Anyone involved in the Labour movement can see first hand that the momentum of the Jeremy Corbyn campaign is continuing to transform our political environment. Many of us are still trying to get our heads round the new situation.
Socialists like myself, or the Socialist Party who haven’t signed up continue to feel the magnetic attraction of what must be the biggest left group in memory. Despite the inevitable compromises to “keep the Party together”, the real momentum of Momentum is growing all around us.
Experiencing a Mass Workers Party?
Over 100 people attended the launch of our local Moentum group. As with previous gatherings of new & broader left initiatives, there were many new and old faces. But this felt very different. Part of this is a certain disbelief that we are all here under a bright red sociaist flag in a Labour Party meeting! Even more amazing, we’re on the telly and in parliament all the time! We are “legitimate” – so much so that perhaps that is why I’m resisting to sign on the dotted line.
What feels most different though is the feeling of Hope. Many campaigns I have been involved with over the years – Section 28, Stop the War, Stop the Cuts – have given me hope by the size, diversity & passion of the campaign. Momentum has all this, but feels different because we are feeling hope in a political party. An organisation that campaigns on all issues and by definition poses the question of power.
I will always have a problem with the idea that power lies in parliament. But this parliamentary party is now building a movement that is compelled to resist the ruling class outside parliament. With a range of long standing trade union activists joining together in one organisation, the possibilities to organise class struggle based, politically left trade unionism are greater than any time in my memory. Many of my friends in the union movement, often labelled “syndicalist” by other Party orientated leftists, have joined Labour. These include GMB reps who’ve organised strikes at our bin depot, FBU members, PCS officers with a history of leading strikes, and union officers and activists in the NUT and Unison. Some for the first time ever, others returning after decades. Everyone I’ve spoken too reports meetings and membership doubling or trebling, with mix of young and old, and an enthusiasm for activity. Brighton’s Labour Party may have grown to 3, or 6,000 members depending on who you talk to, with enough to revive every moribund ward. But it is when my friends in Trowbridge, a small working class town in Wiltshire, report 100 attending a branch meeting discussing Trident & the voter registration scandal that I know things really have changed
I argued before Corbyn got elected that the most important thing that the “Corbynistas” could do was to get involved in actively challenging austerity, neo-liberalism and climate change. The energy of people in the Corbynn campaign would be a huge boost to the movement to resist austerity and other campaigns, but especially the trade union movement that Labour has always been organically linked to.
As my blogpiece prediicting Corbyn’s victory came true two months later came true, it now feels like my hope that activism would conitnue is being fulfilled. Our momentum meeting made this clear with plans for street stalls, ward groups, and most important of all, suggestions of “Trade Unionists 4 Corbyn” groups. About half of the people at out founding Momentum meeting were trade unionist members. The potential is there for organising a wide layer of the left in each union and workplace in a way that cold both transform each union branch. This would of course give Corbyn a very solid backing in the Labour Movement that with real strength in future disputes with the Parliamentary Labour Party’s right wing.
This is the potential of a real mass working class party. (Ultimately, regardless of its leadership.) Imagine. You are in a workplace of 1,000 employess. A party with just 1% of the adult population, which Labour now approaches, could have ten members in such a wokplace. If they were organised together that could begin to transform workplace relations That could be ten new stewards or branch officers in an established public sector union which would benefit from such new blood. Or it could be a non union workplace where there is always a wide layer open to the idea of standing up to bosses even if formal union organising is impossible.
Trade Unionists Organising in Momentum
I will certainly doing what I can to make “Trade Unionists 4 Corbyn”, or “Momentum Trade Unionists” or whatever it becomes, be an organising tool for all of us to help rebuild the unions. What was also interesting about or local Momentum meeting was seeing non-Labour members in council unions working with union activists active in the Labour Party to plan together how to stop our Labour council implementing horrific Tory cuts. The debate within the Labour Left, new and old, about how much we must unite against the ultimate Tory enemy while simultaneously defending every service is a very real one. By working together in action, those who favour speaking out against Labour councillors can make a real difference.
Yet still, the logical conclusion of this joint actiivity by non Labour members such as myself is that we would be far more effective as full party members. As one SP said to me the other night “You’ve got to be the class are”. That attitude has in the past led some in the Militant/SP tradition to accept aweful positions around nationalism, and sometimes racism and sexism. But on this I think he’s right and it certainly felt ike soon we wou;ld have to join. One of the SP’s most respected and dedicated union activists has already jumped ship and others are thinking about it. Our full timer from just a few years ago is already a member too.
Will the Socialst Party Enter Labour?
So, could the whole Socialist Party do its biggest U-tuen since they left Labour 25 years ago? Formally, the old hostility is still there. Their paper continues to argue against unions like the RMT, FBU and PCS re-affiliating to Labour. Even the SWP seem unsure on this question. But as reaffiliation seems inevitable, and with it the final death of the still-born Tusc, the need for the SP to “be where the class are” with continue to pose itself.
For that reason, despite its traditional super hostility to Labour, the SP paper has become more nuanced in way I would have thought impossible a few months ago. They refer back to old articles were Taaffe talks about Labour membership as a tactical question rather than the impression they generally give that being outside Labour was almost a principle. And they talk about the possibility of Labour in the near future being turned into a mass workers party. “Reclaimed” is their word, though in my opinion they never understood why Labour was never the tool our class needed to bring about the “historic goal of socialism”.
The SP may never rejoin Labour – though I love their new name: “SP (FKAM)” as in formerly known as Miliant. I suspect they are more likely to split, with the more conservative wing stuck with the SWP in an even more hilarious Tusc while the rest of us get stuck into the mass movemnt.
The fact that the SP are having this debate and that some of their leading members have already walked is far more significant than te almost inevitable drift of 400 Left Unity members. Those of us who haven’t taken that leap of faith yet will now be engaging with the structures and activity of Labour and Momentum. But the more trade unionists Labour pulls in, especially those who already know how to organise independently from the right wing, the more attractive Labour will be to socialist trade unionists like myself. If Momentum continues to offer existing activists the chance to really organise politically to build a workplace based mass movement, how can any of us, syndicalist, Trotskyist or whatever abstain?
I have heard very few aguements from friends in the trade union movement able to offer a good reason not to join Labour. Sure, the pull of compromising your principles in an electoralist party is very real. But now we’ve seen that the left
are organised, now we’ve seen how many principled socialists are organised in one group, and now we’ve seen how relatively small the organised right are, it feels a lot safer to join. As one former SP union activist reminded me the other night, I can always leave.