My impression of the first TUSC/Left Unity meeting that took place on Wednesday 24 July was that it was a very positive event. I write ‘first’ because there seemed to be a general feeling in the room that future meetings would be a good thing to enable co-operation on the left. I should add straight away that it was made clear by Left Unity that the leadership of the Left Unity project lay in the hands of the National Co-ordinating Group (NCG) and it would have to make a decision if Left Unity wanted to send a delegation to further meetings. I hope the NCG agrees to do so because although TUSC and Left Unity are adopting different strategies there was clearly an overlap in what both projects are attempting to achieve.
This is not a verbatim report because I don’t think it would be in the spirit of the meeting to offer one, but I have just attempted to give a flavour of the discussion. As a supporter of Left Unity and as a member of the TUSC National Steering Committee (as elected by the Independent Socialist Network) I was in the curious position of being on one team (the TUSC team) and also being a supporter of Left Unity’s one member one vote project. My feeling about this is that rather than there being any conflict of interest it was a good thing that I was there as I want to see both projects succeed – preferably by working together as I explained here: http://bit.ly/1cjwb0N I suspect along the spectrum of opinion that exists there are some who solely back TUSC, some who solely back the Left Unity project and others who see the possibility of a positive collaboration. Only time will tell.
Both sides gave opening descriptions of what their projects were about and their general strengths with the TUSC focusing on its electoral record and trade union support – in particular the official support of the RMT and Left Unity mentioning the Ken Loach appeal and the over 9,000 people who had signed it and the 90 groups that have been established. Then a general discussion took place about the political situation, the relationship of the Labour Party to the trade unions and other matters.
It should be noted that by the end of the meeting the RMT had four official representatives in the room. Within their group there were a range of views about TUSC and Left Unity. The RMT President Peter Pinkney has already publicly stated that he supports a Syriza type project for Britain and has criticisms of what he sees as TUSC’s narrowness. The other RMT representatives Sean McGowan, Sean Hoyle and Darren Ireland explained how they wanted to strengthen TUSC. Dave Nellist and Clive Heemskirk presented the Socialist Party view in their contributions. In particular why they feel the TUSC coalition model is durable because it is built by consensus and with a trade union spine. They informed the meeting that TUSC had stood over 500 candidates and gained over 100,000 in three and a half years and in recent local elections had averaged 3.5 per cent of the vote.
Kate Hudson explained the strength of feeling from the May 11th meeting that Left Unity should be a one-person-one-vote organisation, that no federal or coalition building aspect to the project was envisaged with TUSC or any of the left groups that exist. Sharon McCourt with clarity and cogency, explained that where she lived in Birmingham there was a need for an alternative to the Labour Party, especially from those who lived in some of the poorest areas and did not have trade union representation, and Left Unity was about that. Andrew Burgin said that the Left Unity project was based on the idea that a mass party is a possibility. Bianca Todd said that while Left Unity was still developing it was clear that ‘people wanted a voice’ and that trade unionists could be part of the Left Unity project.
There was some discussion about the role of Unite in the labour movement and its relationship to Labour and also whether other trade unions, like the RMT might move to supporting a political alternative to the Labour Party.
As, hopefully, a first meeting between the two, my overall feeling is that it was a good start. With everyone in the room being clear that it was simply a discussion with no one empowered to offer or receive anything. While TUSC would like Left Unity to be part of its coalition it is self evident that this is not going to happen. Neither is TUSC going to fold and ask individual trade unionist to join Left Unity. So, both are going to develop their own projects.
For my part I argued that rather than there being a conflict of interest between the two projects there was a coalition of interest in building a mass party to the left of Labour. In my view Left Unity and TUSC are adversarial allies on the same project that will unfold over time. I explained that from the ISN point of view it was good that the RMT had decided to back socialist candidates against Labour candidates and that it was good that the Ken Loach appeal had got over 9,000 people signed up to Left Unity. Both of these are positive developments and the left is stronger for it. The critical thing is are TUSC and Left Unity able to demonstrate to a much wider audience that they are capable of developing a positive collaboration for the benefit of the working class as a whole? As Andrew Burgin said there is the space for a new mass party of the left; my view is that by TUSC and Left Unity recognising each other’s strengths the possibility exists that they could collaborate together into bringing it into being. In the next few years this will be the critical test: we need to put the interests of our class above the interest of any particular project.
Will McMahon 25 July 2013Tweet