Socialist expelled from Labour to speak in Coventry

Socialist expelled from Labour to speak in Coventry

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Hannah Sell

Hannah Sell, the Socialist Party deputy general secretary, who served alongside Tony Benn on the Labour Party’s ruling national executive committee (1988/89) will be speaking at the Party’s public meeting at 7.30pm Thursday 12th May at the Methodist Hall, Hertford St/New Union Street, Coventry City Centre. The meeting will look at the outcome of the local elections, the battle between Jeremy Corbyn and the Blairites, the splits in the Tories over the EU refendum, the global fight for socialism and much more.

Originally from the West Midlands, Ms Sell helped lead school student strikes in 1985  against Thatcher’s YTS Slave labour scheme, later becoming a leader of the Labour party Young Socialists. A former elected member of the labour Party National Executive Committee (1988-89), Hannah was expelled from the Labour Party along with thousands of other Militant supporters for their Socialist ideas & views in the late 80’s & early 90’s.

The Facebook event for the meeting is here

 

 

Lower Stoke by election – Socialist Party statement

Lower Stoke by election – Socialist Party statement

Coventry Socialist Party has decided not to propose nomination of a TUSC candidate in the forthcoming Lower Stoke by-election.

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Dave Nellist with Lower Stoke Socialist Party campaigner Rob McArdle

Former Coventry councillor Dave Nellist, explained today:

“Socialists in Coventry remain resolutely opposed to the cuts the Labour Council are continuing to pass on.  Such as the £3 million cut to Council Tax support for the city’s poorest.

We now know that over 1400 council jobs have been cut in the last five years, and the council plans to cut 1000 more.  That’s 2,500 young people in Coventry denied the chance of a decent job.  And Councillor Damian Gannon, Cabinet Member for Finance, has said the authority is ‘looking at altering employment terms such as holiday and sickness pay’ of those who remain.

It’s no defence for Labour to say they are responding to national Tory cuts – locally, Labour has doubled its reserves in the last four years from £41m to £84m; it could use a proportion of that to delay cuts whilst launching a campaign to force the government to restore proper funding to the city.

These are the arguments we will continue to put.  But we are conscious that this is the first local by-election since Jeremy Corbyn was elected as the new leader of the Labour Party.

Jeremy Corbyn says the Labour Party will be anti-austerity and we want to work with members of Labour, especially new members, who support that.

Unfortunately TUSC hasn’t yet had the opportunity to sit down with Jeremy to discuss what he can do to get Labour councillors, in Coventry and elsewhere, to refuse to implement Tory cuts.

Or to find out what he thinks council service users, trade unionists, and community campaigners should do in elections if all the likely candidates on the ballot paper are going to carry out the cuts.

So, on this occasion, the Socialist Party has agreed not to stand a candidate, so that there is no artificial obstacle to having that discussion with Jeremy and his supporters.

But time is short. Standing aside in a council by-election is one thing. But in May there will be over 2000 councillors up for election, including 18 seats in Coventry.

We want to have a serious discussion with those in Labour who are serious about fighting the cuts. But the Socialist Party is also clear that any politician who votes for cuts cannot expect to have a free run at the ballot box, no matter what party label they wear.”

 

Public Meeting – What next after Corbyn’s Victory?

Jeremy Corbyn victory!

* POPULARITY OF ANTI-AUSTERITY IDEAS CONFIRMED

* NOW THE BATTLE TO CREATE AN ANTI-AUSTERITY PARTY BEGINS


 Coventry Socialist Party Public Meeting – all welcome!

After the Labour Party leadership Election…Can Jeremy Corbyn change Labour?..What next after the result?

Thursday 24th September 7.30pm @ Coventry Methodist Central Hall

Warwick Lane, Coventry City Centre, CV1 2HA

Speaker: Dave Nellist

A former ‘Militant’ Labour MP, Coventry Socialist Party Councillor & now National Chair of the Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition. Dave was expelled from the Labour Party along with thousands of other Militant supporters for their Socialist ideas & views in the early 90’s.

FaceBook Event

Dave Nellist and Jeremy Corbyn marching

Dave Nellist and Jeremy Corbyn marching


This is a historic moment. Nothing will be the same again. For decades Westminster politics has meant nothing but right-wing, pro-big business politics.

A handful of left Labour MPs like Jeremy Corbyn voted against austerity, war and the undermining of democracy but their isolated voices were largely drowned out.

Now the pro-austerity consensus has been smashed with Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party with 59.5% of the vote.

The hopes have been raised of millions who want to see a society for the 99% not the 1%.

The election of Jeremy Corbyn, however, is only the beginning. Throughout the election the right wing that dominates the Labour Party and the capitalist media have done everything in their power to try and stop Corbyn winning.

Tens of thousands of people have been ruled out of voting in the leadership election, overwhelmingly Corbyn supporters.

But nothing has worked, on the contrary the attacks on Corbyn from Blair, Brown, Mandelson and the rest have only increased his support.

Deeply disillusioned with the establishment politicians, hundreds of thousands of people have seized the opportunity created by Jeremy Corbyn’s presence on the Labour leadership ballot to begin to create a political voice for their anti-austerity views.

Even ultra-Blairite Liz Kendall was forced to admit that Corbyn had “mobilised and enthused vast numbers of people in a way we haven’t seen for decades.” In the face of that enthusiasm the Labour right has been forced back.

It is ruled out that the Labour right will accept defeat and simply allow the Labour Party to be shifted left by Corbyn and his supporters.

Legal challenges or immediate attempts to launch a coup against Corbyn still cannot be totally ruled out but are not likely given the scale of his victory.
It is clear, however, that the Labour right will attempt to imprison and undermine Corbyn with the aim of removing him as soon as possible.

In doing so they will have the full support of the capitalist establishment. Thatcher considered Blair and New Labour were her greatest success.

Labour had been transformed into a party that could be relied on to act in the interests of the 1%. There will now be a huge campaign, putting what has happened during the election into the shade, to try and once again make sure that the voice of the majority – the working class – is once again extinguished within the Labour Party.

How can onslaught from right be defeated?

Jeremy Corbyn will not be able to defeat the onslaught he will face if he remains isolated within the constraints of the right-wing dominated Labour Party machine.

There are only nine members of the socialist group of MPs of which he is a member. To win he needs to build on the popular movement against austerity that found a voice in his election campaign.

Much of his support has come from the ‘outside’ – new members and registered supporters who were attracted by the hope of something different.

This is a new party in the process of formation. Many of those are a new generation of young people, alongside some returning former members.

As a starting point we would urgently encourage Jeremy Corbyn to organise a huge conference of all those who support him, including the many trade unions – including non-affiliated unions like the RMT, PCS and FBU – which support a fighting anti-austerity programme.

The Socialist Party would participate in such a conference and would encourage all other anti-austerity campaigners to do the same.
Part of the transformation of Labour into a pro-capitalist party has been the complete destruction of the democracy which previously existed.

Labour ‘moderates’ are already bleating that the left would ‘seize the party’s levers of power’ under Corbyn’s leadership.

What they mean by this is “giving more control over policy to the annual conference and the National Executive Committee and less influence to the Parliamentary Labour Party” (The Independent 11.09.15).

In other words restoring some of the party democracy that existed in the past! They are also hysterically attacking any attempt to re-select MPs.

Yet the right to re-select MPs just means the democratic right of a party’s members to replace an MP that has voted against the party’s policies.

That should be uncontroversial. However, it is not a surprise it upsets Labour MPs who have voted for welfare cuts, austerity and war.

Jeremy Corbyn should fight to implement every one of the democratic measures which so terrifies Labour’s right wing, including restoring the collective voice of the organised working class, via the trade unions, within the party.

At the same time the party should be opened up. All those who have been forced out or expelled in the past for fighting against cuts and for socialist ideas should be invited back.

The Corbyn campaign has raised the idea of using social media and virtual democracy to hold policy consultations.

Such methods can play a useful supplementary role but defeating the pro-big business elements that dominate the Labour machine will require mass, active participation.

Socialist ideas popular

The capitalist media has united in insisting that a Corbyn-led Labour Party is unelectable. They will do their best to make it so, but it isn’t true! On the contrary, the latest polling from Lord Ashcroft gives 52% of people agreeing that a ‘radical socialist alternative would be a good thing’.

The population is far to the left of the establishment politicians. For example, 68%, 67% and 66% support renationalisation of the energy companies, the Royal Mail and the railway companies respectively.

The last general election has already shown the popularity of anti-austerity ideas. While ‘austerity-lite’ Labour was almost annihilated in Scotland the SNP, despite implementing austerity policies in Scotland, was able to sweep the board by promising to oppose austerity in Westminster.
Meanwhile, despite hatred for the Con-Dem government, Labour in England and Wales was only able to regain the support of a million of the over four million votes it has lost since 1997.

Disillusioned Labour voters did not, in the overwhelming majority of cases, vote Tory but voted for parties that they saw as protesting against the establishment – or stayed at home and did not vote at all.

Jeremy Corbyn’s calls for nationalisation of rail and the energy companies, a £10 an hour minimum wage, free education, council house building, and repeal of the anti-union laws have already enthused millions.

Nonetheless, the programme Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign has presented in his written programme is actually quite limited.

He has raised the popular idea of a ‘people’s QE’ but has not drawn all the conclusions about what would be necessary to implement such a policy.

He merely calls for ‘meaningful regulation of the banking sector’ rather than for nationalisation of the banks under democratic control, for example.

Part of building a successful movement against austerity would be a democratic discussion on how to permanently defeat it.

Within such a discussion the Socialist Party would argue that would require the need for the nationalisation – under democratic working class control – of the major companies and banks that dominate the economy.

Only in this way would it be possible to begin to build a democratic socialist society planned to meet the needs of the majority instead of having, as at present, a society driven by maximising the profits of the 1%.

For councillors who fight the cuts

Local councils will be a central battleground in the struggle to create an anti-austerity party. Jeremy Corbyn has rightly made the call for councils to stand together and refuse to implement government cuts.

Over 450 councillors have signed up to support Jeremy Corbyn. This is significant, but it is barely 6% of the total number of Labour councillors.

Unfortunately, the majority of Labour candidates in the next year’s council elections will still be pro-austerity.

Council services have already been cut by 39%. We cannot accept Labour councillors continuing to slash more.

The experience of Syriza in Greece, where the leadership of an anti-austerity party capitulated to the pressure of big business and is now implementing austerity, shows that defeating austerity requires a determined struggle.

To accept pro-austerity Labour councillors continuing to slash jobs and services would be to prepare the ground for the defeat of the movement that has begun with Jeremy Corbyn’s election.

The Socialist Party is part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) which was co-founded by Bob Crow the late general secretary of the RMT transport workers’ union in order to stand anti-austerity candidates in elections.

TUSC will assist in next year’s council elections, by supporting Labour candidates who clearly pledge to vote against cuts and at the same time standing against those who say they will continue to axe local services.

For a mass party of the working class

Jeremy Corbyn’s victory has lifted the confidence of all those who oppose austerity and has already dealt a blow to the establishment.

However if the right succeed in containing and undermining him the danger is that those drawn around Corbyn’s campaign will become disillusioned and leave.

If he is removed at any stage it is vital that all the conclusions are drawn about the viability of Labour as a vehicle to continue the struggle against austerity.

We urgently need a mass party for the working class that can spearhead a struggle against austerity. The route to this is not straightforward.

But Jeremy Corbyn’s victory and, above all, the mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of anti-austerity young people and workers that have ensured that victory are an important step forward.

Corbyn challenge: A very welcome upheaval in British politics

 As the Labour Party prepares to send out ballot papers to the over 610,000 people registered to vote in its leadership contest,  Socialist Party executive committee member Judy Beishon answered some questions on the Socialist Party’s view of Jeremy Corbyn’s challenge so far.
Jeremy Corbyn addressing UCU strikers and supporters

Jeremy Corbyn addressing UCU strikers and supporters

Why has Jeremy Corbyn’s challenge in the Labour leadership contest been so popular?

 The Labour Party’s right-wing leaders have been astonished and horrified at the over-flowing rallies for Jeremy Corbyn around the UK over the last few weeks. Those careerist, staunch defenders of austerity can only dream about attracting such large, enthusiastic and young audiences.

Jeremy Corbyn, with his rejection of austerity, has become a lightning rod for an impressive display of mass anger at declining living standards and the plight of young people faced with poverty wages and the lack of affordable housing. His bold stand rapidly became an outlet for the pent up anger and frustration at the years of cuts, privatisation and wage restraint that have been suffered.

The more venom and dire warnings that “Anyone But Corbyn” politicians and the capitalist media have flung towards Corbyn’s campaign – including the prospect of Labour’s “oblivion” and “electoral annihilation”, the more his support has risen, such is the level of disillusionment in capitalist politics and desire for an alternative.

It also graphically reflects the point that the Socialist Party has long argued – that the population is significantly to the left of the present Labour leaders, as indicated by the polls that have showed majority support for public ownership of rail, energy and post.

John Cruddas MP used his own ‘research’ to try to argue the opposite: that the electorate rejects an anti-austerity position and the Corbynites are out of touch with reality. But the survey responses he received didn’t back this up. According to his polling, 58% of voters think “we must live within our means, so cutting the deficit is the top priority”. This doesn’t mean, however, that they think the 99% should have to pay to reduce the deficit, while the richest 1% become ever richer!

Labour didn’t lose the general election in May because Ed Miliband was ‘too left-wing’ as the right-wing media chorused, but because he was barely distinguishable from the Tories in policy. He was fully signed up to the pro-austerity mantra. Many voters in the Labour leadership contest are clearly drawing that conclusion – a YouGov poll for the Times put the most right-wing candidate, Liz Kendall, on just 8%.

Corbyn’s detractors are also repeatedly arguing that the 1983 general election defeat of then Labour leader Michael Foot was due to a left manifesto. But in reality other factors were to blame, including the political sabotage of right-wing leaders like Denis Healey and Jim Callaghan, the 1981 split from Labour to form the SDP and the aftermath of the Falklands war which enabled Margaret Thatcher to create a patriotic wave.

As well as his condemnation of austerity, Jeremy Corbyn is attracting support on a range of other issues, including his call for free education, for trade union rights, and his anti-war and anti-nuclear positions. Also, he has awakened hopes in a different type of parliamentary politics, not being a ‘career politician’ full of spin, soundbites and deception, but willing to debate ideas in an honest fashion and refusing to make personal attacks on opponents.

As he himself pointed out, it’s the mood of Greece, Spain and the US coming to Britain, following the surge of support in those countries for Syriza, Podemus and Bernie Sanders respectively. It is also the anti-austerity mood that surfaced during the independence referendum in Scotland.

Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpected entry into the Labour contest has become a very welcome upheaval in British politics, but there are still a number of different possible eventual outcomes. A straight-line process from it towards genuine political representation for working class people is unfortunately not at all assured, as the experiences so far in Greece, Spain and the US also demonstrate.

To fund his policies of ending austerity, free education, council house-building, etc, Jeremy calls for tax justice, Quantitative Easing for public services rather than the banks and the establishment of a National Investment Bank to support infrastructure projects. What does the Socialist Party think of these ideas?

Firstly, the Corbyn-backing Labour MP Michael Meacher rightly said: “the Blairites have made the absolutely fundamental error of demanding that the way to reduce the deficit was by harsh and persistent cuts in benefits and public expenditure … And it’s not as though their policy, the same as the Tories’ policy, is actually working … the deficit today is still stuck at a massive £90 billion and has hardly reduced at all after five years of Osborne austerity”.

Meacher went on to say that Jeremy Corbyn “uniquely stands for making a clean break with Tory policies, above all by advocating growth as the way to pay down the deficit, not austerity”.

Left-wing MP John McDonnell elaborated in a Guardian article that a Corbyn-led government wouldn’t make cuts to “middle-and low-income earners and certainly not to the poor” but would target tax avoidance and “the subsidies paid to landlords milking the housing benefit system, to the £93 billion in subsidies to corporations, and to employers exploiting workers with low wages and leaving the rest of us to pick up the tab”.

These policies and measures, including those mentioned in the question above, would all significantly help in a left government’s programme to improve the living standards of the majority of people and would be hugely popular – bailing out public services rather than banks!

The Socialist Party believes that in addition it will be necessary for the workers’ movement to pursue the path that Jeremy Corbyn has touched on in his welcome comments on re-nationalising rail and energy companies and bringing back some form of Clause 4, part 4 of the Labour Party constitution, which was abolished by Tony Blair. That clause called for the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.

It would be necessary to take into public ownership the main corporations and banks that dominate the economy and place them under democratic workers’ control and management, to begin to transform society along socialist lines. The capitalist system, due to its inbuilt contradictions and today’s level of crisis, is incapable of delivering a sustained increase in living standards for all. Nor can it end the environmental degradation it is inflicting.

How can Jeremy’s campaign help defeat austerity?

His campaign is already aiding the fight against austerity by prominently putting forward an anti-austerity position – rarely seen before now in the big-business owned media. It is also very significant that the two largest trade unions in the country, Unison and Unite, along with other unions, have backed Corbyn’s position, indicating the powerful forces that could be mobilised in national anti-austerity industrial action.

And action is precisely what’s needed! Vital services are being slashed and privatised, Working Tax Credits will be drastically reduced, along with a myriad of other attacks on working class and middle class people, who can’t sit back for another five years while the Tories push on with their brutal onslaught.

In the surge of support for Jeremy Corbyn, the union leaders have a glimpse of the wide layer in society – especially in this case young people – who would enthusiastically support coordinated trade union action against austerity if it were called.

The Tory government is in reality very weak, elected by less than a quarter of the electorate. Many workers’ disputes have already broken out around the country since the general election, including by the London tube workers. A one-day general strike, with further action if necessary, would attract massive support which could bring about a halt to the cuts agenda and an early general election.

This action would be taking place with the certainty that there are developments on the political front leading in the direction of the creation of a new mass workers’ party.

450 councillors have signed up to support Jeremy – what does the Socialist Party say to them?

There are 7,087 Labour councillors in Britain, so only 6% of them – 450 – have backed Jeremy Corbyn. The number of Labour councillors in Labour-led councils who have refused to vote to pass on the government’s savage cuts is still barely more than a handful. So the 450 backing Jeremy Corbyn are mainly Labour councillors in councils led by other parties and those in Labour-led councils who ‘oppose’ cuts but argue they have ‘no choice’ but to pass them on.

Some of the platform speakers at ‘Jeremy for Leader’ rallies have been councillors who are in that latter category. For example, during the London rally on 3 August, Haringey councillor Emine Ibrahim said that councillors like herself “didn’t want to be … dragged into council chambers across the country to implement the cuts that we are forced to by the Tory government”.

But no one is forcing councillors to impose cuts and they can’t be fined for doing so. The Socialist Party calls on them to take a real stand of resistance to austerity by refusing to vote for cuts and by helping to build a mass campaign in their area in defence of jobs and services. Notwithstanding the change of Labour’s leader, TUSC will still need to stand candidates in next May’s local elections against Labour councillors who are making cuts.

What should Jeremy do as Labour’s leader?

The number of people registered to vote in the Labour leadership contest reached over 610,000, with polls indicating that Corbyn could win decisively. Over a quarter of those voting signed up to the list in the final 24 hours before the registration deadline, in a dramatic end surge.

It appears that the right-wing dominated Labour Party machine will try to weight the result against Corbyn by voiding the votes of anyone they deem as ‘infiltrators’, but this is unlikely to alter the outcome decisively. Even the Electoral Reform Society waded in and called for a delay in the ballots being issued.

The media is also making last-ditch attempts to influence the result, including the Daily Mirror urging a first preference vote for Andy Burnham and second for Yvette Cooper.

A Corbyn victory would be very welcome. He will face immediate testing challenges, as he’ll be surrounded in Labour’s parliamentary party and HQ by hostile, pro-big business politicians – only a small minority of them are left-wing. They will put up strong opposition; a number of Labour MPs and leaders are already plotting how they could remove him from office.

For example, Simon Danczuk MP declared: “Am I going to put up with some crazy left-wing policies that he is putting forward and traipse through the voting lobby to support him? It’s not going to happen, is it? So I would give him about 12 months if he does become leader”.

Tony Blair, whose latest desperate plea was to say that even those who hate him (ie Blair) should not vote for Corbyn, gave a glimpse of the underhand methods the right will go to against the left when he said: “The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched over the cliff’s edge …. This is not a moment to refrain from disturbing the serenity of the walk …. It is a moment for a rugby tackle, if that were possible.”

However, Labour’s right may feel forced to tolerate Corbyn for a period of time if he wins the leadership ballot by a very high margin – while plotting a hundred ways to undermine him and manoeuvre towards a new leadership election and a “moderate” leader.

Jeremy Corbyn rightly would like to head a party that acts on the basis of rank and file democracy and involvement in decision-making; he has stated that party policy should be decided on that basis.

But the Labour Party has had much of its democratic structure destroyed; for instance the annual conference was turned into a showpiece for the media and big business rather than being maintained as a forum for genuine discussion and democratic decision-making. The character of the party as a political voice of the organised working class in the trade union movement was also stripped away.

So Corbyn would face massive obstacles in trying to lead the party for any length of time in a left-wing direction, not just from within the party but also from the senior ranks of the civil service, the pro-capitalist media and from virtually the entire ruling class of Britain.

To counter these pressures he would need organised back-up from the working class in the trade union movement, anti-cuts campaigns and left organisations. He would need to call an open conference of this support base – including of those who voted for him – to discuss how his left programme can be delivered and developed further.

Could a Corbyn-led Labour Party be transformed back into a party that stands primarily for workers’ interests? It’s not impossible that the right-wing could decide to leave to form a new party and the Labour Party could then as a whole turn leftwards. It would effectively need to become a new party itself in many ways, as a result of the changes that would be needed to democratise it and attract new young people and trade unionists into activity in its ranks.

Corbyn has adopted an open approach by ‘welcoming back’ members who have returned to the party and he has spoken of the need to welcome back unions that have disaffiliated from Labour.

However, if the road to such a transformation is blocked by those in the party hierarchy who are not willing to be part of a turn to the left, Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters shouldn’t return to being prisoners of that situation but should help build a new mass workers’ party outside of Labour. They could draw on the support of the many thousands who have been enthused by the Jeremy for Leader campaign and come together with the thousands of socialist and trade union activists outside Labour, including those in TUSC.

Meanwhile Labour would continue to implement Tory policies and the process of it being increasingly dismissed by working class people would continue.

Learning from the experiences and lessons of the new left formations in countries like Greece, Spain, Brazil and Germany, a new party in Britain could quickly take on flesh as a combative force acting in workers’ interests, both electorally and in campaigns and struggles. In whatever way the scenario inside Labour develops, great opportunities will open up in this country for the development of workers’ political representation.

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Miliband Joins Tory Onslaught on Young People

Miliband and Labour have once again joined the Tory onslaught on young people

david-cameron-ed-miliband

Not content with seeing hundreds of thousands of young people on the dole or drifting in and out of low paid, insecure zero hour contacts. Miliband has today announced plans to ‘out Tory the Tories’, by setting out plans to cut benefits 18-to-21-year-olds who do not have qualifications equivalent to one A-Level. Replacing them with a means-tested payment dependent on training if Labour is elected in 2015.

The overwhelming majority of young people out of work and on the dole today, aren’t there out of choice. They have been forced through the dire lack of jobs across Britain today as more jobs are cut and more people thrown on the dole as a consequence.

Instead of fighting for the millions of young people thrown on the scrap heap of austerity in 21st century Britain. The Labour Party have once again shown their blatant support for more Austerity and the idea that ordinary working class people should pay for the crisis of the banks and free market system.

The solution to youth unemployment is not ever harsher and more punitive treatment of those who are out of work; it’s the creation of millions of secure, well-paid socially useful jobs – jobs that can provide the foundation for stable and happy lives for the next generation, as well as homes and services for those who need them.

Coventry Socialist Party members on youth demo

Coventry Socialist Party members on youth demo

Not one of the mainstream political parties currently offers us that. For young people facing unemployment – anger, frustration, stress and even despair can be normal responses to the bleak prospects austerity offers. But a concerted fightback, by young people working alongside trade unionists, socialists and other campaigners, can challenge the cuts consensus and help secure a decent future for the ‘99%’.

We say:
• A living wage that’s enough to live on – fight for a £10 an hour minimum wage and no youth exemptions
• Scrap workfare and all unpaid work schemes
• For secure jobs with guaranteed hours – scrap zero-hour contracts
• For government investment in well-paid socially useful jobs with full trade union rights for workers
• Prevent job losses. Stop public sector cuts
• Share out the work. For a 35-hour working week with no loss of pay. No increase in retirement age

Dave Nellist -Thoughts on passing of Tony Benn

It is enormously saddening to mark the passing today of Tony Benn, a friend of 40 years. He was a towering socialist.

I first worked with Tony on the 1975 Common Market referendum; hundreds filled the Police Assembly Hall in Coventry to hear him speak, with hundreds more outside.  He spoke for me at a 1987 General Election rally, and hundreds came again to hear him in Coventry’s Methodist Central Hall; as they did 5 years ago when he came back to do one of his “fireside chats”.

Tony Benn at the Meriden motor cycle workers' co-operative in 1975 (Photo from Coventry Telegraph)

Tony Benn at the Meriden motor cycle workers’ co-operative in 1975 (Photo from Coventry Telegraph)

In between we worked closely in the 1980s, especially supporting the miners’ strike and challenging the attacks of the Thatcher government on working people. 11 years ago we worked together on the Stop the War Coalition national committee, preparing the massive February 2003 anti-war demonstration.

There will be dozens of quotes by him remembered today. One of my favourites is a definition of his often aimed in speeches at Rupert Murdoch:

“What power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you?”

The Tony of the 1970s and 1980s, arguing for public ownership and supporting workers in struggle, could still be held in genuine affection and support 30 years later, more perhaps than any other figure on the Left.

But everything Tony said and stood for during that period should have led him to the conclusion that Labour from the 1990s onwards had fundamentally changed. It was now a prison, and he’d been reduced to smuggling out notes through the bars.  He should have left the Labour Party which had so clearly left him.

If he’d broken with right wing New Labour and joined those of us, like Bob Crow, seeking to start anew, politics in Britain would be so different today. A call by Tony to found a new independent political voice for working people would have gained an echo from tens perhaps even hundreds of thousands of people.

The consensus politics of today, the overlapping agenda promoting austerity, needs an organised political alternative.  Tony often said ‘politics should be about policies not personalities’. The socialist policies he stood for were killed off by successive Labour leaders from Neil Kinnock onwards; but they still exist today in new projects like TUSC.”