Two Labour ministers have now let slip that the general election is going to be on Thursday 6 May.
In just three months time the country will go to the polls—and the question facing every socialist and activist will be which party to vote for.
There is no easy answer, and many people will be considering not voting at all.
The economic crisis continues to rip through working class communities. The threat of a Tory government sends chills down the spines of everyone who remembers Margaret Thatcher’s years in power.
But for many the idea of voting Labour is tough to swallow.
For 13 years we have seen Labour abandon and betray the people who swept it to power.
It took us into an illegal war in Iraq, and a futile and murderous occupation of Afghanistan.
Under Labour the divide between rich and poor has increased to the greatest levels since the Second World War.
These betrayals, coupled with its failure to address the concerns of working class people, have fuelled bitterness and despair.
This has created a vacuum in British politics.
And the danger is that, without a left alternative, the right can fill the vacuum.
Anyone who has campaigned against the fascist British National Party (BNP) knows that it feeds off the despair in society. This makes the need for a socialist alternative even more urgent.
That is why the Socialist Workers Party has joined the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
TUSC is exactly what it says on the tin—an electoral coalition of trade unionists and socialists.
It is going to stand in around 40 constituencies in England and Wales, and it will also be standing in Scotland.
It has the potential to offer working class people a real choice at the ballot box and has policies the left can unite around.
TUSC is not a political party. It is a coalition with a federal structure.
All prospective candidates will be expected to endorse the coalition’s core policy statement, with the provision that candidates will be responsible for their own campaign.
The failure of left wing trade unions such as the RMT, the PCS or the FBU to formally endorse the coalition is a disappointment.
The Communist Party of Britain has also voted not to support the project.
However, RMT general secretary Bob Crow is supporting the coalition in a personal capacity.
Many RMT and Prison Officers Association branches are supporting TUSC.
In several areas RMT activists, supported by their branches, are standing as TUSC candidates. Portsmouth and Carlisle RMT branches have been the first to declare that they are standing.
It is a small but important step in the creation of a new, trade union-backed socialist coalition that can provide the alternative that people crave.
Important first steps
TUSC has so far drawn support from a number of union officials, the SWP, the Socialist Party, the Indian Workers Association (GB), the Hazel Blears Must Go campaign, the Socialist People’s Party (Barrow) and a number of independent councillors.
TUSC will not be standing against left wing Labour or Respect candidates.
Every group affiliated to TUSC will put up candidates and run socialist and grassroots election campaigns.
The SWP will, of course, support all TUSC candidates.
But we will be central to campaigns in a number of constituencies, including Preston, Sheffield, Manchester, Cambridge and Tottenham.
Nobody believes that the general election is going to be easy for the left. We have a lot of work to do.
The threat of a Tory victory means there is real pressure from some quarters to stick with Labour, despite its betrayals.
The break up of the Respect coalition and the Scottish Socialist Party means that the left’s electoral projects have been weakened and fragmented.
Hopefully TUSC can begin the process of uniting the left.
With good and vibrant local campaigns we may be able to gain a respectable vote.
But the other test for TUSC must be the possibility of pulling together a network of activists.
This means uniting socialists, trade unionists, anti-war campaigners, students, pensioners, the new migrant communities, and all those who want to resist the cuts and attacks on our class.
This election campaign can become a stepping stone towards a stronger and more rooted electoral organisation.
The PCS civil service workers’ union will be discussing standing and supporting trade union candidates in elections at its annual conference in June. It will ballot its members on this in the early autumn.
This would be a historic step for a national trade union to take and could significantly strengthen any left of Labour coalition.
But that is in the future.
We know that jobs, services and pensions are going to come under the axe—whoever wins the election.
There will also be serious discussions after the election, no matter who wins, about the way forward for the labour movement.
TUSC can and must be a part of this.
It can begin to offer working class people an alternative, one with socialism at its heart.
TUSC's core policies include:
- Opposition to public spending cuts and privatisation
- Investment in publicly-owned and controlled renewable energy
- Repeal of the anti-trade union laws
- Withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan
- Opposition to the Nazi BNP, racism and all forms of discrimination
- Bringing into democratic public ownership the major companies and banks that dominate the economy