Corbyn campaign.
Some right-wingers exited the party and created the SDP (early 1980s). Subsequently they joined the Liberals. The others stayed behind, to finish their work on behalf of the Establishment.
For the Party, the outcome was the rise of Blair and the election of New Labour in 1997.
Despite the adulation of the press - then and since - New Labour was actually elected with fewer votes than John Major obtained in 1992. And between 1997 and 2010, New Labour went on to lose around 5 million Labour votes!
So; how can Momentum defeat Labour’s sub-Tories?
A useful, if somewhat academic book, by Leo Panitch and Colin Leys (first published 1997) covers the rise and fall of the Left and seeks explanations of why and how it happened - “The End of Parliamentary Socialism”. Here is a quote describing the left’s initial rise.
“The Labour Party (in Clay Cross) in 1959 had fifteen members and only two councillors. In this project [to shift Labour leftward] Dennis Skinner, who had previously only been active in his NUM branch, was joined by other young miners, and later by his two brothers who became members of the Labour Party Young Socialists when they were still at school.
They took the view that if they, the Labour Party, were to win the confidence of the people, they needed to embark on a course of political education for everybody. There was nothing patronising about their attitude; they wanted people to know what was going on . . . Night after night, doors were knocked on, leaflets distributed, public meetings organised and attended. …
By 1963 they had swept the municipal council and begun to implement a policy and a style of administration that was rather revolutionary.
They cleared the slums and built new council housing at a rate more than twice the national average.
They bent the rules, scattering Compulsory Purchase Orders “like confetti” and transferring money from the general rate fund to avoid paying high interest rates on government bonds which only ‘lined the bankers’ pockets’. They … charged the the lowest rents in the country.”
Clay Cross is justifiably famous for this, and because it defied the Tory Government of Heath in 1971. They unlawfully refused to implement the terms of the Housing Finance Act which would have meant increasing rents.
These are the kind of councillors we need today!
Have we got them? Can we get them?
HERE a London Labour councillor is expelled for opposing Labour's cuts!
Tuesday, 19 January 2016
IT'S THE ECONOMY, SILLY!
John McDonnell is organising an annual State of the Economy conference as part of his 'New Economics' discussion tour.
An excellent idea! The revelation by Oxfam that just 67 billionaires own the equivalent wealth as the poorest half of the planet shows just where corporate capitalism is taking us!
So getting the economics right must surely be at the heart of Corbyn’s Labour. Everything else flows from this.
With perfect timing, an excellent article in the journal Renewal, “Bring back the Institute of Workers’ Control”, revisits a pivotal period in Labour’s recent history during which this issue of economic strategy was first worked through.
During the 1970s and 80s, Labour and leading trade unions produced the famous “Alternative Economic Strategy" (AES).
The article, by Joe Guinan, opens by referring to the existential threat now posed to the planet by capitalism. He proposes democratic control over the economy as the only way it can be managed to meet people’s needs, without destroying the environment.
The heart of his article covers key events in Labour’s near history such as the occupation during 1971 of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. This followed the Tory's withdrawal of financial support which would have led to its closure. That capitalist control of industry could be challenged in an urgent and practical way was given a material - and international - boost. (By the way, under occupation and workers’ control, productivity rose substantially!)
These events (and others he talks about) shaped the economic debate. A key organisations was the Institute of Workers Control. The IWC, supported by Tony Benn and many others, helped crystallise the alternatives, "to both moribund social democracy and emerging neo-liberalism".
Discussion by unions and workers produced workable strategies for deploying the skills, knowledge and experience of workers - but in a socially positive way. This has some immediacy. Workers employed by the Trident “deterrent” are rightly concerned about their jobs.
As early as 1978, a “Worker’s Enquiry into the Motor Industry”, led to proposals that included green and sustainable alternatives to internal combustion-driven cars - an early anticipation of hybrid alternatives, of electric cars and alternative forms of mass transit.
Organised Labour has produced demonstrable alternatives to capitalist management of industry. These alternatives not only can save jobs, but also create additional socially useful work. Here lies the answer to the legitimate concerns of Trident workers!
The "Alternative Economic Strategy" was ultimately defeated under the twin attacks from Thatcher on the one side, and her Labour acolytes, led by the likes of Kinnock and Blair, on the other.
TUSC looks forward to participating in McDonnell’s “New Economics”. It offers the opportunity to build a socialist strategy we can rely on - and one that will capture the imagination and commitment of all workers.
The Renewal article is a Must Read. It starts out in a somewhat academic style, but don’t be discouraged! After a few paragraphs, the real story begins. If you want to skip the academic intro - start reading from the section headed, “A Road Not Taken”.
Wednesday, 13 January 2016
A PEOPLE'S BUDGET FOR CROYDON!!
Croydon’s right-wing Labour council will be setting its budget during February and March.
And on 28th January, the “Opportunity Croydon Fairness Commission" will publish its final report on, "what can be done to improve the borough,”
Labour councillors, presumably having no ideas of their own, asked the Bishop to lead the commission’s work.
Setting expectations, an email from the Commission spoke of the council having to, "make difficult decisions about how it can serve the people of the borough with far less resources…”.
Right-wing Labour Councillors will welcome the report. It will set an agenda of cautious and minimalist "reforms" for councillors unwilling to lead a popular fightback against cuts to funding and services.
Labour councillors will likely adopt the “dented shield” approach; favoured by spine-free councillors everywhere.
The money's just not there, they will say. There's nothing we can do. But at least we can prioritise cuts better than the Tories!
Like Tory/Liberal Sutton, they may offer consultation - but only on where the cuts should fall !
Fighting councillors, however, could make their own choices. There ARE things they can do. They can VOTE AGAINST CUTS!
Unite's local government national committee has called on Labour councils to do this; to set ‘no cuts’ budgets.
Furthermore, according to Croydon’s latest balance sheet the Council has nearly £90 million in “usable” reserves. If the “unusable” reserves were included, the total goes up to £362 million!
The total usable reserves held collectively by UK local councils is more than £22 billion!! - most of it in Labour councils!
If Labour councillors were determined to make REAL Corbyn’s claim that Labour are now an "anti-austerity party", then these reserves should be turned into a fighting fund!
The council could also issue Bonds to raise money - on very favourable terms too, in light of almost zero interest rates.
Rather than set a Tory-collaborators budget, councillors could instead set a “People's Budget”! A budget designed to meet the needs of Croydon’s citizens - not those of the pro-spiv Tories.
This could be done entirely legally! The Southampton Labour movement, for example, are already setting about this task. See HERE.
Activists in the Croydon Labour movement, joining with campaign groups and others, could draft a “People’s Budget for Croydon”. Croydon’s Trades Council has already started work in this direction.
A document like this could be distributed and publicised. It would shout out loud that a pro-worker alternative IS possible. It would be a powerful antidote to right-wing Labour’s lamentations and hand-wringing.
It could be used in the lead up to a mass lobby of the council on budget day!
It could be held up as the first volley in a political challenge to the pro-establishment Labour councillors - to signal their time is running out!
Tuesday, 5 January 2016
WHAT MUST LABOUR DO NOW?
The key question for Labour members and socialists outside the Party is; in the new situation what is the best strategy for ridding us not only of the Tories, but also their acolytes and little helpers in the Labour Party?
The next key battleground will be the local elections in May. If these elections are seized upon as an opportunity to take forward the fightback and consolidate the gains made so far, it will be a victory not only for Labour, but for all working people.
It was a real shame, then, that Corbyn sent a letter to councils on 17th December saying they must NOT set "needs budgets” - that is, budgets designed to meet the need of local citizens, rather than Tory policy.
In the same letter he said that Labour is now an anti-austerity party. But how so - if all that means is a purely verbal opposition? What is the point of a Labour council if all they do is wring their hands and pass on Tory service cuts and closures?
Labour’s 7,000 councillors control 120 councils up and down the country - what a massive potential base that could be for building real resistance - backed, as it would be, by 370,000 Party members; by trade unions, community campaigns and other left organisations such as Momentum!
But surely we must not sow illusions about the fighting determination of careerist Blairites.
It is plain wrong and potentially disastrous to lead anyone to think that Labour is worth voting for, constituted as it currently is, and with the vast majority of its MPs and councillors utterly hostile to everything Corbyn stands for - as made clear daily in the press!
Of course some council candidates and existing MPs will be worth campaigning for. But it is regrettable that these are a small minority at present.
There are two Labour Parties; Corbyn’s and Blairs. And we do a disservice if we conflate them and blur the distinction. We should not present Labour as having been utterly transformed. It hasn’t; although a very serious and hopeful start has been made. (See HERE, for example).
We must tell it as it is. Look for example at what was reported in the Financial Times (5th January) about Liverpool - a right-wing Labour Council with a right-wing Labour mayor.
Mayor Anderson was reported as saying, “It is not my fault that we have people with massive adult care needs. It’s not my fault we have a low council tax base. If we had had the average grant cut for councils, we would be £82m better off.”
As it is, the FT said, "Liverpool has lost £340m of its annual budget since 2010, a reduction of 58 per cent, and has laid off 3,000 staff". This is disgraceful. Sow illusions in these people?
Labour’s right-wing whine constantly that everything is the Tories’ fault. This is largely true of course (leaving aside the damage done by Blair’s Labour when in power...). But to then say there is nothing we can do is totally false.
Are we to plaintively lament to struggling workers looking for a lead that we must wait until the Parliamentary elections in 2020?! The further damage done by then, unless Labour fights back, will be unbearable for millions!
TUSC will not stand by. Wherever this happens, NO MATTER WHO IS IMPLEMENTING CUTS, they will be opposed by us - even if that means standing against existing right-wing Labour councillors.
We will be writing more, soon, about what is happening in Croydon and Sutton - where change is in the air....