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If you think all the big political parties are the same - you're right! The bosses have got three parties - isn't it about time we had one of our own?
For the millions, not the millionaires!
The case for a new mass workers' party
Dave Nellist was a Labour MP from 1983 - 1992, when he was expelled by Labour for being a socialist and for supporting the civil disobedience of the anti-Poll Tax struggle.
Since 1998, he has represented people in Coventry as one of the city councillors elected as members of the Socialist Party
At the end of 2005 some 3,000 investors and bankers in the City of London each received at least £1 million in annual bonuses. Some were said to be expecting up to £10 million.
Taken together this tiny percentage of British society therefore received well over £3 billion; some estimates put the figure as high as £6 billion.
Meanwhile, over Christmas, workers at Rentokil and the Co-op followed hundreds of thousands of others that year when they were told that society could apparently no longer afford for them to have a decent pension. They became the latest to face a reduction in security in their retirement as their company bosses announced the closure of their 'final salary scheme'.
What links those two stories was that not one of the major parties linked the two stories!
Where was a major party, speaking on behalf of the majority of ordinary working people and their families, saying that corporate greed and corporate disdain were both unacceptable? Where was the expression of rage at the continuing widening gap between the rich and the rest in Britain under a Labour government? Where was the demand for rational planning of society's resources to ensure a decent life for all?
As the RMT union has said, there is certainly a crisis in working-class representation.
For New Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, the City of London is a success, the retrenchment in pensions a regrettable necessity. For them, the market reigns supreme. That agreement has become the definition of the ‘centre ground’ in British politics. Whilst perhaps the obscenity of multi-million pound bonuses at a time when greater numbers are pushed to the margins of society is regretted by some individuals in the three main parties, all three parties are themselves now wedded to the interests of big business in a more blatant way than for many years.
That is why I welcome Hannah Sell's new pamphlet which sets out the argument for the building of a new party to change that situation, a new mass party capable of representing the millions against the millionaires. Crucially, the pamphlet does not shirk the key question of whether that job is really necessary, of whether Labour can be reclaimed.
I believe thousands have already come to a conclusion on that matter, but remain to be organised to do anything about it. That is the purpose of the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party.
New Labour has certainly lost a lot of support. Since 1997, one third of New Labour's voters, some four million people, have stopped voting for the party. Ironically for those who claim that Tony Blair is still popular, Labour under his leadership at the 2005 election got two million less votes than under the ‘unpopular’ Neil Kinnock in 1992.
New Labour has taken the country to war, most recently in Iraq; has widened and deepened privatisation and increased the role of business, and therefore the scope for profit, from health, education, welfare and other services. And, as Labour's agenda has become more right-wing, the party internally has become more sclerotic. Some 200,000 of Labour's members, half the 1997 total, have left the party in disillusionment. At party conferences, attendances have slumped as policy making becomes more of a top-down process.
Over the last 20 years, a fundamental change has been brought about in the Labour Party; and brought about at an accelerating pace since Tony Blair became leader in 1995. Before the 1997 general election there were some who believed that Blair was a wolf in sheep's clothing. Once he was elected, we were told, all the things he had had to say to ‘neutralise’ or ‘con’ the Tory press would evaporate as 'old' Labour reasserted itself. Now, in almost a parody of repetition, the same is being said of Gordon Brown, at least by those who cling to the hope that Labour can be reclaimed on his watch.
Tony Blair always had more in common with Margaret Thatcher than with Labour. As Peter Mandelson pointed out, with offhand brutal clarity, in the year before Blair became Prime Minister, "New Labour's strategy is to move forward from where Margaret Thatcher left off". In fact, the only difference seems to be that what Thatcher did with a snarl, Blair does with a smile. But, crucially, on no central issue, from the war and occupation of Iraq to privatisation and PFI, has Gordon Brown opposed Tony Blair.
None of this is news to most people under 30; they've only seen the New Labour of today. But for older workers who remember an earlier age, and who still need to make up their minds, they need a realistic appraisal of the balance of forces. Can Labour be reclaimed, or not? That needs seriously discussing in meetings of trade unionists, community activists, socialists, anti-war, anti-capitalist and environmental activists.
Those who believe it can have a duty to seriously set out how, and over what timescale, they believe they can motivate the tens of thousands of people to join Labour in order to change it. As Hannah Sell explains Labour left-wingers recognised that the best, recent opportunity for their strategy was when two million marched through London in February 2003 at the height of the anti-war movement. As Shakespeare wrote for Brutus: "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. We must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures." However, Labour left-wingers found it impossible to recruit sizeable numbers of people to the party that was responsible for the war.
Without a major injection of radical workers into the Labour Party, of at least 50 -100 per constituency, or tens of thousands nationally, I see no prospect of Labour being reclaimed. If, as I believe, that is not on the agenda, then the necessary political and organisational conclusions need to be drawn. This pamphlet is a contribution to that process, to that discussion. It also raises in outline the open, democratic and welcoming format any new party for working people must have.
A generation ago, at a simplistic level, it was clear there was a difference between Labour and Tory. There was a ‘them and us‘. In the main Labour was seen to be on the side of workers and their families, and it was a party in which socialists were able to work. No such party exists today for working people.
We need to build a new mass workers’ party, in particular for today’s teenagers who could be the first generation for 60 years not to be able to expect a better life than their parents had. Particularly those who face the horrendous debts of a massive mortgage to buy a home, saving the equivalent of another mortgage in a private (second) pension, and a debt almost the size of a mortgage to pay tuition fees and student loans.
For a new party to carve out a distinct identity amongst working people it would help to have a clear theme. And in opposition to Blair's acceleration of ‘reforms’, in reality pro-business privatisations of education and health and welfare, who today stands up for the public funding of public services under public control? Public ownership and rational, democratic planning should be the hallmark of the new party.
Don't just leave the campaign for a new party as a ‘good idea’. Sign our declaration, organise a meeting amongst workmates or friends, and help build the movement for a new workers’ party.
Cllr Dave Nellist