LAST WEEK saw the culmination of a series of discussions by participants in the 'No2EU-Yes to Democracy' European election coalition to see whether another alliance could be constructed for the forthcoming general election.
The result is that there will now be an election challenge, under the newly-registered electoral banner, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
No2EU was an alliance for a specific election, registered as a party as required by electoral law, involving the RMT transport workers' union, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party of Britain, Solidarity - Scotland's Socialist Movement, the Socialist Alliance, the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party and others. This time the RMT is not formally backing the coalition. However, RMT branches and regional councils will be able to apply to the union's national executive to support, politically and financially, individual candidates in their area. And Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, is supporting TUSC in a personal capacity, and will serve on its steering committee.
Places have been reserved on the committee for the core organisations which participated in No2EU, who will now decide on their involvement in the new coalition. Also involved in a personal capacity are other prominent trade unionists, including Brian Caton, the general secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA), and leading national officers of the PCS civil servants' union. While there is no formal involvement of a national trade union, this is still an important coalescing on the political plane of the most fighting trade union leaders in Britain today.
A number of local RMT branches, and other trade unionists too, have already declared that they intend to stand candidates in the general election but have not registered a 'party name'. Now, if they wish, such candidates will be able to appear on the ballot paper as Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition rather than as 'Independent'. Candidates from community campaigns, and other socialist organisations that have not been involved in the discussions to date, will also be able to stand under the TUSC banner.
The coalition has agreed a core policy statement which prospective candidates will be asked to endorse. As a federal 'umbrella' organisation, however, coalition candidates and participating organisations will also be able to produce their own supporting material. This was the approach successfully adopted by the No2EU campaign, which allowed the different organisations involved to collaborate under a common banner.
The core policy statement reflects the differing perspectives of those involved in the discussions leading to TUSC's formation. It recognises that amongst potential coalition supporters there will be "different strategic views about the way forward for the left in Britain, whether the Labour Party can be reclaimed by the labour movement, or whether a new workers' party needs to be established", the latter being the position of those in the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party.
But with the coming ferocious attacks on public spending, wages, living standards and workers' rights, regardless of which party (Tory or New Labour) forms the next government, the coalition aims to bring home the urgent need for "mass resistance to the ruling class offensive, and for an alternative programme of left-wing policies to help inspire and direct such resistance". The coalition is also needed to check the growth of the Far Right by providing a socialist anti-racist alternative for those who are fed up with the politics of the establishment parties and are looking for ways to protest
The core policies include, amongst others, opposition to public spending cuts and privatisation, calls for investment in publicly owned and controlled renewable energy, the repeal of the anti-trade union laws, and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
The statement makes a clear socialist commitment to "bringing into democratic public ownership the major companies and banks that dominate the economy, so that production and services can be planned to meet the needs of all and to protect the environment".
Coalition candidates will offer a credible challenge to New Labour, for example, in the contest between Socialist Party councillor and former MP Dave Nellist and the defence secretary Bob Ainsworth in Coventry North East. But while in some cases its vote may be squeezed, in the context of a polarised election the coalition will still have a significant impact particularly inside the trade unions in forcing a debate on the crisis of working class political representation. This itself is important preparation for the events to come.
The lack of formal endorsement of the coalition from even left-wing trade unions like the RMT, the POA, the PCS or the Fire Brigades Union will be a disappointment for many workers.
The trade union leaders involved in the coalition, who enthusiastically back it in a personal capacity, felt that more time is needed to convince a broader layer of their memberships to take such an important step at this stage. This is a reflection of the ambivalent consciousness of many workers about the coming election, with a deep hatred of New Labour but also fear at the prospect of a Tory government. But we can be confident that big events, both before the election and after, will at some point compel the unions to move decisively onto the political arena.
What is clear is that without a qualitative change in the situation in Britain, through the development of independent working class political organisation to initially at least check the pro-capitalist parties, the ruling class will have a freer hand to impose their austerity policies. Many commentators have referred to the 2010 election as a 'turning point' contest and for the working class it will indeed herald the onset of a new age of 'savage cuts', whichever establishment party wins. The launch of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is a modest but important step in the development of a movement of resistance.
To sign up as a launch sponsor of TUSC, in a personal capacity, send the necessary details (name, address, trade union/position, etc) to TUSC, 17 Colebert House, Colebert Avenue, London E1 4JP or e-mail the firstname.lastname@example.org