The TUSC election conference met yesterday in Central London. It was a meeting of leading local and national activists in the main, necessarily quite small as TUSC does not have the membership structure in place to make for anything liable to draw more people to a conference. I would estimate the attendance as around 40, maybe a few more.
There were two sessions, the earlier one being on the broad political situation and the politics of the election campaign, and a later afternoon session discussing some of the practicalities. There has actually been something of a positive shift in the atmosphere around TUSC, previously the project has seemed becalmed in the post-general election environment and the vaguely soft-left aura generated around the election of Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour Party.
Miliband and Balls’ statements supporting the government’s public sector wage freeze, in fact a brutal pay-cut for millions of workers, and pledge to keep all the coalition’s cuts, has changed all that. It appears that the SWP, who previously were formally in the TUSC project but barely engaged in it, in verbal terms at least, have shifted to a more positive position. It remains to be seen whether this translates into real mobilisation of SWP activists on the ground to build TUSC around the country, but the negativity that surrounded the SWP’s involvement previously was not present at this conference.
It was noted that the implications of the Miliband/Balls complete capitulation to the Tories could in time have enormous consequences, implying as it does a possible break with much more strategic, big unions that until now have been loyal and supportive to the Labour Party. Just because the Tories are in government now, the question of working class representation, independent of the Labour Party, has not gone off the agenda. Miliband and Balls have now put this question back centre stage, and I think it highly likely that in the medium term, perhaps the next three years, there could be another attempt to create a working-class alternative to the Labour Party, this time with much more union support.
It is this that seems to have brought the SWP back to what hopefully is a more serious commitment to TUSC as a project. Dave Church of the Independent Socialist Network spoke strongly on the need for a proper working class political party that the numerous independent socalists and trade unionists could join. TUSC of course is a federal body that stands in elections, runs campaigns, and aspires to do more. But it does not have a proper membership structure. Unfortunately, this crying need was not addressed by the responses from the SWP or the Socialist Party comrades, hardly surprisingly given the contradiction between their shared model that posits their own respective organisations as the core of the future party, and the obvious crying need for a genuine broad party which would commend the primary loyalty of its members. This was not resolved, and will take time to overcome.
The possible solution to this is the Independent Socialist Network. In fact,of the now thousands of people who are in contact with TUSC and read its newsletters etc, it is likely that most are not in the SWP or the SP. If the Independent Socialist Network, which is an official component of TUSC, can reach and draw these people in to organise, then a de-facto party membership could emerge and add to the impetus for such a unity. That is the best hope for TUSC. There was a get-together of ISN people after the conference that discussed some elementary steps to draw more people in.
One highlight of the day was when Alex Gordon of the RMT spoke very emotionally during the afternoon session about a visit he had made to Portugal. So emotionally that he was nearly in tears in fact – about the development of the Left Bloc party in Portugal and their struggle to defend the working class there, and indeed democracy itself, against the ferocious austerity attacks that are being dictated by the EU without even lip-service to democracy. For all we know the Left Bloc party may have lots of problems, however in Portugal there is at least a party that can unify opposition to austerity in a way that nothing presently existing in the UK has been able to.
The basic five-point election platform was adopted for use in the upcoming May elections. TUSC election prodecures for endorsing candidates were distributed; the first to apply was Michael Lavallete of Preston, former Socialist Alliance and Respect councillor from 2003-2011 who will be fighting to become a TUSC councillor again in May.
There was discussion of the situation in London, with differences having existed about whether or not to challenge Johnson and Livingstone for the Mayor’s position. To maintain unity among the various unions and others, it had been decided not to do this at this point, though this is still open for review in the light of fast-moving events regarding the Labour Party and the upcoming further public-sector strikes in March. In any case, we have an impressive array of trade unionists standing for TUSC in London, and there will be a strong effort to translate that into winning a seat on the proportional representation list.
All in all a modestly encouraging day