What should socialists do in the General Election?

Submitted by AWL on 6 January, 2015 - 5:21 Author: Editorial

In the run up to the general election in May, Workers’ Liberty will be supporting the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory, which combines advocating a Labour government with using the election to boost working-class struggles and raise the profile of socialist ideas. We call on other socialists and labour movement militants, whatever your affiliation, to join the campaign.

Any version of the Tories remaining in office — by themselves, in coalition with the Lib Dems or, worst of all, in coalition with UKIP — would be a disaster for the working class. Yet the only alternative government is Ed Miliband’s Labour Party, officially committed to a softer version of cuts, austerity and anti-migrant politics. How should socialists respond to this problem?

A strong slate of class-struggle socialist candidates, to champion workers’ interests, raise the profile of socialism and put pressure on Labour from the left, would be best. But that is not on the cards. Non-Labour left candidacies will be weak both organisationally and politically. In any case, even if you want to vote Green, TUSC or Left Unity here or there, that doesn’t answer who will form the next government and what it will do. The left should not attempt to dodge this question.

For all its woeful inadequacies and shameful betrayals, and despite changes in its structure, Labour remains supported, funded and organisationally tied to workers’ basic class organisations, the trade unions. In the election, the unions will back Labour and the vast majority of politically active trade unionists will do the same — but the official union campaign will accept and promote Labour as it is.

It will neither make the kind of demands — on cuts, the NHS, climate change, workers’ rights and many other issues — necessary to serve working-class interests, nor will it work to develop workers’ political consciousness. It will paint up Miliband as left-wing and, because this is obviously not the case, effectively promote voting Labour as a lesser evil. It will let the Labour leadership “get away with it”.

Because Labour remains linked to the unions — because they could use their voice in the party to shift its course, if they chose to — we should support the election of a Labour government. But if we are going to avoid becoming footsoldiers for the Labour leadership, we need to do more than that.

We need to demand the unions stop covering politically for the Labour leadership, and start fighting for workers — in the first instance, by actually campaigning for union policies.

Beyond that, we need to fight to reinstate class as the basic axis of politics, and inject class-struggle socialist ideas into political debate. At a time when UKIP is using the crisis to drag politics to the right, and anything resembling socialism has been pushed out of political discourse, this could not be more urgent.

The Labour Party, with all its flaws and contradictions from the beginning, came into existence because socialist activists had succeeded in popularising socialist ideas among significant layers of the working class. The same kind of work needs to be done today, otherwise it will be impossible to effectively check the drift to the right.

With the beginnings of an economic recovery, and developments like the possible election of Syriza in Greece, the political picture is dark, but not unrelievedly dark.

There are openings for socialist activism, but we have to organise to take them.

There are a variety of campaigns developing to change Labour’s policies on particular issues — rail renationalisation, for instance, and student tuition fees. Left Labour MP John McDonnell is launching a “Left Platform” to bring together campaigners, trade unionists and Labour candidates around an agreed set of campaigning demands. The SCLV will support such initiatives, and put forward a political framework for them by advocating a workers' plan of demands to remake society in the interests of the majority - foregrounding ideas like taxing the rich, expropriating the banks and a workers’ government.

It will make the case as loudly as possible for a wider goal of a different society, a socialist society which replaces the crises and exploitation of capitalism with collective ownership, equality and sustainable planning for people’s needs.

One absolutely essential part of all this is using the election to fight for migrants’ rights. We need to challenge Labour — and, in effect, the unions’ — shameful capitulation to the right on immigration, and stand up for working-class unity and solidarity. That task alone justifies the kind of campaigning work we hope the SCLV will do.

The campaign will be seeking support and publicising its message both in the organised labour movement, student movement, etc, and on the streets. We urge socialist organisations and individuals to get involved.

• socialistcampaign@gmail.com

• SCLV Facebook page

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