'Working class people need political representation'
As part of a feature on building an alternative in the aftermath of the local and European elections (see http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-ce7d-There-must-be-more-to-politics-than-this ), the Morning Star this week carried a substantial article on the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition's recent local elections campaign, which we republish below:
The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) put together what it describes as the biggest left electoral challenge to the mainstream parties since the Communist Party in 1950.
It stood 559 candidates in the local elections and received 68,000 votes. It supported Southampton rebel Labour councillors Keith Morrell and Don Thomas, who were expelled from the Labour group for voting against council cuts and presenting an alternative budget.
Morrell, who sits on the TUSC steering committee, was re-elected as an independent on a landslide with 1,633 votes.
Nationally, however, TUSC's candidates scored an average of just 3.4 per cent.
The TUSC steering committee met last month to discuss the election results. TUSC election agent Clive Heemskerk tries to put the result into perspective, saying: "If there were 68,000 people at the People's Assembly demo it would be considered a great success.
"To search out this many voters who are looking for candidates who are standing on a clear anti-austerity platform in the context of a complete media blackout is a real achievement".
While Nigel Farage received wall-to-wall coverage on television and the press, TUSC was excluded almost entirely from the election coverage.
"Go to the BBC website and there are only four entries for TUSC this year. There are more for the English Democrats who only stood 31 local council candidates. There is no justification", says Heemskerk.
TUSC's original target was 625 seats - or one sixth of contested seats - the threshold number of candidates for a party to be included in BBC election coverage according to the broadcaster's rules on political 'balance'. It wasn't easy to work out the figures since there is no national database of local election results, explains Heemskerk. "We fell short".
Although TUSC contested many more seats in 2014 than in previous local elections, its average vote was down to 3.4 per cent from 5.2 per cent in 2011.
"The reality is disappointing - the UKIP effect hit TUSC as well as the other parties, there's no doubt about it. It's too simplistic to say that only reactionary people vote UKIP. It's also those who want to lash out at the Establishment parties.
"We know what UKIP really is but by calling itself 'the People's Army' and claiming to be anti-Establishment, it's positioning itself as a receptacle of protest against the established parties and unfortunately it impacted on us".
Heemskerk believes there was a media blackout against TUSC, but adds that this is nothing the left is not used to. He dealt with BBC producers and the BBC's chief political adviser Ric Bailey, who produces guidance on electoral coverage. "I spoke to him and he gave us soft soaping stuff".
Dave Nellist, TUSC's national chair, is due to appear on Any Questions in July, says Heemskerk. "When I asked the BBC why he wasn't going to appear before the elections, the producer said we can't do it because of the balance issue". After further probing, Heemskerk was told that the BBC position was that Nellist could not be invited onto the panel during the election "under any circumstances".
The TUSC agent argues that the rise of UKIP is partly a result of the failure of the labour movement to capitalise on the momentum built up in the TUC-backed March for the Alternative in 2011, when half a million people took to the streets of London to protest against coalition attacks on public services. "It was the biggest demonstration in the history of the trade union movement.
"Until there is a revival of working-class struggle, there is no magical solution to contest the rise of UKIP. But we can't just hold up our hands - working-class people need representation in Britain".
Heemskerk makes clear that TUSC, founded on the initiative of late RMT leader Bob Crow and other trade unionists including retired POA leader Brian Caton, does not claim to be a mass party for working-class representation.
"At most we are a precursor", says Heemskerk. "We could play a role like the Independent Labour Party. Certainly it is not by a long stretch a finished vehicle. It needs the involvement of the big unions. But everywhere there is a struggle to save libraries and health services, we will be involved.
"There are people who say that Ed Miliband has made noises about the bedroom tax, but the cuts still go ahead in Labour-run authorities. We want to offer the widest possible opportunity for people to vote against austerity".
The steering committee has decided to send a letter to all Labour candidates for the 2015 general election asking them their views on key issues.
"As part of our campaigning we will be sending local delegations and lobbies to prospective Labour candidates asking if they are prepared to sign up to John McDonnell's Trade Union Freedom Bill, agree to support the reversing of all the cuts in public services and benefits that have taken place under the Con-Dems, and support an incoming Labour government banning zero-hours contracts and immediately introducing the living wage (¬£7.65 an hour, ¬£8.80 in London).
"If the Labour candidate says no or refuses to meet us, then their seat will become a potential target for TUSC".
TUSC no longer has its standard bearer, Bob Crow, although his union the RMT remains officially in support of it following a 2012 conference decision. The union holds seats on the national steering committee, along with other individual union figures including PCS assistant secretary Chris Baugh, POA leader Steve Gillan and assistant secretary Joe Simpson.
"The loss of Bob makes an incredible difference", says Heemskerk. "You could always say to people, whatever you think of Bob Crow, he gets results for his members and isn't that the kind of person you would want to represent you in parliament or on a council? It's a massive loss in terms of his public profile".
Other political organisations on the committee include the Socialist Party, Socialist Resistance and the SWP.
"TUSC is not the finished product", says Heemskerk. "But who would have thought when the ILP was formed in 1893 that within seven years it would become part of the Labour Representation Committee (the precursor to the Labour Party).
"Labour after the Collins reforms makes it even clearer that the trade union movement will not have a role within the Labour party".