Left Unity will recapture the spirit of ’45 for the 99%

Salman Shaheen

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Thousands lined the streets to pay tribute to the late, great Bob Crow on Monday. With even his opponents gushing praise for a trade union leader who fought hard for his members, was resolute in his principles and above all brilliant at his job, it’s hard to imagine that scarcely more than a month ago much of the mainstream media’s reaction to the Tube strikes had us believe London was in the midst of the Blitz. That there was an intractable foe to fight through humble perseverance. Millions of stoic, stalwart Londoners defying the tyrannical Bob Crow by going about their daily business in true wartime spirit.

But that rhetoric, which will surely rise again as Crow is laid to rest, belies the fact that more than 65% of London Underground users, despite being inconvenienced, believed the strike was justified. 

Not that any of the main political parties are listening. David Cameron condemned the campaign to save 1,000 jobs as “shameful”, as if it were nothing more than a riotous night out for the Bullingdon Club. Ed Miliband, as with so many other Tory assaults on public services, was been conspicuously silent.

Reaction to the tube strikes show just how out of touch Britain’s leaders are with the concerns of ordinary people. Their policies are overwhelmingly geared towards the interests of the super-rich 1%, while they are at best ignorant to the demands of the 99%, and at worst antagonistic to them.

Nowhere can this democratic deficit be seen more starkly than over the issue of public ownership. Sick of ever rocketing rail fares in an industry that could only ever be run as regional monopolies, 90% of people want to see the railways renationalised. And yet, prioritising the interests of business over ordinary voters, none of the three main parties are offering such a clearly popular and necessary policy.

Hot on the heels of egregious price hikes from the Big Six, 68% of people now want to see the energy companies brought back into public ownership. But where are the Big Three parties? Cameron’s answer is to slash vital green and social measures, Miliband’s is a paltry 20 month price freeze, while Britain’s poorest people are freezing in their homes.

Left Unity was founded with the backing of Ken Loach in November last year in answer to the serious crisis of representation in British democracy. Established as a socialist, environmentalist and feminist party by and for the 99%, it has already attracted more than 1,400 members. With 200 people joining in the last month alone, Left Unity is among the UK’s fastest growing political parties.

Left Unity will seek to challenge the right-wing of Labour to fight hard for the votes of the working class people it has abandoned. But it is far more than just an electoral project. It is already engaged in campaigns against the bedroom tax, fracking and hospital closures. In Waltham Forest it is defending a soup kitchen, in Exeter and Birmingham Left Unity students have been helping to organise the occupations in protest over the privatisation of student loans. Left Unity students in Glasgow were centrally involved in the campaign for Edward Snowden to become university rector.

Of course it is easy for political parties in opposition to say what they are against. Far more difficult to spell out exactly what they are for. But this Saturday, March 29th, Left Unity will be holding its first annual National Conference in Manchester where we will begin to set out our policies and manifesto for 2015.

Pulling together a united left opposition to austerity in a democratic party build by volunteer activists from the bottom up is not an easy task. But we’ve come a long way in the last year. We hope you will join us as we take the next step in that journey.

Like Compass, Left Unity is seeking to create a more equal, more sustainable and more democratic society. As such, I hope we can work with Compass members, with the People’s Assembly, with the left in Labour, with the Greens, with the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition that Bob Crow supported and with all those opposed to austerity to achieve our common objectives. Competition is for the business world, cooperation must be the basis of a more equal society.

It’s not the spirit of the Blitz we need to recapture if we’re to forge that better, more equal society, but the spirit of ’45.

Topics discussed:

Political EconomyThe State

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  1. Posted by David Pavett

    I agree with many of the points made by Salman Shaheen, even if I will pass on the setting up of Bob Crow as a socialist icon. (He was an effective trade union leader and that is something important. It does his memory no good to exaggerate his impact.) But I remain entirely unconvinced about the idea that Left Unity is the New Party of the Left that so many of us dream of.

    I am a Labour Party member (just) for want of something to do but, while knowing that expectations in politics are often shattered by events, it seems to me that Labour is now run by a clique of people who have nothing in common with the idea of socialism as something that goes beyond capitalism.

    I know that the people in Left Unity, like so many of us in Labour and beyond it, believe in a different, socialist, type of society. My problem is that every time I go to the Left Unity website to read their documents I come away with the feeling that it is being run by a bunch of people who think that people like Bob Crow are the sort of leaders we require. So looking for explanations of policy and its underlying assumptions is pretty much like looking for a justification of the idea of socialism in the writings and speeches of Bob Crow. There is hardly anything there.

    I just read the statement on Racism and immigration and it seemed like something written by a 16-year old without much knowledge of political debate. The obvious questions that need to be pre-empted are simply not addressed. Same with the other documents that I have read. This is simplistic socialism and while I share many of the aspirations I cannot see how an organisation with such half-baked policies can really provide the focal point for left unity that the great majority of us on the left dream of.

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  2. Posted by Salman Shaheen

    David, all I can say is watch this space on policy. It’s very early days, and we will not have voted on or agreed any policies until our conference on Saturday. Everything is in draft form at the moment. If this seems messy, it’s because we’re doing it in a thoroughly open, transparent and democratic way, which is more than can be said for how Labour and the other main parties draw up their policies.

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  3. Posted by Russell Elliott

    Why just Labour and the Greens? What about the Scottish Greens, the Party of Wales and the SNP? All offering a radical alternative to neo liberalism.
    Russell, Compass Convener Wales

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  4. Posted by Sean Connor

    I am interested in receiving emails from your association. I remember the 1951 General Election in which Labour polled 48.7% of the nation General Election result and still lost, despite receiving 750,000 more votes than the Tories. The Tories never complained about bias then.

    Reply