Seven months ago Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour Party leader. In some respects the effect has been transformational.
Previous Labour leaders backed nuclear weapons. Corbyn opposes them. Instead of a condemning workers’ struggle, some of the party’s leaders now say they support strikes.
Former leader Ed Miliband said that the last Labour government had been too soft on immigration and further controls were needed. Corbyn went to Calais to show support for refugees.
Previous Labour leaders shunned the anti-war movement. Corbyn defends it and drove the majority of Labour MPs to oppose the bombing of Syria.
Nobody should underestimate the importance of having an opposition leader who actually opposes what the Tories are doing. Corbyn’s words give confidence to activists to speak out and to organise. He has made it easier to talk about socialist solutions.
But words are not enough. The Tories are on the rocks. It is less than a year since the general election and their economic plans are in ruins. They are bitterly divided, the European Union (EU) referendum is an open wound and their leader is perhaps fatally damaged.
They have been forced into retreats, but they won’t just back off from their class project of making workers pay for the crisis.
It is nearly 1,500 days to the next general election. Imagine the damage the Tories could do if they remain in office, particularly if there is no serious resistance. So the fightback has to take place now, and it has to mean action. Corbyn has denounced the Tories over the steel crisis.
But he has not called on people to demonstrate—probably because he does not want to upset the pessimistic and timid steel unions.
A Corbyn-backed call for protests in Port Talbot and Scunthorpe could have put tens of thousands on the streets.
It could have given confidence to steel workers to launch militant resistance.
Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell have called for some sort of temporary steel nationalisation.
But their vision is to nurture the plants back to health and speedily hand them back to private firms—with all that means for jobs and pay.
Labour will not come out in support of the junior doctors’ strikes.
John McDonnell does as an individual, and attended picket lines. But Labour’s official position is just to criticise the Tories, regret the events that have led to strikes and demand proper negotiations.
Constrained by the opposition of Labour MPs, and anxious to preserve “party unity”, Corbyn makes concessions to the right. Corbyn and McDonnell did not call for people to take to the streets last weekend when Cameron faced calls to resign.
Labour-led councils continue meekly to impose huge cuts. Services such as children’s centres, care for the elderly, libraries and domestic violence units have been slashed—700,000 local government jobs have gone since 2010.
In many cases these cuts have been put through by Labour councils. They may do it unwillingly, but they do it. This year alone Labour councils will have slashed more jobs than would be lost by the total closure of Tata steel.
Launching Labour’s English local government campaign last week, Corbyn said, “Even in the toughest of times it is Labour councils that are making better choices.”
But where’s the evidence? In Lambeth it’s not a vicious Tory council that is closing the libraries, leading to strikes and an occupation. It’s a council where 58 of the 62 councillors are Labour. That’s the experience nearly everywhere.
All of this poses a complicated situation for socialists who want to go further than Labour.
Our main task is to build resistance alongside Corbyn supporters, whether they’re in the Labour Party or not. At the same time we have to debate how Labour won’t be able to challenge austerity, racism and capitalism effectively.
The experience of Syriza in Greece, or president Hollande in France, points to the pressures and obstacles a Labour government would face. Electoral opposition has to be approached carefully. Elections are never the main form of opposition, and this is particularly so at the moment.
The left alternative to Labour is small. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), which the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) supports, will be running some 300 candidates in the councils.
It wants to highlight the need to fight the Tory cuts and Labour’s failure to do so.
Care has been taken to avoid standing against any councillor who is pledged to vote against all cuts or supports Corbyn.
Of course, deciding not to stand against a candidate doesn’t mean being responsible for what they do in the future.
Where there is not a TUSC candidate in English local elections, the SWP thinks there should be a vote for Labour.
What do we say in London? Labour’s mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan has been keen to distance himself from Corbyn.
Earlier this year he told the right wing Spectator magazine that Tory Boris Johnson has been a “great salesman for our city” and that, “I welcome the fact that we have got 140-plus billionaires in London. That’s a good thing.
“I welcome the fact that there are more than 400,000 millionaires. That’s a good thing.”
Khan has repeatedly said, “I will be the most pro-business mayor London has ever had”.
But regardless of Khan’s views, many workers will see that a defeat for Labour in London would be a shattering blow for Corbyn.
Labour should win—the party won 45 of London’s 73 seats in last year’s general election. The media will present May’s elections as a referendum on Corbyn’s leadership.
We fully support all those who want to fight back against austerity—including cuts imposed by Labour councils.
But we also want to be part of the process of supporting Corbyn while arguing for a socialist alternative to Labour.
So Socialist Worker will stand with the Corbyn supporters and call for a vote for Sadiq Khan. We do so while pointing out his many faults, without illusions, and while making demands on him.
London’s mayor controls a £16 billion budget and housing, planning and transport policy.
Khan should use this to slash public transport fares and block posh housing developments with prices beyond workers’ wildest dreams.
He should halt housing schemes based on the demolition of council estates and speak out against councils’ cuts. He should encourage a mass programme of council house building.
He should make London a city that officially welcomes refugees and campaigns for letting them in.
He should denounce police racism, the Prevent strategy and Islamophobia. We will build pressure on him to do all this and more.
Are the Greens an alternative? Certainly some of their policies are to the left of Labour. But whether it’s internationally or at local council level, Greens have repeatedly acted in exactly the same way as Labour.
They have implemented cuts and attacked workers.
Nor have they shown any intent to help in the building of a class struggle left based on workers’ organisations. Electorally, they show no sign of united work with others on the left.
The Greens stood against both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell at the last general election.
Some Green leaders ran away when the Stop the War Coalition came under media assault during the run-up to the vote on bombing Syria.
The Greens are not an alternative to Labour.
Among all the electoral considerations, we should insist that the crucial battle is not who is sitting in London’s City Hall or the council offices.
It is whether there is a sit-in at Tata, whether the junior doctors win, whether the teachers strike and win.
It is whether the movement in solidarity with refugees develops, whether the movement against climate change continues to rise.
And it is whether there is a strong socialist core at the heart of all of these battles.
The last month in France shows how quickly events can change, and new opportunities for struggle appear. We have to push for that here as well.
Divided left means there's no easy choice in Scotland
In Scotland the “Corbyn effect” has been far more limited than in England.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) is set for a crushing win in the Scottish parliamentary elections.
Many of those who might have been attracted to Labour under Corbyn were scooped up by the SNP after the independence referendum in 2014. Over the last 18 months SNP membership has risen by 90,000 to more than 115,000.
Labour has not recovered from its fatal embrace of the Tories during the independence referendum.
Jigging about with the Union Jack alongside Cameron convinced a generation of activists that Labour was not their party. Corbyn remains against independence.
Also blunting any sustained move left is Labour’s Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale. She is certainly not so right wing as Jim Murphy who she replaced. But she is not a Corbyn-supporter.
The Scottish Labour conference voted overwhelmingly to ditch Trident, but voters know that the party’s leader in Scotland opposes the policy.
It is impossible to call for a vote for Labour. But the SNP also doesn’t deserve support.
The Scottish government that it controls has delivered a succession of austerity budgets and implemented horrendous cuts where it runs councils.
The party has reneged on its pledge to abolish the council tax and replace it with a fairer alternative. Its opposition to fracking is half-hearted. The party refuses to support higher tax rates for the rich.
It is a situation which favours a socialist challenge. We can’t hold out for a second independence referendum before building an alternative.But regrettably there is not a united electoral group to the left of Labour and the SNP.
TUSC is running in six constituency seats. We will campaign for as big as possible a vote for it.
Such fragmented forces are much less likely to make a breakthrough. Each will blame the other. Both should look to their own actions.
For this reason Socialist Worker calls for a TUSC vote where it is standing. We call for a left, socialist vote in the remaining constituencies and on the lists. It is important to vote Rise or Solidarity to demonstrate the left opposition to Labour and the SNP. After the election it will be necessary to assess how to avoid this tragically divided situation in future elections.
But just as elsewhere in Britain, the key is struggle.
A determined strike, plans to escalate and an audacious political campaign by further education lecturers forced the SNP to swiftly concede to agree to pay rises and equal pay rates across the country.
Grangemouth dock workers’ launched a 14-day strike backed by unofficial action from tanker drivers which beat an attack on conditions.
A big battle has begun against the council cuts in Glasgow with strikes by janitors and CCTV operators. There is potential for thousands more workers to join them.
The Stand Up to Racism demonstration on 19 March in Glasgow was bigger than last year. It was part of a strong movement against the scapegoating of refugees and Islamophobia.
There are growing numbers of anti-fracking campaigns across Scotland. The most important resistance will come from outside Holyrood and the council chambers.
What about Wales?
The polls for the Welsh Assembly put Labour on around 35 percent. The Tories and Plaid Cymru are both on just over 20 percent Ukip is on 15 percent
TUSC is putting forward candidates in three regional lists Labour will win many of the constituency seats. This means that it cannot gain extra on many regional lists
Ukip is set to harvest several assembly seats unless they are taken by another “non-mainstream” party