Suspended Labour MP Chris Williamson has called for a struggle to democratise the Labour Party “in order to democratise society”.
Williamson spoke on Friday during a debate at the Marxism Festival, hosted by the Socialist Workers Party, attended by over 700 people. He said he had become “unpopular” among Labour MPs because, “I believe we need more democracy in the Labour Party”.
Williamson has recently been re-suspended as a Labour MP after right wing MPs called for action against him. He had called for Labour activists to challenge attempts to smear them with false accusations of antisemitism.
But in a debate on socialism, Corbynism and the future of politics, Williamson said that Labour’s election candidates “should get the endorsement of their members before they can stand for elections”.
“Our job is to represent the masses, not to represent the elites,” he added. “For far too long now parliament has represented the interests of the elites.”
Williamson argued that this wasn’t just about a battle in the Labour Party. It was also “crucial in terms of democratising the economy”.
He said a Labour government should “create a network of worker cooperatives so that workers have a genuine say over the future of their lives and the future of their workplace”.
He also called for the Bank of England to “create money to invest in the economy” just as it had “magicked up billions of pounds out of thin air” to bail out the banks after the 2008 financial crash.
And Williamson called for a “socialist alternative outside the European Union—because that’s what people voted for”.
But he argued, “In the end the issue of whether we’re in or out of the European Union is irrelevant. We’ve got people sleeping on the streets of our city, and that’s happening while we’re in the European Union.
“We’ve got 14 million people in the fifth biggest economy in the world living in poverty—whilst we’re in the European Union. If it’s a panacea, how is that possible?”
Charlie Kimber, joint national secretary of the SWP and editor of Socialist Worker, said the SWP stood with Williamson against the right.
He said right wing Labour MPs are “determined to prevent the election of a Labour government”.
He added, “They do not want a fundamental change in British society. They want to defend the bosses, keep the system as it is, and a nice safe Labour Party which is a bosses’ B team when the Tories drop out of the running.
“They are an immense block on real change in Britain.”
Charlie said that those MPs “are now sitting still immensely powerful inside the Labour Party”.
“It raises questions about the Labour Party which has an energised membership of hundreds of thousands who have repeatedly demonstrated their support for Corbyn and the left,” he said.
“Yet there is still inside the Parliamentary Labour Party a huge block of people who are determined to prevent any change of that sort.”
Charlie said he was “very optimistic about the potential for change”. But he warned, “I know what it would take to overcome the resistance of the other side.”
He pointed to the fate of the once-radical left Syriza party in Greece, which was elected to government in 2015 then implemented austerity. It now looks set to lose a general election on Sunday to the Greek Tory party New Democracy.
Charlie said that “financial and economic powers would use all of their might” to do the same to a Corbyn government, including through investment strikes and a run on the pound.
He said the way to win radical change was with a “mass movement in the streets and workplaces.
“Something like the school climate strikes, something like Extinction Rebellion, ten or 20 or 30 times bigger, more sustained and crucially going into every part of every working class community.”
Liz Wheatley, branch secretary of the Camden Unison union, spoke in a personal capacity about a recent strike by traffic wardens there that won pay rises. She said trade unionists should think about how local disputes can develop national ones.
And she called on them to try and organise action on the global climate strike on 20 September.
“The real danger is that we can fall into being spectators of what’s going on in the world,” she said. “We mustn’t forget that what we do makes a difference.”
Zayne, a Labour Party member from Newham, east London, said, “We need a socialist movement, we need a socialist government.”
Doug Holton from Hackney North Labour Party said, “The sole struggle is not in the Labour Party. But when they get the Labour Party they’ll get everyone else as well. It’s time to stand up and have courage. I think I need to tell plenty of people in the Labour Party—stop running away.”
Williamson ended the debate by telling the crowd, “We desperately need a mass movement that will not just carry a socialist government and Jeremy Corbyn over the threshold of number 10, but sustain us once we get there.”
Charlie said the SWP also wanted to see a Corbyn government elected. But he said that movements outside parliament “matter more than winning votes and winning seats in parliament”.
He said, “We’re going to keep building an organisation fixated on struggle outside the Labour Party.”