HomeLatest NewsMay steering committee gets down to general election business

May steering committee gets down to general election business

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Dave Nellist, April 2015 (uploaded 22/04/2017)
Dave Nellist launching the 2015 campaign, the last general election fought by TUSC.

The first meeting of the all-Britain Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) Steering Committee since May’s local elections saw a gear-change in focus on the organisation of the TUSC general election campaign – in the new political context that the local elections had revealed.

The 2024 local elections once again confirmed TUSC as the best organised and most inclusive election vehicle for trade unionists, working class community campaigners, anti-war protesters and social movement activists.  And socialists from different organisations or none.  This was shown in the information presented in the 2024 TUSC Results Report that was approved at the meeting (available at https://www.tusc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2024/05/2024-Results-Report.pdf).  Once again there were more independent socialists appearing on the ballot paper under the TUSC name than the combined total of other socialist candidates using a different registered party description. 

But the steering committee also noted, as the report also acknowledges, that there is a caveat to be made.  This year there was a significant rise in the number of people coming forward as candidates in response to Labour’s stance on the war on the Palestinians who, in many cases having been offered the chance to appear on the ballot paper under the TUSC umbrella – with full control over their own campaign as is the TUSC method – decided not to do so but to use other electoral descriptions, including the ‘Independent’ marker, instead.  And that will be so for the general election too.

How TUSC should proceed in this changed situation – with the certainty now of a wide constellation of alternative candidates standing in the election – was the question the meeting had to address.

Operating in a ‘multi-alternative candidate’ situation

From its inception TUSC has been conceived as “contributing to the hard, long-term task of rebuilding political representation” for the working class – in the words of the 2012 RMT AGM resolution that saw the union officially join the TUSC steering committee – not as the finished vehicle.  A lever to help develop the self-confidence of the working class that it is an alternative power to the capitalist rulers of society, and that it has the capacity to create and build its own democratic mass workers’ party to realise that power politically.

That is why, for example, TUSC has never taken a position of a blanket endorsement of the Green Party and its candidates, even in situations where there has been no other candidate standing from outside the ‘big three’ (sic) parties.  Not just because the Greens as a party do not have a socialist ideology – which leaves them with no anchor to resist the pressure to adapt to policies that reflect the interests of the capitalist system – but because they are not a party rooted in or emanating from the organised working class. 

If a trade union, for example, was to support the Green Party, it would have no means of exercising its weight as a collective organisation of workers within the party structures and subject the party’s candidates to its democratic accountability. 

In the same way unions affiliated to the Labour Party have been unable to prevent the admission to Keir Starmer’s ‘completely changed’ party of the anti-union, right-wing Tory MP Natalie Elphicke.  Individual Greens – or, indeed, individual left-wing Labour MPs – may play a role in creating a new vehicle for working class political representation, but neither the Green Party as an institution nor Starmer’s Tony Blair-style New Labour are a route to a new, mass democratic workers’ party.

Fighting for working class representation

The same consideration can also apply to some of the Independents and others who are proposing to stand in the general election in opposition to Starmer’s Labour.  These will include not just those describing themselves as anti-war candidates but, for example, some of the candidates that may come out of the election plans of the newly-formed Assemble, a co-ordination of Just Stop Oil and XR organisers, or other ‘people’s primaries’ campaigns.

In this situation, the steering committee agreed, TUSC’s role must be to encourage local workers’ organisations to discuss and decide who can best represent their interests in a given seat.  That could mean, for example, trades councils convening a meeting and inviting alternative prospective parliamentary candidates to attend.  If necessary it could be organised informally after a formal meeting of the trades council closes; although the TUC rules for trades councils – while explicitly stating that they shall not “subscribe to the funds of any political party” – would not prohibit such a meeting.

Or individual union branches could take the lead – RMT branches, and other unions not affiliated to Labour but with political funds, could do so within their rules.  But even a meeting convened by individual union branch officers or reps in a personal capacity could be a representative gathering of the organised working class in a particular locality.

From this basis the steering committee then went on to discuss the 160 candidates announced to date by the Workers Party and a further 31 declared candidates collated by the Organising Corbyn Inspired Socialist Alliance (OCISA) group campaign strategist described as ‘progressive Independents’.  The Workers Party, which has participated in the TUSC all-Britain Steering Committee since March 2022 – with observer status as, at this stage, it does not wish to take up full constituent status within TUSC – had a representative present. 

The procedure adopted was that, if any committee member questioned a particular candidacy, what attitude to take to that candidacy would be deferred to a future meeting.  But if there were no objections made to any alternative candidacy notified to TUSC, the steering committee would be agreeing that it would not be actively seeking a TUSC candidate for that seat. 

This could not prevent individuals from applying to the committee in regard to a particular seat – which is how TUSC has always functioned, not as a ‘top-down’ coalition – but it would give a strong indicator of the steering committee’s commitment to avoid electoral clashes that set back the prospect of independent working class political representation.  And any decisions, of course – including those endorsing TUSC candidates – are provisional, in that a prospective parliamentary candidate is a prospective candidate until the election is actually called.  And even then, until nominations close.

In the event questions were raised about 21 seats, in which local TUSC supporters had applied to be a TUSC candidate or were known to be in discussions about a TUSC or independent candidacy; a further seven seats where there was a clash between the Workers Party list and the independents list, on the grounds that TUSC should not be seen to choose between alternative candidates at this point (these included Kensington & Bayswater where the former Labour MP Emma Dent Coad is standing as an independent); and lastly, for three constituencies where candidates had been proposed by the Workers Party to stand against members of the left-wing Campaign Group: against John McDonnell in Hayes & Harlington and Aspana Begum in Poplar & Limehouse in London; and against Zarah Sultana in Coventry South.

Keeping things in proportion

The TUSC steering committee first systematically discussed the general election nearly two years ago, at its meeting in June 2022 (see https://www.tusc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/475.pdf for the briefing paper that formed the basis of the discussion then). 

We wrote then that “TUSC strongly hopes that, before the election, steps towards a new vehicle for working class political representation will have been taken by more authoritative forces than those currently involved in our coalition – primarily from the trade unions or potentially around Jeremy Corbyn himself standing independently of Labour in the general election”. 

“But it is also possible”, we warned, “that such steps might not have been taken in time” for the next election – and so it has proven.  No authoritative force has come into being able to properly co-ordinate the different organisations and individuals that will contest the election.

TUSC will be contesting the general election to the best of its ability. But 2024 is just a down payment on the opportunities that will present themselves to build a new, mass, democratic workers party under the Starmer-led government that is the almost inevitable outcome of the election that looms. ■



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