LAST WEEK'S elections revealed not a 'Baghdad bounce' but a sharp backlash against Tony Blair, especially in Labour heartlands. The sense of utter betrayal by this Labour government, which grew this week over the issue of foundation hospitals, brought breakthroughs for socialists.
The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) won six seats in the Scottish Parliament. The Socialist Alliance achieved similar levels of support in several English council elections such as Middlesbrough, Barnsley and Walsall. It won a seat in Preston under the first past the post system.
The Nazi BNP also tried to tap the disillusionment. It gained dangerous localised support, most notably in Burnley, but failed to make sweeping advances. Pushing back the BNP calls for a united response across the labour and trade union movement to confront and expose them.
Everyone who stands to the left of New Labour now faces an urgent challenge across Britain. It is to build on the potential shown by the successes of the SSP and the Socialist Alliance to develop a left alternative to Blair drawing in masses of working class people.
Home secretary David Blunkett predicted that Labour's vote would hold up in traditional working class areas. He suggested anger with Labour over the war on Iraq was confined to Muslims and the 'liberal middle classes'. In fact, Labour lost votes across the board, and most heavily in working class areas.
The breach between New Labour and working people is not some 'mid-term blues'. It is deepening as the government steers even more clearly to the right following its election losses. The barbaric reality of the occupation of Iraq is sinking in even among many of those who went along with the war. Blair's drive to 'reform' public services means:
- Foundation hospitals, which strike at the principles of the NHS.
- Top-up fees for students.
- The schools funding crisis.
- Ignoring the overwhelming calls to scrap damaging tests for school children.
- Bashing the firefighters and the unions.
- Privatisation everywhere.
On each of these fronts New Labour faces resistance. Building that resistance and organising networks of solidarity for those who fight back are vital. The two million who took to the streets in February against war on Iraq showed the scale of opposition to the government. New Labour's performance last week showed those people remain enraged with Blair.
So too do activists at the base of the trade unions as they see even moderate union leaders pilloried for daring to oppose the government. Many Labour Party members could not bring themselves to campaign for the party last month.
The socialist election successes provide a new hope. They show we don't have to allow New Labour to have a monopoly on representing working class areas and on financial support from the unions.
A debate is now raging among large numbers of people who have traditionally looked to the Labour Party. It is about not only how to oppose Blair on specific issues, but how to provide a political alternative as well. Socialist Worker wants to encourage that debate.
If those who are active in the unions, anti-war movement and elsewhere come together now, we believe there is a tremendous chance to build a powerful socialist force. That could connect with millions of people who have had enough of New Labour.
May Day's united march
AROUND 5,000 people joined the May Day events in central London on Thursday of last week. Anti-war and anti-capitalist activists marched alongside trade unionists and large delegations from the Turkish and Kurdish communities in a protest jointly organised by Globalise Resistance and the TUC.
'I'm here to protest against the occupation of Iraq,' said Chirdine who had travelled down from Kettering in the Home Counties. I'm going to Evian at the beginning of next month to protest against the G8 summit. I want to kick George Bush's arse.'
Dave Palmer, the branch secretary of Plymouth RMT rail workers' branch, told Socialist Worker, 'The government is letting workers down. My branch feels it is time for the link between the unions and New Labour to be broken.' Tony Benn was cheered at the rally when he said, 'We have to gain control of the world for ourselves.
'We cannot have peace while injustice continues. We are the only ones who are going to do it.'