TUSC Local Elections Conference Feb 1 2014
A report for the Independent Socialist Network from Pete McLaren, with assistance from Dave Landau and Will McMahon for the morning session report
There were around 200 in attendance. Dave Nellist, National Chair of TUSC, was in the chair. The morning session was focused on trade unions with Mike Sargent the official speaker for the RMT Council of Executives, John McInally the PCS Vice President, and Joe Simpson the POA Assistant General Secretary. There was also as speaker from the UCU, Paul Blackledge, who spoke about the strikes that having been taking place in higher education. He also said that the anger against austerity had been misdirected to scapegoating migrants and benefit ‘scroungers’, and TUSC must try and change this. All the leading TUSC trade unionists gave clear arguments as to why the Labour Party as a project for socialists and class struggle trade unionists is dead, and there were a number of contributions from the floor giving local examples to that end. John McInally, in his contribution, had suggested that, if Labour itself broke the link, as Milliband was suggesting, that would make it easier for us to re-direct the political fund. Mike Sargent had suggested TUSC build community orgnaisations, as he had witnessed in Venezuela. Joe Simpson had suggested there was an appetite for a new party. The SNP’s vision of a social democratic Scotland was winning people away from Labour. If the SNP can do it so can TUSC, he concluded.
TUSC’s local elections challenge
The afternoon session was opened by TUSC National Election Agent Clive Heemskerk. He announced there were indications of over 400 TUSC candidates for the May Council elections so far, with 12 weeks to go before nominations closed on April 24th, a positive step towards the 625 needed to guarantee national media coverage – the TUSC target, which, if achieved, would constitute the largest left electoral challenge in the last 65 years. He stressed that the Core Policies agreed today would be those every candidate had agreed to stand on – http://www.tusc.org.uk/policy.php, adding that these can be added to by local groups. TUSC was a coalition, he continued, which meant any activist, community campaigner or socialist could use the TUSC label as long as they accepted these Core Policies. He then described how TUSC councillors could legally refuse to implement any cuts, including using loopholes in existing legislation as well as political action. These methods to resist cuts could have been used by the Green party in Brighton instead of the cuts and council tax increases they were holding a referendum on.
The second speaker was Southampton former Labour councillor Keith Morrell. He outlined how, along with Don Thomas, he had opposed cuts, in particular to a local swimming pool he had been elected to defend. There had been no time for mass consultation but, as socialists, they knew they had to fight the cuts and closures. The local Labour party had responded by organising a huge campaign against them. He couldn’t understand why so many Labour councillors had found it difficult to oppose cuts. They had subsequently found much support on the doorsteps for their action. People were looking for a change. We needed to work within communities so that people can see they can trust us.
There were twenty six contributions to the debate from the floor. Thirteen were from SP members, four were SWP, two of us from the ISN and six others including one of the Harrow rebel councillors who explained how 9 councillors had left the Labour group because of discrimination and had formed the Independent Labour Group, and a leading member of Turkish/Kurdish group Day Mer who called for unity against racism and the cuts, including protests outside town halls. The balance of floor speakers was a representative reflection of the different political forces present, probably slightly underrepresenting the SP.
Many contributions from the floor included examples of local activity. I have grouped the comments by organisation, not necessarily in the order they were made
Additional points in the discussion made by members of the SP included:
- We need to campaign around local issues and persuade non-voters to vote
- We should canvass early to influence the growing number of postal voters
- It is more important to bring together different campaigns and be active rather than take time forming TUSC branches – a TUSC branch meeting would be like having a second SP meeting that month
- Confusion has led to support for UKIP – they do pick up the protest vote, and we do better if UKIP don’t stand
- Merseyside Labour councillors were attacking the working class
- The media is backing UKIP as the alternative: we must show there’s a socialist alternative
- The most savage cuts are in working class areas – Tory constituencies are getting disproportionate amounts of government money
- A new political party will come out of the process we are part of
- TUSC election campaigns are already bringing in a wide range of trade unionists
- We need to fight for public housing, affordable housing and real jobs
- We must oppose racism – it is not the Romanians but the ex-Etonians we need to challenge
- We need to work alongside students
Will McMahon, ISN, announced himself as a member of the ISN and former National treasurer of Respect. He outlined his support for the drive to have 625 candidates and felt a mass base existed. Some results may be poor, but we were all pioneers for a new mass workers’ party. This conference represented a further step forward. However, he argued we must encourage TUSC activity on the ground. He held up the ISN bulletin being distributed ‘Socialism and Unity’, proudly announcing he been very much involved with it, arguing that working class democracy required participation, hence the need for local branches. We needed activity between elections. He also stressed the need for TUSC to introduce individual membership – how else can we involve those not in trade unions in an organised way? A local structure could provide for that membership. He accepted that would be complicated within a federal structure, but that shouldn’t deter us.
Points made by SWP members included:
- The Core Policy programme is excellent, especially in the commitment to defy cuts
- There is a need for a bold socialist message
- We must develop an organisation that is vibrant and lively – a breath of fresh air
- We need to broaden and develop TUSC
- If we can get a couple of socialists elected we can start to break through
- We need to apply TUSC’s policies to our local situations and get involved in environmental projects
The four other speakers not in the SP/SWP/ISN called, separately, for us to be aware that Labour would use trade union conferences to frighten people into voting Labour; stressed the need to point out the positives about socialism, find the issues and campaign around them; to work between elections; to work hard to oppose racism; to support the protests against ATOS on February 19th; to oppose the sale of Council land; and to support work to set up a TUSC society at Ruskin College for trade unionist students to attend.
Pete McLaren spoke as a representative of the ISN to the Steering Committee and as Rugby TUSC PPC. He stressed the need to continually promote TUSC within our localities. This meant regular campaigning as they had been doing in Rugby since setting up a TUSC branch there 3 years ago, at present in opposition to Universal Credit which Rugby was piloting. He also stressed the importance of using the media to put over TUSC’s name and its message. The media could be persuaded to seek out TUSC to provide an alternative view – this had happened in Rugby. He was pleased to have heard so much about local activity during the Conference, and argued that activity should always be in TUSC’s name, which was much more likely if organised by a TUSC branch. As well as the importance of setting up local TUSC branches, which was already TUSC national policy, individual membership needed to be established, he added.
London SP organiser Paula Mitchell was the last to speak from the floor. Her points included:
- There should be local TUSC branches, but not artificially where no support for it exists
- There is already much local activity involving individual TUSC supporters but this is not mentioned in the ISN bulletin
- We need to be flexible about our type of local structures
- There are already 15 local TUSC groups in London
- The report about local TUSC groups in the ISN bulletin is inaccurate as there are many more than 5 TUSC branches
- Individual membership can come at a later date – a federal structure is important now. Trade union leaders representing thousands of workers do not want to be bounced into making decisions
- Individual involvement gives supporters a say
- The ISN no longer represents independent socialists
There was no opportunity from the floor to reply to these comments. Keith Morrell replied to the debate by praising the contributions from the floor which had filled him with enthusiasm. Clive Heemskerk confirmed there had been no opposition to the Core Policies, and it was now up to local groups to add to them. We needed to draw in activists and socialist organisations. Our model was working: only 2 candidates out of over 600 had ever been rejected, one because of a desire to stand against an RMT backed candidate, the other because of local trade union opposition. Socialists could succeed, as had happened in Seattle. He was confident a new mass workers party would develop.
Dave Nellist, in the chair, thanked everyone for attending. He hoped the conference had helped give people the confidence to stand. He reminded supporters that no deposit was needed for local elections, and hoped we would reach our 625 target and thereby get national publicity. TUSC would grow during these elections, and TUSC was the most serious national left electoral alternative on offer. The SC had written to others on the left to discuss collaboration – Left Unity had initially responded positively and the SC awaited further developments. TUSC wanted to work with others and to be part of a broad left challenge to the establishment parties – but we could not go at the pace of the slowest component, he concluded, before making a couple of announcements. No votes were taken, and I wondered why I had been given a voting card when registering!
Pete McLaren 02/02/14