Get Labour on the streets!

Submitted by AWL on 19 February, 2020 - 11:51 Author: Editorial
School cuts demo

Whenever the Budget emerges, and whatever the details, it won’t keep Boris Johnson’s promise to “end austerity”.

That doesn’t mean we have to wait until 2024. Even under the Thatcher and Major Tory governments, mass protest forced the end of the poll tax and a partial reversal of NHS cuts after 1990.

Solidarity urges Labour and trade union activists to join with us in a campaign to get Labour on the streets to rebuild the NHS and save our schools, and to end austerity.

By “campaign” here we mean not a committee, a website, a grant from this or that foundation, a Twitter account, but a concerted drive of motions to Labour Party and trade union meetings, demanding that the Labour leaders call action, plus local initiatives where the local labour movement is strong enough.

It’s been done before.

In November 1976 the Labour Party National Executive backed a big weekday demonstration against cuts — cuts made by the Labour government!

After the Tories won the 1979 election, the right-wing Labour Party leadership called an official Labour Party demonstration against Tory cuts, and 50,000 turned out a weekday.

The same right-wing leadership also supported a 15,000-strong demonstration in support of the steelworkers’ strike on 28 January 1980.

A new more leftish Labour leadership, with Michael Foot, organised protests against unemployment: 150,000 in Liverpool on 29 November 1980, 50,000 in Glasgow on 21 February 1981.

The demonstrations expanded the movement, nourished the left-wing surge in the Labour Party in the early 1980s, laid the basis for the great network of miners’ support groups which came within inches of helping the miners to victory in the 1984-5 strike.

There had to be, and there was, a battle of ideas within the movement. The opening for that battle of ideas to become lively was created by the mobilisation and energy of the big national demonstrations and the countless local protests which went along with them.

The movement then didn’t defeat Thatcher. Even mass political strikes (or armed uprisings!) are not guaranteed success. But, unlike the mass strikes or armed uprisings, such demonstrations could be and were called at will by the movement as it was.

The wave of labour movement demonstrations and campaigns against cuts from 2010 through to early 2017, often supported by the TUC and with Labour leaders on the platform, did not beat the Tories. But it generated the energy which got Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory in 2015, and Labour’s vote surge in 2017.

The decline of Labour support in 2017-9 was due not only to the mess over Brexit and antisemitism, but also to the decline of campaigning. To the relegation of policies to the status of announcements to be dropped on the electorate from on high just a few days or weeks before a general election.

The Labour Party, as it is now, with all its weaknesses, can be made to mobilise its members on the streets against the Tories and austerity. The political basis will at first be blurred. It will evolve and (if the radical socialists do our job well) clarify as we’re able to make the movement develop.

Health and education are key areas now, as they were in 2010-7. But as the movement grows it will not limit itself to that.

The roll-out of Universal Credit is due to restart in July 2020. If Labour has started building the campaign, then we can generate a challenge on that issue too.

As the momentum develops, we can put the Tory government — and local councils, both Tory and Labour — under pressure on issues like housing, too.

Get Labour on the streets!

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