Socialist Worker

Respect: a new coalition in the battle against Blair

A new organisation to challenge Labour at the polls is launched on Sunday. Some of its supporters speak out below

Issue No. 1885

A new coalition, with the proposed name Respect, has begun holding rallies to raise the profile of this important left alternative to New Labour.

Before Sunday's launch rally there were meetings last weekend which attracted 300 in Liverpool, between 250 and 300 in Preston, and over 300 in Bristol. All showed a new spirit of unity and determination.

George Galloway MP, who was expelled from New Labour for his anti-war stance, was warmly received at the rallies. Last Friday he told the audience in Liverpool, 'We have to turn the 10 June European and London elections into a referendum on this government.

'There is a breakdown of political representation in this country. The imperatives of the Labour MPs who voted for war were imperatives of careerism and fear. They feared Tony Blair more than their own constituents because they hold their constituents in contempt.

'And the Euro MPs think no one cares what they do-they are not even legends in their own households. So they put their hands up for Tony Blair. We have to make them more afraid of us than of Tony Blair.

'Protest is absolutely necessary, but it is not sufficient. We have to have an alternative. If we don't create that alternative, then come June the vast majority will stay at home and not vote.

'Tony Blair will claim it is business as usual-that all the anger has abated and the rage on the streets has faded away. I hear the MPs in the Commons tea rooms, in the lifts, in the corridors of Westminster. They are completely disconnected. They might argue with each other at prime minister's question time.

'But all the time they are winking at each other and when the lights go down they go off together. They have so much in common – war, privatisation, tuition fees, foundation hospitals. This government is doing things that even Thatcher and Tebbit wouldn't have done.'

George also spoke at the meeting in Bristol, where he was applauded for saying, 'No one speaks for the trade unions any more. When the post workers went on strike against Robocop managers, the only MP to visit a picket line was me. When an Edinburgh MP called striking firefighters 'fascist bastards' he was, eventually, forced to resign. But he wasn't expelled for bringing the party into disrepute like I was.

'If just half the number who marched to Hyde Park on 15 February vote for us on 10 June, we will get people elected. The next day the whole country will be talking about nothing but us.'

Linda Smith is one of the many trade unionists who have signed up to the Respect coalition. She is treasurer of the London Fire Brigades Union and spoke at the Bristol rally.

'When we took our strike action last year, we were shocked by the response of the Labour Party. They are not on our side,' said Linda. 'You don't have to go through what we did to see that Labour no longer stands up for working people. They haven't repealed the anti trade union laws, they haven't renationalised the railways.

'There is now the biggest gap between rich and poor we have ever seen. Blair wants to take trade unionists' cash, but he wants us to keep our mouths shut. Our union has been affiliated to Labour for 85 years. Now members are asking me, 'Why should we pay our political fund to a party that is attacking us?'

'I am proud to say, as London Region treasurer, we haven't given Labour a single penny in the last 18 months. I am very pleased at the launch of Respect. It is important that we have an alternative to the left of Labour, and I will be arguing to give financial support to Respect.

'People talk about reclaiming Labour, but it's just too late. The war showed where this government is at. Most of all I am looking forward to seeing the back of Blair.'

Hodan, a school student from Bristol, spoke from the floor of her enthusiasm for Respect: 'I am a Somali refugee. The government has failed. It has forgotten it is us, the people, who matter.'

She added that 'this government is sending refugees back to their deaths. It is ending free education,' and made an appeal: 'We are at a crossroads. I am asking you to turn left, towards socialism.'

Irene Hopward from Stroud also made a contribution, saying, 'I am not a member of any party. I agree with some of the Green Party. But it has some socialist elements and some right wing elements. I used to be in the Labour Party, but I left during the miners' strike. I got sick of the politicians' jargon. Tonight I haven't heard any jargon. I have heard common sense that everybody can understand. I want to help this new coalition in any way I can.'


The anti-war movement had an impact

'There are lots of people who know what's going wrong. But all they see as an alternative is separate campaigns, so when it comes to elections the same old people keep getting elected.

It takes real guts to stop being just a critic of the system and come up with solutions, both practical and theoretical. This time last year this coalition was just an idea. On one level it is a simple idea. But it has never been done before, and there are real, practical challenges facing us.

It can be tempting for people to just sit back and see what happens. But we need people to get stuck in and create something now.

So many people have been politicised by the anti-war movement, building this coalition is the logical next stage.

The Muslim community and the left have engaged with each other for the first time. Lots of Muslims are working class. They bear the brunt of New Labour's policies on things like health and education.

We are not just engaged on foreign policy issues – we go shopping, take our children to school, have jobs.

I don't see myself as a Muslim representative. For me, the issues are all linked. Lots of Muslims understand that. That's why many voted Labour for years. We want our young people to be politically engaged. Otherwise their anger and frustration can lead to religious extremism.

We want to offer them, and everyone who opposes war and privatisation, something better.'

Salma Yaqoob, chair Birmingham Stop the War Coalition


We need to act fast and be everywhere

'The meetings for the new Respect coalition are historic.

In Preston the contributions from the post workers' union, the firefighters' union and the imam were brilliant. The Respect coalition gives us a chance to challenge New Labour on the electoral front. Over the last year we have challenged them on the streets and in the trade unions.

But we have not yet challenged them at the polls.

In Preston, we have had a really enthusiastic response from anti-war activists and from people involved in the Socialist Alliance. In Preston we are much bigger and more influential than in many other places. Socialist Alliance supporters see Respect as a chance to broaden our appeal and give ourselves a real chance.

There is huge potential among young people, activists in the anti-war movement, Muslims and the trade unions. There are so many people out there who are looking for a political alternative.

The constituencies for the elections to the European Parliament are massive. That means we have to act fast and be everywhere-outside parliament, on the streets-showing we are a political force.

But it can be done.

In Preston I submitted my election nomination form just ten minutes before the deadline. Three weeks later I was elected. It isn't long until the elections on 10 June, but we can do it.'

Michael Lavalette, Socialist Alliance councillor, Preston


International Support

Italy

'Rifondazione Comunista thinks it is very significant and important that a new organisation of the alternative left is being founded.

The creation of this organisation, gathering political parties, individual militants, workers' organisations, associations and movements, represents an important innovation.

It certainly profits from the extraordinary work done in the 'movement of the movements'. We send the Socialist Workers Party and anyone committed to this initiative our greatest support because we are convinced that today a politics of social transformation can rise again in any country in the world.

Moreover, we think that the demand 'Another world is possible' needs Respect.'

Gennaro Migliore, international secretary Rifondazione Comunista


France

'It has been a great year for social movements in France in 2003, seeing strikes and demonstrations against the so called reform of pensions.

In 2004 the question is, are the elections for regional councils in March and for the European Parliament in June going to be a political expression of these issues?

The elections will be a way to condemn policies serving the interests of the bosses. The political landscape today is very different from the political landscape of the 1997 general elections, which took place after huge public sector strikes in 1995.

Then, the Socialist Party (the French equivalent of the Labour Party) succeeded in creating the so called 'Plural Left', which presented a new political programme seriously criticising neo-liberalism.

This did not last very long. As soon as the official left became the ruling coalition, prime minister Jospin and his government took very neo-liberal and pro-capitalist decisions.

Now, the Socialist Party is unable to really oppose the 'reforms' of the right wing government. And its allies, the French Communist Party and the Greens, are unable to present a different policy.

It is a very dangerous situation because the National Front, a fascist party, can be the big winner. To stop it, it is necessary to have a radical programme, clearly opposed to capitalist globalisation.

This will be the heart of the campaign led by a coalition between our Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) and Lutte Ouvriere, the other main revolutionary organisation in France.

The anti-capitalist and revolutionary left will be united and able to present a credible alternative to pro-capitalist parties.'

Olivier Besancenot, postal worker, candidate in the 2002 presidential election and spokesperson for the LCR


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Sat 24 Jan 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1885
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