Around 70 people attended a fringe meeting of Respect’s Left List at NUT conference on Easter Monday. Victimised trade unionist Karen Reissmann, Dave Harvey from the NUT executive (in personal capacity) and Michael Lavalette, Respect councillor in Preston, addressed the meeting.
The mood in the meeting was one of an urgent need to build the alternative to New Labour. Karen spoke about the impact of New Labour’s commitment to the market in healthcare. “I was told I’d brought my NHS trust into disrepute for opposing privatisation,” she said. “But this is a trust that has waiting lists for people to be sectioned, but it doesn’t think that brings it into disrepute.”
She said that although Labour had put more money into health than the Tories, there had been no improvement because the money was tied to privatisation and competition.
“People want to be able to go to the ballot box with a genuine choice,” she said. “Respect argues that we need a different kind of health service and a different kind of education system.”
Dave Harvey spoke about the importance of building the left, particularly at a time when the prospect of united industrial struggle is on the horizon. He said that New Labour “continues to degenerate” as economic crisis looms.
Michael Lavalette spoke about the disaster of the war and occupation in Iraq. “We have the ideology that the occupation is working,” he said. “But the destructive occupation is bringing no stability to Iraq and Afghanistan.” He also spoke about the campaign against an academy in Preston and the undermining of democracy and accountability that New Labour’s policies entail.
“It used to be that you would go to your councillor if you had a problem with your school or housing,” he said. “You can still do that – but they may not be able to do anything.
“The bigger the vote for left candidates, the harder it will be for Brown to push ahead with his agenda.”
Delegates raised the prospect of a strengthened left following the election. The threat from the BNP shows that disillusionment with Labour can lead people to the right – we need to build a strong left alternative to pull them to the left.