By Maxine Bowler
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The left needs to unite to fight back

This article is over 12 years, 6 months old
Labour voters stayed home in droves in June's European elections. They simply didn't have a credible alternative to get them to the polling station. This tells us that millions of working class people need an organisation which will stand up for them.
Issue 338

One which will fight for more social housing, defend jobs and workers’ rights. One which will oppose all imperialist interventions, resist racism, fight to defend services and oppose the cuts we all know are coming.

This desperate need for a left voice for working people is the reason the Socialist Workers Party has published an open letter to the rest of the left, and to activists everywhere, about the need for unity to offer working class people a real choice at the next election.

I have stood previously as a candidate in Burngreave ward in Sheffield, and come second three years on the run. When I received over 20 percent of the vote it was one of the best votes for the left for many years – I actually received more votes than the Greens who got elected in another ward.

In June, when I went out leafleting against the BNP, people assumed I was standing and had come to ask for their vote. They could not bring themselves to vote Labour and were disappointed when they saw that there was more than one left candidate – it just perpetuated the notion the left cannot unite.

As someone who had fought long and hard for a left electoral project this was an extremely frustrating experience. Obviously many of us on the left are scarred by what has happened with previous attempts at unity. Many of us were part of the Socialist Alliance and then fought hard for the Respect project. Its disintegration weakened us all, but however hard it is we must overcome divisions and work towards creating a united socialist alternative.

Mick Ibbotson, one local community activist, key to the anti-academies campaign locally and based on one of Sheffield’s large council estates, told me that Labour’s voters will not come out. He said it is a culmination of all the betrayals of New Labour. He believes that without a left alternative, politics will simply be portrayed as moving to the right. This leaves a huge vacuum and he told me that it could be “a real opportunity for the left if they have the maturity to seize it.”

I don’t underestimate how difficult building a united alternative might be. At a recent meeting I attended one man started with a statement of precisely what a left group would need to stand for. But I believe we need to start from that which unites us, not from that which divides us.

Exploring the possibility of working together means talks, maybe a unity conference and local meetings to explore closer cooperation. If we can’t create a full-blown socialist alternative, we can agree to stand on a united platform and support each other’s candidates. Whatever else the European election results show, they are evidence that fragmentation prevents the left from being seen as an option. Hence the combined vote of No2EU and the Socialist Labour Party was only 2.1 percent.

There have been encouraging glimpses of what is possible. In Cambridge socialist Tom Woodcock stood as an independent against the bankers’ profits in the local election and won 17.5 percent of the vote. The Barrow Socialist People’s Party won its first seat on Cumbria county council.

There will be many places where local activists, trade unionists and socialists have roots and would be well placed to stand and put up a serious and principled campaign. For example, Valerie Wise (featured in the June issue of Socialist Review), the daughter of former Labour MP Audrey Wise, has agreed to stand against Labour in Preston at the next election.

The open letter is an important step towards reaching out to all such activists – bringing us together to discuss the way forward. We all need to put aside any doubts we might have and find a way to forge this urgently needed unity in the interests of our class.

To read the open letter visit the Socialist Worker website. To add your name, email [email protected]

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