From the October edition of Hackney Socialist Unity
John McDonnell’s campaign for Labour Party leader is not only a fight against the fake-labour leaders of ‘New Labour’; it is a challenge for the entire labour movement.
100 years ago, Labour was founded as the political party of the working class. Today the middle-class politicians who hijacked Labour are governing in the interests of capital not the working class.
Since 1997, ‘New Labour’ has lost millions of voters and 200,000 members. They have kept the anti-union laws and attacked the welfare state. They have privatised more than the Tories and have now started on the NHS. In foreign policy, ‘New Labour’ is an ally of US imperialism.
Blair, like Thatcher, has imposed the idea that “there is no alternative” to pro-capitalist policies. But despite Blair’s stifling of Labour Party democracy, the crisis over who replaces him is a chance to tackle the crisis of working-class political representation. McDonnell poses a left-wing alternative around key policies:
• troops out of Iraq
• end privatisation
• scrap student fees; support comprehensive education.
• restore civil liberties and trade union rights
• a green energy policy
• increase the basic state pension; restore the earnings link.
This is a serious challenge; The Guardian predicts John has 41 of the 44 MPs he needs to get on the ballot paper. But we can not take that for granted: socialists and trade unionists need to mobilise not only to get McDonnell on the ballot paper but to win the election.
Contrary to myth, the unions still have great power in the Labour Party, albeit less than they used to. But most union leaders have not fought Blair and Brown. Instead they have settled for crumbs from Blair’s table, making Brown and Blair look stronger than they really are.
Unions will ballot members to decide which leadership candidate to support. Rank-and-file members know the reality of Brown’s policies of privatisation and job cuts. There is big potential to gain support for John McDonnell and win these ballots, even against the recommendations of leaders for Brown.
In Hackney we need to get trade union branches to pass motions supporting John. One local Amicus branch has already done so and the influential centre-left group Amicus Unity Gazette has unanimously decided to campaign for McDonnell.
Many affiliated unions do not send delegates to Hackney Labour Party. This plays into the hands of the right wing. Activists should get delegated and promote McDonnell. Delegates can take the union agenda into the Party and defend local services and jobs. This would be a nightmare for the Labour right: let’s make their nightmare a reality.
McDonnell is calling on people to rejoin Labour to support the campaign. Understandably, some may consider this a waste of time. But getting the political representation we need can only be won through a struggle inside the existing labour movement, which includes the Labour Party.
British socialism has a long tradition of arid sectarianism. Attempts to proclaim an alternative which have not been founded through a struggle in our own labour movement have led to one sect after another. The consequence is self-isolation.
Sometimes socialists need to stand against Labour candidates who are directly attacking the working class. But we should be able to fight inside the Labour Party too. Some Hackney Labour Party branches are controlled by right-wing cliques. But not all. Where possible socialists should be active in branches, promoting ideas of working-class representation, defence of the welfare state, solidarity with workers in struggle, and trade union rights.
In some branches the right wing has been challenged recently. Haggerston-Hoxton branch opposed privatisation in the NHS, Leabridge branch is sponsoring the meeting with John McDonnell.
One consequence of the decline in membership is that the right wing is vulnerable. It is feasible that a strengthened left organising behind McDonnell can not only build support for his leadership but challenge the fake-labour careerists who run the party and Hackney Council.
The public meeting called by Hackney TUC/Leabridge Labour Party Branch should be a springboard for John McDonnell’s campaign in Hackney. Let’s get organised!