Supporters of TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, met yesterday to discuss next years local election campaign and to debate the structure of the coalition. The Portsmouth branch of the Socialist Party has worked closely with allies in the RMT union and the SWP since the coalition was formed, and in doing so we have set down a successful example of left unity.
In the 2010 General Election RMT rep and Trades Council President Mick Tosh stood in Portsmouth North, this was followed in 2011 with two local election candidates, John Pickett and Frances Philling. In 2012 this was developed further when 9 candidates stood across the city, representing each of the coalition partners and gaining over 1,000 votes.
When TUSC Portsmouth was first launched, with a public meeting addressed by RMT leader Bob Crow, the local group met regularly to organise the campaign work, donate finance, produce leaflets, to select candidates and to debate how the crisis of working class representation can be solved.
However, the real strength of Portsmouth TUSC is that the organisers, activists and potential candidates do not need regular specified meetings, as we’re all working together between elections, from the Trades Council to PACT, the city’s anti-cuts group, and the campaign against Poverty Pay at Condor ferries. Indeed, when supporting the RMT campaign at Condor Socialist Party members took the local TUSC banner, and were quoted in the Portsmouth News as TUSC members.
As the name makes clear TUSC is a coalition of existing groups which work together to advance a common cause, however before it can truly become a new party many key questions have to be addressed. At the TUSC conference this was reflected in the debate between those defending the federal structure of the coalition and the TUSC steering committee, and those calling for the coalition to become a membership based organisation, with a one member one vote structure at conferences.
It is clear that if it is to succeed at some point TUSC will become an actual party, with a membership organisation and local branches. The need for such a party remains acute as the Labour Party continues to haemorrhage members and disillusionment with the mainstream parties of capitalism remains the overriding theme of modern politics.
What this debate actually reflects is a difference in perspective on how a new workers’ party can be built. Those who call for a membership party-type structure to be declared now wish, as members of Socialist Resistance stated, to have maximum unity of the left. In a document put to the meeting other supporters called for TUSC to reach out to all those on the existing left with a similar design for ‘maximum unity’. The list included ‘old trots’, ‘some members of the Communist Party’, ‘the best anarchists and, incredibly, Maoists.
Initially this looks like a call for ‘Big Tent’ politics, a desire to be inclusive across party lines and to include all who may profess some support for the goals of the coalition. But look again and consider what some of those groups may represent. To gather all those aforementioned groups together is less ‘big tent’ and more ‘small marquee’ politics!
This criticism is not an elitist position; I am not advocating that potential coalition members must reach a certain threshold of membership before they can be welcomed. Indeed different groups do not only represent membership numbers, they represent ideas, and it may be important to include those ideas and perspectives in the movement.
But look again at those previously mentioned. I’ve never met a Maoist and nor do I expect to. The ideas of Mao, even prior to the dictatorship he established, have very little place in the modern movement beyond being a historical curiosity. To call for TUSC to reach out to these tiny and remote bastions of Maoism in 21st century Britain is to include irrelevant ideas in a serious project.
It may appear otherwise, but this is not a sectarian position. The point is that it is not the job of a project seeking to build a new party of the working class to go around hoovering up all the remnants of old parties to try and force together some odd leftist ensemble. To go down that road is to come across the wreckage of many previous political projects.
Instead, compare this approach to the contribution made by RMT delegate Sean Hoyle, who was elected from Portsmouth RMT to the Union’s Council of Executives last year. Sean pointed out that he was one of two official delegates, representing over 80,000 members. Sean also outlined the continued support the RMT has for the TUSC project and explained how this was being developed further.
Sean’s presence made the point just as clearly as his contribution. The RMT are the most militant trade union in the country and in many places find themselves in the leadership of the labour movement. TUSC does not exist to gather together the existing left, but to give political expression to the struggles of the working class. The RMT is in the leadership of those struggles and having realised the need for political representation became a founding member of TUSC.
This is exactly how TUSC will continue to be built. As the government’s austerity offensive continues to attack our class more and more working people will find themselves forced into struggle. Building the movement to defeat austerity must be linked with the rebuilding the labour movement and the trade unions.
As the workers’ movement is rebuilt supporters of TUSC will be in the thick of it and as the struggles unfold so workers will follow the RMT’s lead in seeing the need for political representation. This has been the case of the Prison Officers’ Association and it is for this reason that leading figures within the Fire Brigades Union support TUSC, and why the PCS union are now prepared to support anti-cuts activists.
It is no accident of history that when the POA tabled a motion to the TUC congress this month calling for the consideration of the General Strike, the proposers and seconders were all supporters of TUSC.
A new workers’ party can not simply be declared. Membership cards can not simply be issued as we sit back and wait for the working class to flock to us. Rather the supporters of TUSC, as working class fighters, must work to build the movement and it is from this that ordinary people will see the need for political representation.
The task of building a new worker’s party is a historic one, and it is history we must turn to in order to avoid the mistakes of the past. It is for this reason that the Portsmouth Socialist Party are in the process of producing a pamphlet on how the Labour Party was built and the lessons it holds for the development of a new workers’ party today.
In Portsmouth Socialist Party members are committed to the TUSC project and will continue to work with the RMT, SWP and other allies in the labour movement to re-built our movement and in doing so build the political alternative to austerity.