Birmingham bin workers defeated Labour council pay cuts with strike action

The dramatic surge in support for Labour in the general election pulled the rug from under Corbyn’s opponents within the party. By conceding on the demand for a more radical manifesto, they believed they had provided Corbyn enough to hang himself. Instead, the manifesto enthused millions faced for the first time with a real alternative after decades of neo-liberal rule under the Tories and ‘New Labour’.

In reality, there were two general election campaigns within Labour, with some candidates refusing to even mention Corbyn or the manifesto. Furthermore, Labour HQ displayed a distinct bias towards candidates from the right of the party in terms of finance and other assistance. The overwhelming support for Corbyn amongst the party membership and a wider layer of workers and young people proved crucial in getting the message out on doorsteps, in workplaces and across social media, resulting in most Labour candidates recording a notable rise in their vote.

In light of this, a section of the more career-orientated MPs have softened their stance towards Corbyn. The vast majority of Labour MPs, however, ultimately come from the “New Labour” stable, with many acting as strident representatives of capitalism who fully understand the threat posed by a Corbyn government to the interests of big business, even if some are currently masquerading as “soft lefts”.

Labour councils continue austerity policies

This situation is also writ large in relation to the cuts implemented by Labour councils which appal the vast majority of members and working class voters. In Birmingham, for example, bin workers were recently forced to take strike action over seven weeks to fight off an attempt by the Labour council to impose a 25% pay cut. The council spent £2 million of ratepayers’ money in a futile attempt to recruit a scab army to break the strike!

Labour-controlled councils should instead be compelled to follow the example of Liverpool in the 1980s and implement no-cuts budgets, using their large reserves and building campaigns to demand extra funding. Indeed, given the savage cuts to housing budgets and relaxing of regulations systematically enforced by both Tory and Labour councils, it was only by chance the Grenfell disaster occurred in a Tory council area. This tragedy should act as warning to all party activists about the consequences of Labour councils continuing to implement austerity.

Party must be democratised

Rather than further attempts at conciliation with the right, Corbyn should campaign to extend party democracy. A central plank of this should be mandatory reselection, which would guarantee that candidates would be selected via a local, democratic process before every election. Prospective candidates must be accountable to party members and affiliated trade unions and open to challenge, rather than sitting right-wingers being able to act with impunity. This is basic party democracy.

Not so for union leaders allied to the Labour right such as Dave Prentis of Unison and John Hannett of USDAW, who have denounced calls for mandatory reselection. It is crucial that left-led unions get together and raise concrete demands to transform the party, including enhanced rights and powers for affiliated unions after decades of measures implemented to curb their influence.

It is also important measures are taken to open up the party and curb bureaucratic practices enshrined in the Blair period. Key to this will be promoting the involvement of the new generation of members in the structures and decision -making of the party. Furthermore, the witch hunts and expulsions of left activists must be ended. The re-adoption of a federal structure that would involve a wider layer of socialists and anti-austerity organisations, including the Socialist Party, would be a key step in bolstering the fight for left ideas within the party.

By Owen McCracken

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