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Branch building in Left Unity


By Paul Silson, Wakefield Left Unity

This month Ed Miliband announced that he would follow the Con-Dem coalition’s lead and vowed to cap spending on welfare. This statement follows a long list of betrayals and climbdowns by the Labour leader – the party will not reverse any austerity cuts, nor will it scrap legislation, such as the shameful bedroom tax.

Many people are thoroughly disgusted with Miliband’s aping of Con-Dem policies. He is even prepared to watch the destruction of our NHS from the sidelines. The recent surge in support of racist UKIP is a symptom of the disillusionment people feel with the current main political parties.

Labour – Blue, New or whatever hew – is not a party prepared to defend the interests of the working class. It is a party that will deliver the working class on a plate to the capitalist class. And this is increasingly obvious to millions of “natural” Labour supporters.

100 branches

As a result, a huge vacuum has opened up on the left due to Miliband’s lurch to the right and his failure to support any action to defend jobs and services. This gives Left Unity (LU), both locally and nationally, a great opportunity to offer an alternative to brutal austerity measures and make a massive impact. After the first national meeting in London, with over 100 delegates from across the country, expectations are high. There are now more than 8,000 supporters and nearly 100 local LU groups have sprung up in less than two months.

Groups need to get involved in local campaigns and become the focus for anger and action against austerity. Each branch has to have open and honest debate in order to develop policy, for an organisation that does not have basic principles is doomed to fail and will be unable to respond to new issues and events.

The recent murder of a soldier in Woolwich – and the resulting racist and Islamophobic backlash – means LU can’t just be a talking shop but has to be a party of action. It was encouraging that LU activists in the forefront of defending Muslim and Asian communities from attack by the fascist EDL in London, Yorkshire and Manchester saw. But what is LU policy on British troops in Afghanistan, on immigration or on how to defeat fascism? Action and debate need to resolve these issues over the coming months.

The key is to attract the most militant class fighters and activists. We want an influx of supporters new to politics because it is their enthusiasm and willingness to fight austerity that will help to overcome the legacy of previous failed projects, such as the Socialist Alliance and Respect. If LU can draw in those people disillusioned with Labour and frustrated by the Con-Dem attacks, then a powerful new political force is in the making.

LU should not be limited to the “usual suspects” on the left, but must be attractive to the mass of the working class. Every campaign and action against the cuts must be embraced, supported and built for. Building solidarity with local community groups is vital in developing LU into a political party able to provide a real alternative to the charlatans in government.

The fact that Miliband has refused to abandon the bedroom tax if Labour gets into power in 2015 illustrates the need for a new party of the working class. Miliband’s open support for attacking the most vulnerable layer in society is particularly disgusting in the wake of the tragic suicide of Stephanie Bottrill in Solihull, who suffered from Myasthenia Gravis, a disorder that meant she couldn’t work. Her housing benefit had just been cut by £20.00 per week and, already struggling, she was unable to afford this. In her suicide note she wrote: “The only people to blame are the government.”

Southwark LU branch in South London came up with a great idea to highlight the injustice of the bedroom tax and Labour’s hand-wringing apologies, which are only there to disguise their compliance. They are handing in a letter to the Labour Council, demanding they refuse to evict anyone and redesignate all “spare” bedrooms as studies or living rooms. The branch is leafleting local estates and contacting the press to turn this into a mini-demo, so when the councillors refuse, they will be exposed.

The fightback against the bedroom tax presents LU with the opportunity to make a significant impact on local and national politics. LU needs to make Duncan Smith’s hated tax the focus of a nationwide campaign, similar to the mass movement against Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax.

This is just one example. Branches can and should come up with many others. If LU can draw in the thousands of workers who are angry at the destruction of the welfare state and looking for a political lead, then the potential for a mass party of the left is limitless. Unity is strength.

Huddersfield branch leads the way

With 15 people at its inaugural meeting on 10 April, the initial discussion focused on policy direction and how the party should operate despite a number of different backgrounds. Some of the initiators of the meeting put together a document on policy/position that went to members before the meeting that attempted to sum up a shared position.

On 14 April, the branch advanced a discussion paper, ‘Stuff we can unite around…?’, for the 11 May national meeting of LU to start the ball rolling on what policies the new organisation should fight for, including equality and social justice, the NHS and welfare state, education and housing.

They are actively engaging in political discussion to work out what they want to build as a political alternative to the mainstream parties. They also set up a facebook page, which now has 75 members, to facilitate inclusion in the debate, to share information and ideas, and to organise action.

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