London elections reveal New Labour crisis
Building the sinews of a socialist campaign
LABOUR LEADERS are reeling in the face of opinion poll evidence that Ken Livingstone still holds a commanding lead in the race for London mayor. Livingstone's lead over New Labour's official candidate, Frank Dobson, is running at 45 percent, said a poll last week. But that is not the only problem facing New Labour.
Across the capital the London Socialist Alliance (LSA) is out campaigning for a positive alternative to Dobson, Tony Blair and New Labour. The Socialist Alliance is backing Livingstone for mayor, and is standing its own candidates for the 25-member assembly that will also be elected on 4 May. Already the sinews of a campaigning network are emerging, one which can carry the arguments into every workplace, shopping centre and estate. Even in trade unions which have always automatically backed official Labour candidates the Socialist Alliance is finding support. Leading Socialist Alliance candidate, campaigning journalist Paul Foot, addressed delegates at a postal workers' meeting in north London last week (see below).
Christine Blower, a west London teacher and former president of the National Union of Teachers, is also a Socialist Alliance candidate. She has been out addressing workplace meetings. "Bus drivers at Westbourne Park depot have invited candidates for the Greater London Assembly to address them," says Christine. "I spoke there last week and found a great deal of sympathy for what the LSA is saying. The 15 bus drivers there wanted serious answers to their questions. They donated �51 to the campaign."
Seven people attended a London Socialist Alliance organising meeting at Vauxhall College, south London, last week. They discussed how to build the campaign in the college and also planned how to go onto local streets during lunch breaks. The London Socialist Alliance campaign has sparked a group of staff to get together to organise the campaign in London Guildhall University. NATFHE lecturers' union branch secretary Steve Cushion says, "A few of us got together to build a launch meeting for the LSA. The response has been tremendous. Many different people want to be involved."
In some areas public meetings have been organised by the London Socialist Alliance to take up key issues in the campaign. One was in Tottenham last week, where it organised a meeting about fighting racism in the Metropolitan Police. Leading anti-racist campaigner Weyman Bennett, the local LSA candidate, chaired the meeting. "Over 120 people showed up," said Weyman. "The meeting launched several anti-racist initiatives in north London. Over 50 people signed up for LSA activity." On the streets and estates the Socialist Alliance campaign has also begun to find people willing to form the kind of network that will carry the arguments for a socialist vote.
About 20 people turned up for an LSA stall in Mile End, east London, on Saturday. The local Labour Party had mailed its members to try to get them out on their own stall. Just three Labour members showed up, including local MP Jim Fitzpatrick, who played a central role in carving Livingstone out. But, clearly gutted by the miserable turnout, the trio quickly left and the Labour stall did not take place.
Socialist Alliance campaigners then signed up 15 people who wanted to help the LSA campaign. In Brixton, south London, 37 people signed up at a Saturday street stall and �67 was collected for the LSA. Some 20 people signed up for the Socialist Alliance campaign on Mare Street, Hackney, on Saturday too. The LSA office is receiving calls from people who have seen publicity and want to get hold of hundreds of leaflets to hand out in their own areas. "A guy asked for 500 leaflets to hand out on his estate in Coulsden, near Croydon," says Mike, who works at the LSA office.
On estates and streets where people have gone door to door they are also finding people who want to get involved. On the Arden estate in Hoxton local LSA activists called a meeting in someone's front room. Ten people came to the meeting and organised to leaflet nearby estates. The London Socialist Alliance campaign is only just getting under way. But already the response shows that a real campaigning network can quickly be pulled together. That can then ensure the socialist message is carried loud and clear as the vote on 4 May draws nearer.
Look who's behind Dobson
GULAM NOON is worth over �45 million. He used every dirty trick in the book to try to prevent his largely Asian workforce in west London from joining a trade union. He tried to remove GMB shop steward Rana Hussein from the main factory. A canteen occupation by workers stopped the victimisation of their shop steward.
Noon conceded union recognition only after a bitter fight. He is now supporting Frank Dobson for London mayor. "I would be terrified at the prospect of Livingstone being elected as an independent candidate for mayor of London," says Gulam Noon. "He has already made statements about higher business taxes for London businesses."
PAUL FOOT, London Socialist Alliance candidate, writes
Postal workers deliver message
I sat last week in the portentous surroundings of a committee room at Islington Town Hall. I was nervously waiting to speak to about 50 delegates from the London North and North West divisions of the Communication Workers Union. I could not help reflecting how rarely, in quite a long lifetime's socialist activity, I had been invited to address such a meeting.
Never, in fact. The nearest I'd ever come to it was as a Socialist Worker reporter in the 1970s-but even then I was thrown out of the AEU national committee. Glancing round the room at Islington Town Hall, I was struck by the all-pervading seriousness. However tenuous, the very existence of trade union democracy obliges delegates to take their job seriously, to listen, argue where necessary, and vote according to what they feel are the aspirations of their members.
The overall impression to the outsider, especially the outsider like me who has a case to make, is intimidating. I was suitably intimidated and stumbled through what I had to say, wondering all the while at the extent of commitment which lay behind the faces which confronted me, almost all male, almost all white, all without exception serious.
The questions flowed thick and fast. Some were friendly. That very week the union leaders had fallen out with the government over the latest plans to flog shares in the Post Office. But most of the questions were searching, critical. What was going to happen to the London Socialist Alliance if any of us got elected? Would the Alliance fall apart? What did I think of the Green Party? Did not the delegates as members of an affiliated union have a duty to support the Labour candidate? Did I have anything to say about crime or asylum seekers?
Well, yes, I had something to say on all these things. No, I did not think that the Alliance would fall apart if any of us were elected. It was obviously necessary to establish out of the Alliance some representative body which would advise and eventually control any elected assembly members. But for the moment the Alliance had come together for the single purpose of fighting the elections. As for the Greens, I was against pollution and the causes of pollution, which meant I was a red, not a green. I was utterly opposed to the witch-hunt against asylum seekers, and when other candidates talked about the need for more police, I wondered how the new police officers would react to the likes of Stephen Lawrence and his family.
As I was speaking, I suspected the support was draining away from me. I had underestimated the new mood which is sweeping through the working class movement in response to government paralysis, inertia and stitch-up. I was certain we had lost. A couple of hours or so later the news came through. The motion to support Ken and the LSA, and to give �200 to each of our campaigns, had been passed-by 28 to eight, with a few abstentions.