This speech was written for the SCLV London launch meeting on 20 January by London Underground worker Becky Crocker, who is chair of the RMT union’s women’s committee.
I want to introduce the meeting by thinking about the basic ideas behind the SCLV.
We want to build a coalition of socialists – trade unionists, Labour Party members and other activists – organising to campaign around the general election. We want a Labour victory because the Tories remaining in office, by themselves or with anyone else, would be a disaster for the working class. As an activist in the RMT, just the threat of new anti-strike laws is a powerful reminder why we need to throw out the Coalition government.
The only alternative government to the Tories, the Lib Dems and UKIP is a Labour government. I’ll be voting Labour, but those who want to vote Green, TUSC, Left Unity or whatever still have to acknowledge that basic fact.
At the same time – and this is key – Labour is still a party based on workers’ basic organisations, our trade unions. In addition to the union-Labour link, the vast majority of politically active trade unionists will vote Labour and support a Labour victory.
Of course we also know that Labour’s current stance is not good. The softer version of cuts, neo-liberalism and scapegoating migrants proposed by Ed Miliband is not in the interests of the working class.
In large part, Labour’s failings are the failure of the unions to challenge Labour. If the unions chose to fight, they could change Labour’s direction. We need to demand our labour movement stops half-heartedly pretending Miliband is left-wing, and starts making political demands which serve the interests of their members and the whole working class.
We need the biggest possible campaign to raise pro-working class demands on issues from the NHS to climate change, from trade union right to tuition fees. We need the biggest possible campaign to bolster and develop working-class political consciousness.
We need to stand up for socialism. At a time when UKIP is using the crisis to drag politics to the right, and anything resembling socialism has been pulled out of political discourse, we need to reinject the fundamental ideas of class-struggle socialism back into political debate.
The Labour Party, with all its flaws and contradictions from the beginning, came into existence over a century ago because socialist activists had succeeded in popularising socialist ideas among significant layers of the working class. The same kind of work needs to be done today, otherwise it will be impossible to effectively check the drift to the right.
The situation is dark, but not unrelievedly dark. We are still under attack, but the economic recovery will create conditions to organise class struggle more effectively. The right is on the rise but there are also developments on the left: witness the dramatic shift to the left and the possible victory of Syriza in Greece. In Britain too, wide layers of people are disgusted by cuts and inequality, but are unable to find a political voice.
There are openings for socialist activism, but we have to organise to take them.
There are many campaigns to change Labour’s policies on particular issues – our speakers tonight will talk about them I’m sure. The SCLV supports all those campaigns. We support the Left Platform initiative being established to coordinate and promote them in the election.
We will also try to put forward a political framework for these kinds of struggles by advocating a “workers’ plan” of demands to remake society in the interests of the majority. We will argue for ideas like taxing the rich, expropriating the banks and a workers’ government, a government which serves our class as the Coalition serves the rich.
We will make the case as loudly as possible for the goal of a different society, a socialist society which replaces the crises and exploitation of capitalism with collective ownership, equality and sustainable planning for people’s needs.
One absolutely essential part of all this is using the election to fight for migrants’ rights. We need to challenge Labour’s shameful capitulation to the right on immigration, and stand up for working-class unity and solidarity. British and migrant workers have the same interests, and we must stand together: this is the sharpest cutting edge of the fight we faced today. This task alone justifies the kind of campaigning work I hope the SCLV will do.
Thanks for coming and we should have plenty of time for political discussion as well as making some practical plans.