Socialist Worker

Debate on transforming the economy reinvigorates the Labour left

Issue No. 2523

A debate on the economy at Labour Party conference reflected a Labour left feeling reinvigorated and confident after Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell promised that Labour would bring “a society that’s radically transformed, radically fairer, more equal and more democratic”.

The hall erupted when he said, “That’s our vision to rebuild and transform Britain. In this party you no longer have to whisper it. It’s called socialism.”

Some of McDonnell’s promises, such as his plan to set up a national investment bank or “support business hubs across the country”, seemed fairly pedestrian.

He also made a dangerous concession to racist scapegoating of migrants. McDonnell said Labour would “address the concerns that people have raised in the undercutting of wages and conditions, and the pressure on local public services”.

But McDonnell also committed to raise the minimum wage to at least £10 an hour and to repeal the Trade Union Act. These promises were some of the best received parts of his speech.

Labour delegate Chris told Socialist Worker, “It was a brilliant speech. I really liked the part about the living wage.”

He added, “We’ve finally got a shadow chancellor who’s talking about the rights of trade unions.”

Another delegate said, “I thought it was excellent. I liked the bit about repealing the Trade Union Act—speaking as someone who’s a trade unionist and works for the NHS.

“Now the party needs to unite around it.”

Delegate Nicole added, “It was an inspiring speech. It takes the party in the direction it needs to go. It reaches out to all the members—and I’m a big McDonnell fan.”


McDonnell’s speech followed a debate on four motions. The Usdaw union proposed one to campaign for the living wage and promise a minimum wage of £10 an hour if Labour is elected.

Yet Usdaw’s general secretary John Hannett, whose union backed Owen Smith for Labour leader, used his speech to make a thinly veiled attack on the left.

Turning to McDonnell on the platform, Hannett said, “Opposition is a cold place. You can have all the moral arguments you want—all the principles.

“But you can’t put them into action if you don’t win power.”

Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey spoke to a different motion. He got big cheers when he said he was tired of people “lecturing” Labour’s leadership about the need to win elections.

He said, “Of course we need to win power. But we need to win power for our people—for working people.

“If you have no stomach for the fight—depart the battlefield.”

CWU union general secretary Dave Ward also got big cheers. “This is a moment when the country needs fundamental change—not tinkering round the edges,” he said.

The mood on the conference floor showed the support among Labour members for left wing policies.

Turning that support into a movement that can fight for them will help make them a reality.

‘We want an alternative to policies of austerity’

Liverpool University student Luke joined the Labour Party during Jeremy Corbyn’s 2015 leadership campaign.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever really been politically engaged,” he told Socialist Worker.

Corbyn’s argument for renationalisation of the railways was a big motivation for Luke to get active. Peter, a university worker in Liverpool, joined earlier this year.

Young Corbynistas Peter and Luke

Young Corbynistas Peter and Luke (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Both attended Momentum’s fringe event rather than party conference.

Peter said Momentum’s attraction is that it “can discuss ideas that aren’t necessarily in line with the party as a whole”.

He hoped Momentum can “be part of a movement that can reinvigorate the left”. Despite Corbyn being leader Peter thought “the left is still not setting the agenda in the best way”.

Both sympathised with the idea that part of the Brexit vote was anti-establishment and a result of the neglect of working class areas for decades.

Luke said Momentum “is articulating the views of people left behind by Thatcherism” who “want an alternative to austerity policies”.

He said austerity policies “are killing people, throwing them out of work or making them work for free”.

Corbyn’s strengthened mandate is a blow to the Labour right.

Pressure to unite the two wings of the party could abandon tens of thousands of people who have joined in the last year.

Peter said he didn’t want his “ideas watered down” for the sake of unity with the right. He added that the ball was “in their court” to make compromises.

Luke agreed but said, “You can’t impose unity”. He added, “Labour hasn’t won an election since 2005.

"Austerity has failed, the debt has gone up while living standards and wages have gone down. We need to trump the arguments of the right.”

‘Politicians need to tell the truth—especially Labour ones’

Over 60 people joined a Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) fringe meeting at Labour’s party conference on Monday of this week.

Talha Ahmad from the Muslim Council of Britain argued for people to turn Stand Up To Racism into a “great movement”.

The meeting chair, a Labour member, called on more Constituency Labour Parties to get involved with SUTR.

He said, “Our party is absolutely united on the question of refugees.”

SUTR co-convener Sabby Dhalu blamed politicians for whipping up racism. She said, “When politicians say immigration is the problem, it leads to racist attacks.

“Politicians need to tell the truth—especially Labour politicians.”

Weyman Bennett, also co-convener, called for Labour members to join with other anti-racists to build a “mass movement”.

He said, “We need to make sure there’s a call to arms for resistance. We need to do this together.”

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