After Rochester: a call for the left to unite

21st November 2014

Now there is no doubt. We have to take the threat of Ukip very seriously and the left has to get its act together. We need more resistance to Ukip and austerity, and a united left.

The election of Ukip’s Mark Reckless in Rochester and Strood last night came despite him saying that immigrants from the EU would be forcibly expelled from Britain if Ukip is in government. 

The British political establishment is so damaged that some desperate people have voted for a racist party that pretends to be the “people’s army” but actually marches for the rich and powerful. 

Unless there is a serious campaign against Ukip—and a powerful alternative for the bitter anger against the political elites—then a racist populist party is going to establish itself as a serious player in parliament. It could even form part of a coalition government.

The Tories and Labour prepared the ground for Ukip’s rise by targeting immigrants. Now they are strengthening it.

The main parties did not even wait for the by-election result to be dragged further into the gutter of racism.

The Tories want to end the right of free movement of workers inside the EU in order to clear the way for yet harsher anti-immigration laws. They are savaging migrants’ benefits as part of the assault on welfare and to deflect attention from the crimes of the bankers and the bosses.

Such moves only give credence to Ukip’s racism.

Meanwhile on Tuesday Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper rightly accused the Tories and Ukip of being in an “arms race of rhetoric” on immigration—and then enthusiastically joined in. 

She called for fingerprinting of “illegal immigrants”, 1,000 new border control guards, a £10 charge for visitors from 56 non-EU countries, and a requirement for migrants to speak English.

Labour leaders seem to believe that the way to defeat Ukip is to match their vileness.

Their anti-migrant propaganda will increase racism and division. And it won’t help Labour. If you get into a competition about racism then you end up boosting the Tories and Ukip—or the fascists.

For all these reasons the SWP will continue to back initiatives by the Stand Up to Ukip campaign. We need leafleting that exposes Ukip’s anti working class agenda and its racism. We need to give the confidence to tens of thousands of people in workplaces and communities to argue against Ukip, and to join demonstrations against it.  

We will be part of the anti-racism protests on 21 March next year in London, Cardiff and Glasgow.

And we will push for more fightbacks by the unions and in the communities. 

Ukip-style rants about migrants will have no purchase among the NHS workers who strike on Monday across England. When black, Asian and white workers—and migrant and non-migrant workers—fight together they are far less open to Nigel Farage’s lies. They target the real culprits, those at the top of society, rather than their neighbours and workmates.

We need far more such strikes. But the sad truth is that the union leaders have again and again choked off battles that could have transformed the resistance. That has not stopped inspiring struggle by workers at a local level—from Care UK to St Mungo’s Broadway to Edinburgh College to Ealing Hospital to the SOAS cleaners and many others. It has not stopped fightbacks on the New Era estate in Hackney or by the Focus E15 group or by students this week or by thousands of other activists.

We need to draw the fights and those who support them together. 

But the antidote to Ukip’s poison also involves a political solution—a stronger, less-fragmented left. We need to offer credible solutions to the crisis in workers’ lives, the absence of real democracy in society and the failure of official politics. 

The immense gulf between the traditional parties and voters has created the conditions for new forces to emerge. Russell Brand is widely popular because he says the system is broken and the media lie. Millions agree. 

In Scotland during the referendum campaign the space between the political and business elite and the majority of people was filled by an exciting and vibrant social movement that stressed social change. 

Some 3,000 activists meet tomorrow at the Radical Independence conference. Out of that, and other initiatives such as Hope Over Fear, activists must develop a united left that can challenge austerity from all the main parties—including the SNP.

Labour can no longer claim to stand for working class people. It fails to challenge Ukip effectively, and it also fails to combat austerity. These are two sides of its political bankruptcy.

Whoever is elected in May, social explosions are inevitable. 

The so-called recovery means nothing to the vast majority of people in Britain. They continue to see their living standards slide.

And more cuts are coming. Cameron may have been trying to shift the debate on to territory where the Tories feel stronger in his article this week about the threats of another recession. But he was right when he wrote that “red warning lights are flashing on the dashboard of the global economy”. They are flashing because they system he supports brings crisis and war. 

The cuts already imposed have devastated lives and crucial services. If the Tories (or Labour) implement tens of billions more over the next parliament then it will mean living standards hurled backwards, widespread poverty and homelessness, blighted lives and premature deaths.

This is a time of turmoil. Bold moves are needed. The left cannot afford to spend its time criticising one another and seeking petty advantage.

We believe there is a basis for the left forming electoral coalitions and working together to build a stronger socialist alternative. In Greece and Spain we have seen how united left and “people’s” formations have grown quickly and inspired great swathes of people.

It should be possible for all of us on the left to group together in a single electoral coalition for the May elections. We—along with the Socialist Party, the RMT union and independent socialists— are part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), and we are preparing to stand as part of TUSC in May. 

But we would like to involve other forces and be part of something broader. We are pleased that last weekend Left Unity passed policy increasing its cooperation with TUSC. We want to build on that. If the left gets its act together then there are thousands of activists outside the existing organisations who could be part of a new movement. 

We see the potential in Scotland, but we also saw it in the great protests in solidarity with Gaza in the summer, the climate change demonstrations, the support for the NHS strikes and the thirst for radical alternatives to the way the world is now. 

We call on the different formations of the left to meet, as a matter of urgency, in order to hammer out a basis for practical unity in offering an electoral alternative to the Labour Party. A basis of unity can be achieved, we believe, without particular political tendencies having to give up their identities or principles.

 It should be possible to unite around a simple platform embracing:

 

1.Opposition to austerity – no cuts in the welfare state and restoration of the cuts made since the start of the crisis;

 

2.Opposition to racism, Islamophobia, and fascism – no scapegoating of migrants;

 

3.Opposition to sexism and homophobia – support for women’s liberation and for the struggle of all oppressed groups to emancipate themselves;

 

4.Opposition to imperialism and war – against the expansion of NATO and the West’s new war in the Middle East;

 

5.Support for all workers’ struggles and for the defence and strengthening of trade union organisation;

 

6.Support for socialism as the progressive and democratic alternative to a capitalism mired in crisis.

 

The time is urgent. We all have a responsibility to build the fightback, to face down Ukip, to build solidarity with every act of resistance and -  to build a united left.

 

If you agree or want to discuss further, please email unity@swp.org.uk