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Friday 4 September 2020

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Back at work! TUSC to stand in elections again against pro-austerity politicians

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) national steering committee, meeting on September 2nd, has agreed to resume standing candidates in elections, starting in the contests scheduled for next May.

TUSC was established in 2010 to enable trade unionists, community campaigners and socialists from different parties and none, to stand against pro-austerity establishment politicians under a common banner and an agreed platform of core policies. Within that framework hundreds of TUSC-authorised candidates had stood in elections, polling over 375,000 votes between them - until 2018.

TUSC had already re-calibrated its electoral activity after the unexpected but warmly welcomed victory of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015.

It did not contest the general elections fought under his leadership and, for other contests, pursued a rigorously selective approach so that TUSC candidates could only stand against candidates who opposed Jeremy and were continuing to implement austerity policies locally.

In 2018 the steering committee decided to suspend all electoral activity until further notice. But now, at its meeting on September 2nd, it recognised that the changed situation required a changed response.

Representatives from the biggest component organisation of TUSC, the RMT transport workers' union, reported to the meeting that the union's national executive committee had debated the matter over the summer.

They had agreed that, "in the new conditions of a Starmer leadership and the continued implementation of austerity cuts by many Labour-led authorities, we believe it is correct for TUSC to lift its suspension of electoral activity". And that is what the steering committee agreed.

Against the background of the deep economic and social crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic it was time to ensure that politicians from whatever party who try to pass the covid crisis costs onto the working class face the possibility of a challenge at the ballot box. TUSC is back at work!

TUSC appeal to leading trade unionists

Having agreed to resume electoral activity the steering committee then discussed how to broaden support in the trade unions for TUSC and the goal of re-establishing working class political representation.

A circular letter will now be sent as widely as possible to trade union national executive committee members from Dave Nellist, the TUSC National Chairperson and former Labour MP (1983-1992), inviting them to consider joining the TUSC national steering committee. (The full text is at http://www.tusc.org.uk/txt/430.pdf )

In the letter Dave explains that the "founding aim" of TUSC, "co-founded amongst others by the late Bob Crow, with trade unionists at its core" was "to help in the process of re-establishing a political voice for the working class given, at that point, the transformation of the Labour Party into Tony Blair's New Labour and its role in implementing the austerity unleashed by the 2007-08 financial crash".

Those involved in TUSC, he goes on, "have played their part alongside other campaigners in the struggles of the last decade against attacks on jobs, services and conditions - in the workplace, in our communities, and in the trade unions".

But the distinctive feature of TUSC has been its preparedness "to stand in elections where necessary, believing that to leave politicians who are carrying out cuts unchallenged at the ballot box, is to voluntarily give up a weapon that could be used in the anti-austerity struggle".

In local government elections, in which councillors are the direct employers and providers of local services, "to positively decide not to have an anti-austerity candidate standing when cuts are being made would be to give an effective vote of confidence to the local authority's policies".

This doesn't mean that TUSC has authorised candidates to stand in its name everywhere and under all circumstances. "The background to TUSC's activity changed dramatically", Dave writes, "when Jeremy Corbyn, my fellow comrade on the Labour backbenches in the 1980s, was unexpectedly elected as leader against the overwhelming opposition of the capitalist establishment".

"This was a development which every component of TUSC wholeheartedly supported - the RMT, for example, officially represented on the TUSC steering committee since 2012, was the second biggest donor to both of Jeremy's leadership campaigns, in 2015 and 2016, behind only the 1.4 million-member Unite union. Although, as we warned, 'New Labour' supporters remained entrenched in particular in the Parliamentary Labour Party and council Labour Groups, here was an opportunity to re-establish working class socialist political representation on a mass basis" and, in response, "TUSC recalibrated its electoral activity".

"But now, with Sir Keir Starmer's leadership of the Labour Party, the situation has changed once again. The opportunities for achieving working class political representation within the Labour framework created by Jeremy's leadership have receded, against the background of the deep economic and social crisis triggered by the Covid pandemic".

"Consequently, the TUSC steering committee has agreed to resume standing candidates in future elections, although still with due regard to particular circumstances, and to seek to broaden participation in the steering committee from the trade unions especially. Hence this invitation to you".

The letter concludes by pointing to the "necessary debate" that will have to take place "in the labour and trade union movement on what needs to be done politically to fight back in the challenging new era of the Covid crisis and its aftermath". And TUSC will part of it.