New Labour is having problems getting its campaign for the 2 May local elections up and running. 'Going knocking on doors for the Labour Party is not a popular activity at the moment,' said one Labour MP.
But in hundreds of wards campaigners are having the opposite experience. They are campaigning for the Socialist Alliance, which is providing an alternative to the message of privatisation and war from New Labour and the other main parties. HAZEL CROFT joined Socialist Alliance candidates and supporters on the campaign trail in Manchester last weekend.
'THEY HAVE shut Salford down.' That is how Jim Knowles describes the area of Manchester where he lives and is standing as a Socialist Alliance candidate. The area is so poor that last year the BBC highlighted Salford in a series of TV reports during the general election. Jim, a pensioner who runs the local credit union, is standing in the Pendleton ward.
Jim was a long distance lorry driver for 35 years and a TGWU union rep until he was forced to retire through ill health in 1984. 'I joined the Labour Party then,' he says. 'In 1991 the local MP was Labour's Hazel Blears. I thought she had fire in her belly and did things for local people. But that all changed when Labour got into government in 1997. All she's interested in now is climbing the ladder, and she is a junior health minister pushing through privatisation. I left Labour two years ago. I felt so angry that the Labour council were closing the area. They have shut down schools, community centres and old people's homes. The council stopped the grant to the credit union. This has stopped vital help to a lot of disabled and elderly people who need loans at cheaper rates. New Labour politicians are living in ivory castles. Tony Blair is trying to be a world statesman. They totally neglect areas like this.'
Jim points out an elderly people's home standing empty: 'When they closed it one 92 year old woman refused to eat in protest, but they moved her out anyway. Nothing is being done for the people of Salford. The welfare state is going to the wall. There are houses boarded up everywhere. It's like a building site.'
In contrast, the skyline is dominated by the swanky new business developments at Salford Quays, with its plush offices and luxury hotels.
Peter Hayes is standing for the Socialist Alliance in the Langworthy ward in Salford. 'I was born in Salford, but in the 1980s I left the area for 15 years. I couldn't believe the place when I came back. It was desolated,' he says. 'This area used to be thriving. Now the former mine is a prison, the shops are boarded up, and council housing is being privatised. They shut down Salford Royal Hospital. On the site there are now luxury apartments going for £270,000. Who the hell can afford them? When you walk around you can feel the anger in the air. We want to start to try and turn that anger in a positive direction. I've been talking to people, contrasting the way this area has been allowed to rot compared with their vast expenditure on armaments and the war in Afghanistan. Tying those issues together gets a real resonance.'
Putting issues on the agenda
THE Socialist Alliance is standing 18 candidates in the Greater Manchester area. They are not sharp- suited businessmen or on the career ladder, but ordinary working class people. In Manchester they include a community nurse, a local GP, a student, local community activists and trade unionists.
In Levenshulme in south Manchester Sabrina Nutter is focusing her campaign around defending asylum seekers.
'It is important we say asylum seekers are welcome here, and that we fight for better conditions for asylum seekers,' she says. 'This is a very multicultural area, and we have a strong anti-racist message.'
In Bury, a town in the Greater Manchester region, Rita McGlaughlin is putting up a fight against threats to privatise council housing.
She says, 'I live on a council estate and I work as a family support worker on a council estate. Fourteen years ago I was homeless with my kids, but I managed to get a council house. Where are people like me going to go today? Through the course of the election we hope to build a campaign to defend council housing.
We've been actively canvassing on the estate and getting to know more people. We even canvassed the chip shop, because there are 30 to 40 people queuing there on a Friday night.' One of those supporting Rita is pensioner Betty Tebbs. She has been a peace activist since 1935, and was a Labour councillor 40 years ago.
Betty told Socialist Worker, 'I'm backing the alliance because I'm against the war, and against Blair backing Bush over Iraq and Sharon in Israel. The industry has been taken out and demolished. I'm angry over the health service, the railways and pensions. This government is never going to turn around, and that is why we need an alternative.'
Giving people something to vote for and to believe in
OVER IN south Manchester housing worker Heather Rose is standing for the Socialist Alliance in Chorlton ward. Heather and her supporters were out in the local area last Saturday campaigning against the privatisation of the Post Office.
They had made a red post box with the words 'Not for sale' on it, and strung up a banner saying 'No to privatisation'. Many signed the petition against Post Office privatisation. Even more people queued up to sign the petition condemning New Labour's arms sales to Israel.
Heather Rose told Socialist Worker, 'I first got politically active when the US and Britain bombed Afghanistan last year. I am a single parent with two children. For years I struggled on my own and lived on benefits. I just felt sick of seeing all the injustice and deprivation around me. The government had no money for services but found the money to bomb Afghanistan. For me New Labour is despicable. It is promoting what we used to call Conservative policies. I feel really angry. Labour has betrayed its own history.'
Local maths teacher Ros Arnold has been out campaigning for Heather Rose, and she says she got a good response canvassing: 'It was really positive. One of the biggest issues for people locally is the lack of healthcare. They have effectively shut down Withington Hospital. 'Now people have to travel miles to go to Wythenshawe. Others have to go to Manchester Royal Infirmary, which is full to overflowing.'
One of those who pledged to vote for Heather Rose was local resident Anne O'Neill: 'I don't agree with absolutely everything the Socialist Alliance stands for. My hero is Tony Benn. But I don't feel the Labour Party any longer represents working class people. It has stamped on its own grassroots. Working people need some kind of representation, someone to speak up for their interests, and I'm hoping the Socialist Alliance can do that.'
'People are sick to the back teeth of politicians who break their promises,' said further education student Soraya. 'Most of my friends don't even intend to vote. But now I've heard about the socialists I will try and let my friends know that there are people who are standing up for the Palestinians, and who are against war.'
WHY NOT get involved in the Socialist Alliance election campaign in your area?
If you want to find out if someone is standing where you live or work, or if you want to get hold of leaflets and other publicity, phone 020 7791 3138. Alternatively go to www.socialistalliance.net or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org