Britain: General election 2010

TUSC stands for socialism…and prepares for the battles ahead

May 2010 will probably remembered by history not for the British general election, but as the start of a heroic mass struggle of the Greek working class. This is a fight to defend their living conditions against the savage onslaught of capitalism. Faced with generalised cuts in living standards of 20-30%, the Greek working class showed their defiance with a gigantic general strike and the biggest demonstrations since the overthrow of the military dictatorship in 1974. In Athens 300,000 workers took to the streets in the largest ever trade union protests.

Beside the events in Greece the general election in Britain seems a mundane affair. Nonetheless, it opens up a period of instability which will, at a certain stage, lead to Greece coming to Britain. This was an election of losers; no party has come out of it with a mandate to govern. It may be days, or even weeks, before the political stripes of the next government is known – but it is already certain that it will jump to the tune of the markets – that is capitalism – and will carry out brutal attacks on the public sector and the living conditions of the working class. Cuts, as Darling put it, “deeper and tougher than Thatcher” are our future.

For this reason the Socialist Party argued that it was vital to have a socialist challenge in this election as preparation for the mighty struggles ahead. We helped to found the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) which stood in 41 general election seats across Britain. TUSC declared opposition to all cuts in public services and put the case for a socialist alternative to capitalism. Everywhere TUSC candidates stood we had enthusiastic support – particularly from young people and public sector workers. TUSC election meetings were successful – with significant numbers of people coming along because they had picked up a leaflet and wanted to find out about a socialist alternative. At the largest, in Coventry, 110 people attended, around half of whom had never been to a socialist meeting before.

Although TUSC candidates got some creditable votes – notably Dave Nellist’s 1,592 votes in Coventry North East, 1,057 for Jenny Sutton in Tottenham and 931 for Tommy Sheridan in Glasgow South West – TUSC’s support was not generally reflected in the votes it received. In part this was because of the capitalist media’s virtual blackout of TUSC. This made it difficult to establish a national profile for TUSC in the short time between it being founded and the election being called. However, the major factor, as we predicted, was that many workers who would have voted for us felt they had no choice but to vote New Labour in order to stop the Tories. This also affected all other parties beyond the ‘big two’, even the Liberal Democrats.

There were, however, a few candidates that managed to stand against this trend. Green candidate Caroline Lucas won the parliamentary seat in Brighton Pavilion. This shows the number of people who will vote for a candidate to the left of the establishment parties, if they are perceived as having a chance of winning the election. Caroline Lucas stood on a programme of defending public services and attacking the bankers, so her election is a potentially positive step. However, the Green’s have a history, at local level in Britain and on a national level in other countries, of entering into power-sharing governing bodies and making attacks on workers’ living standards. it is therefore also possible that the Greens will move to the right, and therefore cease to be seen as left in workers’ eyes. In addition Salma Yaqoob, standing for Respect in Birmingham Hall Green, did very well, winning over 12,000 votes.

Smaller parties squeezed

The general trend, however, was for smaller parties to be squeezed by New Labour and the Tories. The memory of the brutal class war that Thatcher and the Tories carried out against the working class runs deep. This meant that in Coventry St Michaels ward, where Socialist Party councillor Rob Windsor was defending his seat, Rob got the highest ever vote for the Socialist Party in the ward, with 1,783 votes – more than 500 up on last time he stood – and yet still lost the seat as a result of the higher turnout created by the general election. The large increase in our vote puts us in a strong position to come back and rewin the seat next year. Socialist Party councillors were also defending their seats in Lewisham and Kirklees. At the timing of writing we are still waiting for the results, but the same factor will have had an effect on our percentage of the vote.

Nationally, the turnout has increased from the last general election, partly as a result of the anti-Tory mood. In Scotland, in the inner-city working class constituencies in London, and in the big cities of the North and Midlands, as workers, some of whom had not voted New Labour for two general elections, came out to try and stop the axe-man Cameron. This did not represent support for New Labour, but perhaps the hope that the cuts would be a little gentler under a Labour government. As we have explained, while the timing of cuts might have been a bit slower under a New Labour government, there is no fundamental difference between the three big capitalist parties on the need to carry out the biggest cuts in public spending since the 1920s.

If a Labour/Liberal coalition is formed our analysis will unfortunately be confirmed. If a Tory minority government takes the power it will be looking over its shoulder at Greece as it embarks on a huge cuts programme with little popular support and huge, ingrained hostility to it across large swathes of the country. It is doubtful how long the next government – of whatever stripe – will last. The task of socialists will be to argue for a mass united working class movement – starting with a massive national trade union led demonstration against all cuts in public services. Twenty years ago our party (then the Militant) led the 18 million-strong movement that brought down Thatcher – the Iron Lady – and her hated poll tax. The next prime minister will be no ‘Iron Man’, but we will need a similar movement to defeat him and his government’s cuts.

Need to build a positive, political alternative

However, this also needs to be linked to building a positive, political alternative. The struggle for a mass party of the working class – which stands for a socialist alternative to the profit system – is a crucial part of our tasks. TUSC is a modest, but very important, step towards such a goal. While still only early beginnings, the number of trade union organisations that backed TUSC is significant. Branches and regions of the fire brigades union FBU, the communications workers’ union CWU, the prison officers’ union POA, and the transport workers’ union RMT, have supported TUSC candidates. Twenty TUSC candidates were officially backed by the RMT national council of executives. National trade union leaders, including Bob Crow RMT general secretary, Chris Baugh PCS assistant general secretary, Brian Caton POA general secretary and Nina Franklin president of the NUT, sit on the steering committee of TUSC. It is important that we continue to develop TUSC beyond the general election. To do this successfully means recognising the early stage of development of this formation, which still has a limited number of activists. However, it also means understanding that most significant aspect of TUSC is that it has involved sections of militant trade unionists, and is therefore a real step towards independent working class representation. It is the federal, inclusive approach adopted by TUSC that has made this possible. All future developments will need to build on this method.

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