Socialist Worker

Open letter responses: 'We can win support'

Zita Holbourne is on the national executive of the PCS civil service workers’ union. She is a socialist and is part of the Left Unity grouping in the PCS. She spoke to Socialist Worker about the way forward for the left

Issue No. 2158

‘The collapse of the Labour vote did not come as a surprise to me. Since the start of the war in Iraq, Labour’s popularity has fallen among its traditional voters.

People are furious over the bank bailout. And the expenses scandal really came at the wrong time for Gordon Brown.

This government has a lot to answer for, not least the rise of the BNP – which is very worrying.

There are several reasons for the BNP’s success. One is that it presents itself as representing working people and campaigning around local issues. It hides its real politics of racism and fascism.

Another reason for the rise of the BNP is that ordinary working class people no longer feel represented by mainstream politicians or parties.

It is in this context that we need to build a real left. We need an organisation that can speak up for and represent ordinary people – and all oppressed people as well.

If we, the left, can put something forward that is workable, and in a unified way then we could win the respect, support and confidence of working class people.

We can base this around fighting for justice, against poverty, for a decent living wage, free education, affordable housing and equal rights.

At PCS conference this year we discussed standing and supporting candidates and agreed to consult on this over the coming year.

This would mean people standing for councils or parliament who would have our interests at heart.

I’m proud that the PCS is not affiliated to the Labour Party, or any other political party.

The government employs public sector workers, so to be affiliated to your employer puts you in a weak position.

How are you supposed to negotiate and campaign and bargain if you’re not independent from the government?

In the PCS we’ve had the Make Your Vote Count campaign. This is about getting candidates from mainstream parties to set out where they stand on our concerns and what they will do about them if elected.

It’s also about encouraging people to register and use their vote to stop the BNP gaining seats.

We work closely with Unite Against Fascism, Love Music Hate Racism and Hope Not Hate to push back the BNP and expose their racist politics.

The situation with the BNP means the left must unite. We need campaigners, unions and socialist organisations to come together.

But our demands can’t just be about the BNP, we have to tackle other issues too.

The different organisations must have agreements that we are going to gain and build upon the respect of working class people and not let them down. And not split.

We can put forward a manifesto of key issues we’re going to campaign over. These should include commitments to fight racism and all forms of discrimination and oppression, as well as poverty.

The starting point is to initiate dialogue – this could be through a conference or seminar.

Any future grouping or organisation should also throw its weight behind living wage campaigns, the protection of public services against privatisation, and access to education.

People feel isolated and we on the left have to change that. The government of the country they live in does not represent them and they see no alternative.

It’s no good generating activity only around election periods. We have to bring the concept of democracy to the streets we live on and work with our communities to fight every attack on services and jobs.

We also need to get involved in education and ensure we’re relating to young people, many of who have been politicised by the big protests against the war and the far right.

But this process does always mean people voting in elections as many people don’t think there is anyone to vote for who represents their concerns.

In my borough in Newham, east London, the turnout for the elections for youth council and young mayor was higher than in the local elections.

When people feel connected and that the people they’re voting for are accountable to them then they’ll come out and engage.

That has to be our goal – to go out and get respect and win people to a different sort of politics, the politics of equality, justice and people.’

Zita Holbourne writes in a personal capacity


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