Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition: We are where we are

So at long last the formation of a new left-wing coalition has been announced to stand candidates in the general election. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is backed by the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers' Party and a handful of prominent trade unionists, most notably Bob Crow of the RMT. It is a progression from last year's No2Eu, in both name and programme. But there are undoubtedly problems.

Disappointing is the apparent decision of the Alliance for Green Socialism not to participate, supposedly because the name lacked the words 'Green' or 'Environmentalist.' If this is true, I find it difficult to understand, because they participated in No2EU last year, which had a much worse name and much less environmentalist content to its programme. Perhaps there is another reason for AGS's non-involvement, but it would be sad to lose them.

The Communist Party of Britain's executive committee have stated that they won't be participating. Again I find this hard to fathom. They are sticking to their normal 'Vote Labour' line but also imply they will be standing candidates under their own name. Well, there was nothing stopping them standing as part of TUSC and advocating a Labour vote in constituencies where TUSC wasn't standing.

As for Respect, the leadership around Galloway has declared itself against any alliance with the 'far left' in favour of the Green Party (which has already backfired on them). There seems to be a sizeable minority in Respect in favour of something like TUSC though. I'm not sure how the organisation functions, and whether local branches would be able to canvas for TUSC without getting into trouble with the leadership.

Some people may well argue that the CPB, with their soft-Stalinism, and Galloway, with his unpredictable ego and sometimes deplorable political behaviour (cup of tea, Mr Saddam?) are no big loss to a left unity project. I wouldn't go that far. There are decent people in both groups. And the CPB's Morning Star is, for all its faults, a daily newspaper.

On a more positive note it seems that the SWP are on board, and want to stand 6 candidates under the TUSC banner. This will probably include Cambridge so if I can wrench myself away from the academic hell of my final year around April time, there will be some electioneering for me to do down here.

I'm not sure on the position of locally based parties like the Wigan, Leigh and Makersfield People's Alliance that was set up a while back. They may want to keep their name and work with the coalition. The WLMPA includes members of Respect so if they did decide to back TUSC, that would be interesting.

The RMT as a national union is not backing the coalition, but individual branches can. This seems to have already occurred in Portsmouth. This will test the desire for a political alternative within the ran-and-file of the RMT in a way that No2EU did not, and will hopefully push the leadership towards more political action in the future.

As yet there is no website for the Coalition, and so nowhere to really direct interested people to apart from the Facebook group. This should be rectified as quickly as possible, preferably with details of local campaigns in places where we know TUSC candidates will definitely be standing, for example Dave Nellist in Coventry.

The main problem with TUSC is that its development hasn't come sooner. There should have been local left unity groups forming ages back, around the time the WLMPA got going. Waiting for the backing of national groups before putting anything on the ground wasn't, I think, the best way of going about it, especially seeing as some of these groups seem to have pulled out anyway. The British Left seems to suffer from a 'bullet point' syndrome. Groups get together to agree a list of demands they can unite around, and if they disagree with some of the end result they tend to walk away rather than staying and fighting their position at a future meeting, and working together in the meantime. This is, in my experience, particularly common in the student movement. TUSC has to an extent tried to overcome this by advocating the freedom of affiliated groups to put out their own material over and above the agreed common platform. So minor programmatic disagreements shouldn't, in theory, result in groups walking away at the first sign of disagreement. But, as I've said, we're not off to a great start in that respect.

Local TUSC groups should have been ready to hit he ground running, because unity discussions shouldn't have been held only at a national level. The best way of building trust and co-operation on the Left is for comrades to be working together on the ground. TUSC supporters in different towns and cities should get together, invite other interested groups and community activists, and begin selecting their candidates and planning their campaigns. After all, we don't have much time.

I'd like to see some sort of conference after the election, when TUSC has hopefully attracted a new layer of activists and 'independents'. This would be a big step forward from the national committees of interested groups meeting. No-one would be talking about founding a new party just now, but at least we could ready local TUSC groups to fight against the vicious social cuts programme to be unleashed by whoever wins the election. Hopefully supporters will canvass for comrades in organisations other than their own, and the appearance of unity will be given some substance.

Obviously we're not looking at big votes. Media coverage will be slim (we can and should blame the bourgeois biased media, but I think the Left can do better to try getting the attention of the press). Some candidates will get respectable votes. Success will be judged more, I think, on how well we sink roots into working class communities to prepare for the storms ahead.

It's been a long frustrating road to this point, but we are where we are.

Viva TUSC!

More thoughts at AVPS and Though Cowards Flinch

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