The results of the UK elections of 5 May reveal the continued erosion of loyalties to the old established parties and increased support for anti-austerity struggles.
With a few exceptions the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn did not make much headway. They did not inspire workers, as there is no rousing call to fight and take to the streets.
The main reason Labour did not inspire a mass of workers is that when it comes to anti-austerity it is just talk. They support austerity and cuts continue. The failure to oppose austerity brings to mind Syriza’s capitulations in Greece because Tsipras, their Prime Minister, made many promises to oppose the EU’s austerity plan, but in the end, he agreed to austerity.
The real opposition to Tory and Labour
A member of the International Socialist League, Martin Ralph, was the local election candidate for End Austerity Old Swan Against Cuts, (OSAC) in Liverpool. Six candidates stood, including the Greens. OSAC came second, with 395 votes, doubling to 12 percent previous results. The Labour councillor was re-elected with 2,260 votes, 69 percent. The Liberal Democrats, who have the second number of seats in the city, came third, with 278 votes.
OSAC was delighted that all the hard work paid off, delivering over 8000 leaflets, on the streets every day talking to and listening to the people on the streets. There were many emails and Facebook messages from new people promising to vote for OSAC, many messages critical of Labour such as “Labour are Tories in red ties,” to “you’re against Tory and Labour? You mean against capitalism?”
OSAC’s message was clear, “The Labour party under Corbyn’s leadership claims to be anti-austerity. But we need to fight austerity now, not wait for promises in the future.”
The only way to achieve our demands was, “by mobilising on the streets with communities and unions to push Liverpool City Council to vote for a needs budget and by building a local and national campaign that links councils who set a needs budget with the trade unions who are willing to fight. Such a struggle will have to be done in close connection with communities in a common struggle against Tory austerity.”
The demands we put forward in the election campaign included:
A socialist welfare state
Free, high-quality public services under public control.
All refugees welcome, full rights and access to work, services and benefits.
Support for all international struggles against austerity.
End the bombing of Syria and the Middle East.
It was important to talk about the “anti-austerity” positions of Corbyn by explaining that the Labour Party will never lead the working class against austerity or in the fight for socialism. The Labour Party is a capitalist party with one outlook — reformism.
Throughout the campaign the one name that cropped up time and again was Joe Anderson, Labour’s right wing Liverpool Council Leader and Mayor. He received just over 50 percent in the Mayoral election but is very unpopular amongst workers and the poor.
Corbyn’s leadership team fully endorsed Joe Anderson, showing that support for Corbyn ends up as support for Labour’s right wing who control all Labour councils and Liverpool and London’s Mayors.
Local supporter Gordon Waring summed up the OSAC result, “Let’s get this straight Old Swan Against The Cuts is a small, community-based party in the Old Swan area of Liverpool. They have no financial backing whatsoever, and yet they have got more votes than the Tories, the Lib Dems, the Greens and UKIP. Let’s just think about that for a moment. With the right backing just imagine how many more votes they would get if they stood in more areas.”
The Old Swan result was one of the best of the left in the country. The other main group, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, stood 302 candidates; OSAC came within the top ten anti-austerity candidates in England.
OSAC’s programme pushed for a workers’ solution to find a way out of austerity, in a struggle for socialism based in action.
Workers beware watch the count
Three official vote counters were overheard joking about the OSAC name. Official complaints were made. And during the count an OSAC observer saw 50 OSAC votes being placed beneath 50 Liberal Democrat votes. Fortunately, she raised the issue and it was corrected.
After the national council of Left Unity had taken a majority decision not to stand against the Labour Party, OSAC offered one name End Austerity to those local groups which were considering standing as Left Unity, such as Stockport and Wigan.
John Pearson and Left Unity’s Stockport group opened up another front against the government’s austerity and its local implementation by the Labour Party and others.
John increased his vote of 0.7 percent last year to one percent, in a city that now has Labour in control. This year draconian cuts will now be made by the new Labour leadership.
The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC, an electoral coalition of the Socialist Party, Socialist Workers Party, activists and the railway workers union RMT) had some good results. TUSC candidate Kevin Bennett standing in Fairfield & Howley ward Warrington polled 921 votes (76 votes less than the third-placed Labour). In Coventry, TUSC achieved 19.8% in one ward, five wards in various cities reached up to 10 – 11 percent.
In Liverpool TUSC stood 17 candidates, achieving up to 10 percent of the votes. And the TUSC candidate for mayor Roger Banister got 5.07%.
However, TUSC and the Socialist Party still have illusions that Labour will become an anti-austerity party. In Coventry, TUSC did not stand a candidate in a by-election, “…in an attempt to open up a dialogue with the Labour Party on fighting austerity.” (TUSC website).
“…TUSC hasn’t yet had the opportunity to sit down with Jeremy to discuss what he can do to encourage Labour councillors, in Coventry and elsewhere, to help lead a serious campaign against the Tories’ massive funding cuts to local government.”
Do they believe that the Labour Party will start fighting austerity and reverse their retreats? Do they believe that those having a reformist outlook and unable to break with the right-wing can represent the interests of the working class? It seems they do!
Building a socialist and workers alternative to austerity
It is very important to raise the flag of working class independent candidates who are fighting against austerity and for socialism.
During the election campaign, Martin Ralph was invited to speak on behalf of the UCU (University and College Union) to students at a meeting organising to fight tuition fees, cuts and the privatisation.
However, several members of the Labour Party, including the chairperson from Liverpool’s Momentum (a Labour controlled organisation) argued that way forward was to join Labour and fight for socialism. Martin pointed out that Corbyn had abandoned his no fees election promise and that the leadership endorsed Joe Anderson. In Liverpool, protests against council cuts over the last six years have never been supported by Labour Party banners, or members speaking against the cuts.
Martin promised that all such future protests will continue to offer an open microphone for any Labour Party members who want to oppose the cuts. Those same Labour members remained quiet and gazed at the floor.
The Tory government austerity programme, unless stopped, within a few years will see the end of local public services, the National Health Service and public education. No one on the left disputes this.
However, differences are over what to do about it.
A problem is the vast majority of the left (including the SP and SWP) see the Labour Party with Corbyn leading as a solution and able to open the road to socialism.
However, many of the promises made by Corbyn have already been abandoned like the fight for nationalising energy companies and he endorses Tory austerity and cuts by supporting local implementation by Labour councils.
The recent suspensions of anti-Zionist and BDS activists illustrate the inability of his to stand up to the right-wing in the party, strengthening the right-wing.
Labour’s programme does not fight against Tory Austerity.
Those who fight austerity in deeds, as well as words, are increasingly taking the struggle to the streets of Europe.
OSAC openly supports general strikes in Greece, Italy and France and is for a workers Europe, not the dictatorship of the EU and IMF. We need to link struggles nationally and internationally with a joint struggle of workers across the world.
OSAC has proven that workers will not only respond but will fight where there is trust and a call to action. We face a future of struggle, and our campaign was seeking to continue that struggle during the election.