No-cuts election challenge grows
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) national steering committee met last Wednesday to discuss the latest progress report on the TUSC local elections challenge.
A further 91 applications to stand under the TUSC umbrella were approved, taking the total to 440 TUSC candidates – over one in ten of all the council seats up for election in May.
There are now three councils, Coventry, Bristol and Portsmouth, where every seat up for election will have a TUSC candidate. In a further nine councils at least half of the wards will have a TUSC candidate and in fifteen more, a third of the wards. In 76 of the 160 councils with elections in May there will be a TUSC challenge.
Another impressive feature reported on was the number of leading trade unionists, at national, regional and branch level, who have come forward as TUSC candidates.
This naturally includes many members of the RMT transport workers’ union, which is officially represented on the TUSC steering committee. Fourteen members of the Finsbury Park RMT branch have agreed to stand and there are nine RMT members standing in Portsmouth. RMT candidates include former council of executive members, a regional organiser, regional council officers, and numerous branch officers and reps.
Other trade union candidates include national executive members from the PCS civil servants union, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Prison Officers Association (POA), and the Labour-affiliated UNISON and Transport Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) unions.
There are 109 UNITE union members standing, 19 Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) members, including four branch officers, a Fire Brigades Union (FBU) regional secretary, and five branch officers of the University and College Union (UCU).
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is an electoral alliance that stands candidates against all cuts and privatisation.
It involves the RMT transport union, leading members of other unions and socialists including the Socialist Party.
Fighting these elections is important. Evidence emerges daily of how councils – Labour, Tory, and Lib Dem alike – are acting as local agents of the austerity agenda. TUSC will mean a challenge to these establishment parties – and to the right wing populist United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) too.
Council cuts of £770 million to adult social care over the past three years mean that 168,000 older people are no longer getting help with essential tasks such as eating, washing and getting dressed, according to Age UK. In many areas youth services are becoming the stuff of memories.
Protests, demonstrations, strike action by council staff – all are vital to try to protect our public services.
But offering a challenge at the ballot box is also part of the struggle. The question now, with weeks to go before nominations close, is how can the broadest and most effective anti-austerity electoral campaign be organised for the May polls?
We still have to fight to be heard
To be granted what the broadcasting authorities call ’fair media coverage’, 15% of the seats up for election need to be contested by a party registered with the Electoral Commission.
That means, for May’s elections, 625 candidates standing under one banner, at least as it appears on the ballot paper. Recent events show this will also need a fight!
The media couldn’t ignore the outpouring of grief by working class people at RMT leader Bob Crow’s death.
But they developed a line that Bob was ’not political’. A BBC website article by John Moylan stated that, "Mr Crow was not a member of any political party when he died".
A formal complaint was made pointing out that Bob Crow was a co-founder of TUSC and a member of the TUSC steering committee. Two days later it was amended to include a quote from TUSC national chairperson, Dave Nellist.
Then, on 26 March, TUSC received an official reply from the BBC’s Complaints department. In a Kafkaesque response they state: "we’ve looked at some of our articles which don’t mention Bob Crow’s connection to the TUSC but equally the article [by John Moylan] does".
In other words the only thing they could find to defend their coverage was the very article which we complained about which they had been forced to change.
How can we break the mainstream media’s boycott of the anti-austerity socialist alternative? One step is to join the 440 people who have put themselves forward to date and become a TUSC candidate on 22 May.
An appeal to anti-austerity campaigners
At its meeting on 26 February the TUSC national steering committee agreed to approach other anti-austerity campaigners and parties to ask if they would participate in the TUSC candidate lists – with their full rights preserved – even if just for this round of elections.
At the very least, the TUSC steering committee is committed to avoiding electoral clashes with other anti-austerity forces.
But the opportunity is there to do much more, to break through the media boycott of the positive alternative to austerity.
On 2 March 2014 TUSC wrote to Left Unity regarding collaboration in the local elections. The letter explained that "TUSC is based on agreement on core policies which every prospective candidate is asked to endorse."
The ten core policies include: oppose all cuts to council jobs, services, pay and conditions; refuse to implement the bedroom tax; support all workers’ struggles against the cuts, privatisation and the government’s policy of making ordinary people pay for the crisis caused by the bankers and the bosses and voting for councils to refuse to implement the cuts.
The letter continues: "On that basis, any Left Unity members who wanted to stand in May would be guaranteed to receive the legally-necessary ’certificate of authorisation’ to appear under the TUSC umbrella."
TUSC explains that: "This arrangement would guarantee the rights of Left Unity as an autonomous party.
"Beyond endorsing the core policies, candidates are responsible for their own campaign. The rights of Left Unity members who were authorised as candidates to produce their own material, to promote Left Unity as part of their campaign etc would be fully secured.
"There would obviously be issues to discuss if Left Unity were to accept this proposal. If the broadcast threshold was reached, for example, the organisations involved in the election campaign, now including Left Unity, would need to agree how this ’federal approach’ would operate for media appearances, for instance in regard to a party election broadcast. But these could surely be resolved."
On 23 March LU’s national secretary Kate Hudson replied regarding the offer of collaboration saying: "In line with our approach and policy discussions on electoral work so far, I don’t think it likely that we will take up your offer.
"As you will be aware, we have a national policy conference at the end of this month which will have further discussions about our electoral policy.
"However, following our initial discussion last year, we have no intention of conflicting electorally with TUSC, and following our conference, I am sure that the newly-elected officers would be very pleased to meet with you to discuss this matter further if you would wish to do so."
The TUSC appeal was continued in a letter to the Guardian by national election agent Clive Heemskerk, responding to a comment article by Ken Loach in the Guardian on 28 March.
"Ken Loach is absolutely right to say that ’Labour is part of the problem, not the solution’ to the question, ’where is our political fight back’ against austerity to come from?
"At the forthcoming local council elections the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), co-founded by Bob Crow and since 2012 officially backed by the RMT union, is organising the biggest left of Labour challenge in such elections since the immediate aftermath of the second world war.
"The recently founded Left Unity group have been invited to participate in this election coalition, joining the anti-bedroom tax campaigners, trade union activists, and members of a number of different socialist organisations who will be standing under the TUSC umbrella in May.
"Possibly, together, we can reach the broadcasting authorities’ threshold for ’fair coverage’ during the election period.
"This would be a breakthrough for the anti-austerity socialist message, which I’m sure Ken would support."
Even if it proves impossible to agree formal arrangements nationally in the time available, individuals can still apply to appear on the ballot paper with the TUSC name, while promoting other compatible campaigns and organisations as they wish.
The priority really must be to build the most effective challenge to the austerity consensus on 22 May.
Who are Left Unity?
Left Unity was set up in March last year after 10,000 people clicked an online declaration supporting ’Ken Loach’s appeal to discuss the formation of a new party’ following the release of his film, Spirit of 45, a Guardian article and other media publicity.
But an online appeal and a media profile does not make a party. Just 377 people took part in recent elections for Left Unity’s national leadership, conducted through a two-week long online ballot – less than the number of TUSC candidates in May! Seventeen of the 40 regional reps’ places on Left Unity’s national council have been left unfilled.
When Bob Crow was interviewed last September by Guardian journalist John Harris on the prospect for a new workers’ party he was asked about Left Unity. "Well, it’s another group of people.
"Good luck to ’em", he replied. But "there needs to be one party speaking on behalf of workers", with the unions central (9 September 2013).
Organisations’ rights are protected by the federal, ’umbrella’ character of TUSC. Shouldn’t Left Unity be part of the coalition?