The Trade Unionist and Socialist (TUSC) all-Britain steering committee has published a first edition of a campaign pack, Organising for the General Election, available both as a PDF at https://www.tusc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/General-Election-Campaign-Pack-July-2023.pdf, and in Word format at https://www.tusc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/General-Election-Campaign-Pack-July-2023.docx.
The pack is aimed at all trade unionists, working class community and social movement campaigners, students fighting for free education, and socialists from any organisation or none, who want to see an alternative to establishment politicians available on the ballot paper at the next general election.
This first edition is being published in summer 2023, when the date of the general election is still unknown, except that it must be called no later than the end of 2024. The results of the three by-elections on July 20th will hardly encourage Rishi Sunak to go early – whereas in December 2019 40% of the registered electorate in the three seats turned out to vote Conservative, this time just 15.5% found the enthusiasm to do so, dire even by ‘normal’ by-election standards. But nevertheless, even if the general election is not held before the last possible date, planning for it has to begin now – nationally and, most importantly, locally too.
Fight for the best – but have a Plan B
What will be on offer at the next election from a Labour Party under Sir Keir Starmer will be a significant retreat from the radical policies that were presented in the 2017 and 2019 manifestoes under Jeremy Corbyn. The current leadership have been quite open about this, as they seek to reassure the ruling capitalist establishment that they will be a safe pair of hands by reviving Tony Blair-style ‘New Labour’ politics. There is no prospect that a Starmer-led Labour government would even begin to fight for the fundamental system change needed to end the cost of living and other crises that working class people face.
To meet this situation TUSC strongly hopes that, before the election, a new vehicle for working class political representation will have been established by more authoritative forces than those currently involved in our coalition or any other currently existing party or alliance – which means, above all, the trade unions who have been organising the workers’ fightback, along with Jeremy Corbyn himself standing independently of Labour.
To be clear, we do not see our coalition as that new, mass alternative and are fighting for the left-led trade unions especially to organise at the very least a list of workers’ candidates in the general election as a step towards the new party that we need. It was TUSC supporters, for example, who promoted the resolution agreed at the 2023 RMT transport workers’ union conference for the union to give full support to Jeremy Corbyn if he decides to run again at the next election (see https://www.tusc.org.uk/19429/05-07-2023/rmt-conference-defies-starmer-and-backs-jeremy-corbyn-to-stand-in-the-next-election/).
But the TUSC steering committee is also clear that, for as long as the vacuum of working class political representation remains unfilled, we must get on with organising a ‘Plan B’ – to attempt to get 100 candidates on the ballot paper under a common banner which, by reaching the media authorities’ threshold for what they call ‘fair media coverage’, could make the biggest possible impact for trade union and socialist principles in those circumstances.
It would have far less chance of a breakthrough compared to a trade union-organised list, but at the very least it would force those Labour candidates who faced a challenge to ‘look over their left shoulder’, and hasten developments towards a new party in the aftermath of the election.
What the Campaign Pack offers
This means getting on with organising for the general election now – nationally, yes, but above all on the ground. That’s the point of the Campaign Pack, which will be updated and added to as the months before the election go by.
The pack starts with a brief guide – for both those new to TUSC and those not – to establishing a local TUSC general election planning steering committee to organise the work that needs to be done.
The all-Britain committee is suggesting, for example, that local delegations be organised to Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) to put pressure on them to say where they stand politically, in particular on policies that were part of Labour’s manifesto under Jeremy Corbyn in 2019. A model letter to PPCs is included in the Campaign Pack. But to systematically approach local trade union branches – or local student groups who might want to fight for the abolition of tuition fees and the introduction of student grants – takes organisation.
There are model letters to local trade union branches and student organisations in the pack, but to co-ordinate the efforts of different organisations or individuals needs a local TUSC committee or group, even if it only convenes as regularly as it needs to in order to get the work done.
The same point applies to the suggestions for campaigning for local Peoples’ Budgets – in what will be the last council budgets set before the general election – and for organising candidates for the local elections in May 2024, using them as a ‘dry run’ for the general election if it isn’t, in fact, held on the same day (which wouldn’t be known for sure until March 2024). Once again, discussing the issues out and organising in a local TUSC committee will be necessary.
Candidates and campaigning
One thing deliberately missing from the Campaign Pack at this point is an application form for TUSC parliamentary candidates. Deliberately, because the all-Britain steering committee is not calling for the already existing participants in TUSC to select general election candidates straightaway – from amongst themselves – but instead to organise local constituency or council area-based campaigns to make the case for a workers’ candidate to local trade union branches and other organisations and individuals not currently involved in TUSC.
That doesn’t stop groups appointing a local TUSC spokesperson to provide media quotes etc, as a TUSC PPC would. But the main task at this point is still to strive to bring together the widest possible range of trade unionists, campaigners and socialists for a general election challenge, with everyone feeling that they have a stake in the project.
Updates to the pack will be made during the year, with inserts already planned on organising debates on Labour’s policy forum outcome, election fund-raising, People’s Budget campaigning in a pre-election year, Labour and the Minimum Service Levels Act, social media campaigning, and suggestions on how to approach the Greens. So keep checking the website. ■