Coventry Launch of Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition

April 2, 2010 at 3:50 pm (elections, Socialist Party, TUSC, voltairespriest)

Last Sunday, I attended the Coventry launch meeting of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). This is an electoral initiative set up between the RMT union and some of the various left groups which formed the backbone of the Socialist Alliance in the early 2000s, along with elements of the Communist Party of Britain.

The meeting was relatively large for a party political gathering in a city the size of Coventry. There were about 70 people in attendance, mainly though not exclusively members of the Socialist Party. The original plan had been for the meeting to be addressed by both RMT leader Bob Crow and Coventry Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist, however Crow was tied up with what (prior to subsequent court action by Network Rail) looked like a prospective national strike by his members. Therefore Nellist addressed the meeting alone.

As someone who knows the SP in Coventry fairly well, I found the meeting quite interesting. However it was clearly geared towards the SP itself. Nellist made it very clear that, whilst he would find the votes of the SP’s candidates across the city “interesting”, their overriding priority was to re-elect his comrade Rob Windsor, who is facing a challenge from Labour in the SP’s traditional stronghold of St Michael’s ward.

It isn’t that I can’t see Nellist’s point here. The SP currently has two councillors in the city of Coventry, down from a previous total of three in the same ward. The third councillor in St Michaels is Brownite Jim O’Boyle, a former TGWU steward without any ties to the union’s left of which I am aware. If the SP were to lose Windsor, then they would not be able to form a “group” on the city council, leaving Nellist a rather ineffectual representative in terms of several procedural mechanisms which he would no longer be able to use.

However, let’s not forget that this was the launch meeting in the West Midlands of a challenge to New Labour.. It speaks to a certain lack of political confidence on the SP’s part that Nellist would even raise their worries about the possible (if unlikely) loss of a single council seat, in such a setting.

The substance of the meeting, though, was spent on major national political questions. It was good, standard fayre, laying into New Labour’s support of the banks, supporting the repeal of the anti-trade union laws, and other such issues. There were also issues specific to Coventry mentioned – in particular the enormously costly PFI hospital at Walsgrave, which has set taxpayers back a vast amount of money whilst providing not-noticeably-better medical care. All of this went down well with the assembled audience.

It has to be said that TUSC (cringe-inducing name aside) is a worthy political initiative. It doesn’t have a candidate in my own constituency, otherwise I would probably vote for it. But for me it does have the ring of “more of the same” about it. What’s so different about TUSC that means it will endure and grow beyond the next election? I’ve seen very little to convince me that it has any more likelihood of an enduring political presence than did the Socialist Alliance or the SP/CPB’s wrong-headed “No2EU” slate at last year’s Euro-elections. Indeed, its existence or otherwise seems to me incidental even to the SP’s work in Coventry – they’d be doing exactly the same thing whether TUSC had come about or not.

That having been said, there isn’t a lot else on offer. At this election, there are only various protest votes to the left of the three main parties, other than in rare cases such as Brighton Pavillion where the Greens’ Caroline Lucas has a chance of an upset. In terms of critical Labour votes, the Socialist Campaign to stop the Tories and Fascists sounds to me like nothing more than a warmed-over version of the 1979 Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory. It’s a nostalgia exercise backed by good people who just don’t want to understand that today’s Labour Party is no longer worthy of the name.

Unfortunately that’s the way this election looks – like a deeply unappetising choice between three rotten main courses, or plates of leftovers from a tasty meal cooked some time ago.

26 Comments

  1. sarah peace said,

    This seems to be a really fair assessment. It is true that TUSC is a coalition that could halt – but the more people who get involved (like me and others in Manchester who are non-affiliated) the more chance there is of longer-term stuff. I like the Manchester campaigns because they are really open – and open to ideas/new people. I am sure Coventry is the same.

  2. Waterloo Sunset said,

    Indeed, its existence or otherwise seems to me incidental even to the SP’s work in Coventry – they’d be doing exactly the same thing whether TUSC had come about or not.

    I actually think that’s a strength as opposed to a weakness. Obviously, it’s something of an understatement to say I’m not a great fan of electoralism. But one thing I would say about the SP is that they’re actually one of the best left groups as far as getting stuck into the hard slog of community politics goes.

    So they’re already known as activists in the area they’re standing in, as opposed to suddenly having appeared for the election. On top of that, their involvement in the community isn’t actually reliant on the results of the election. So, even if they do lose Windsor, they still have the presence on the ground for that to be a setback as opposed to a fatal blow.

    (It’ll be interesting to see how many resources the Labour Party throws at that particular election. I know the experience of the Oxford IWCA was that the LP seemed to have unlimited funds when it came to trying to unseat them. Resources that are seemingly unavailable when we’re talking about the far right).

  3. voltairespriest said,

    I don’t disagree about the SP’s in-depth strength in Coventry being a good thing. Quite aside from their community work (whilst yes, it’s true that Windsor is an excellent local councillor, and it would be a shame if he lost), it means that their unusual numerical dominance over the SWP ensures far less sectarian hostility on the left than exists in most cities.

    My point, though, was that there isn’t much sense of TUSC having an organic life of its own – essentially it’s within the grace and favour of the SP whether there is such a thing in Coventry or not.

  4. sarah peace said,

    Oh no, just read that Respect are standing against a Manchester TUSC, Reissmann. Why? Makes no sense.

  5. voltairespriest said,

    My guess is that it’ll be partly down to simple political one-upmanship and control freakery, rather than anything deeper. The old line from the SWP whereby everyone in a different organisation is a “sectarian” still applies where some people’s attitudes are concerned.

  6. sarah peace said,

    Ooh that is dreadful. There are trade unionists, community activists, SP, SWp and on and on involved in TUSC. I have only seen really positive attitudes, so Respect have gone way down in my estimation now. Oh well. Thanks!

  7. Voltaire's Priest said,

    Yes, it’s ironic isn’t it that the SWP, of all people (from whom in my opinion quite a few of Respect’s political problems originated), seem to be the only ones to have learned the good political lessons from the Respect experience?

  8. sarah peace said,

    I agree and can now see that Respect are totally trying to control things in an odd manner. I read more about Respect’s sudden decision to stand and it really doesn’t look like anything that nastiness. What a mess. Oh well the TUSC campaigns are really good so I hope Respect can see how stupid and mindless their moves are. I thought they cared about trade unions? Starting to think they don’t.

  9. voltairespriest said,

    A lot of their tactical decisions look deeply cynical to me, and always have done.

    They’re a very odd organisation, trying to marry a lot of (in my view) essentially incompatible political views under one umbrella. In particular, they contain a number of rather oddball members and ex-members of various left groups, who bring their attitudes to organising and political tactics with them.

  10. Waterloo Sunset said,

    I think it’s worth remembering that several middle level members of Respect are ex SWP and still seem to be defining their politics largely in relation to that. I suspect that goes a long way to explaining this kind of decision.

    Back on TUSC, I have to agree on the name. It’s the worst choice since Carl Barat decided “Dirty Pretty Things” was a good name for a band.

    They missed a trick at the European elections as well. If they’d called themselves NO (e)U they could have picked up the support of the lolcat generation.

  11. sarah peace said,

    Ok – thanks for explaining. I did meet an oddball, but didn’t get the wider picture. here’s hoping that TUSC builds after the election. I really want to keep going with it. yes the name is a bit ropey…

  12. karenski said,

    Sarah, I am in Manchester too and have recently got involved in Karen Reissmann’s campaign, to date it has been a very positive experience. I think Karen is an excellent candidate, given her recent fight against NHS cuts. With regard to the local Respect members, steer clear, mostly misogynists and piss heads!

  13. sarah peace said,

    Kareniski, thank you for this and for the warning. I think it is excellent for Manchester!

  14. martin ohr said,

    VP-

    No mention of europe in Nellists speech? This time last year he said europe was the No1 issue facing socialists and trades unionists.

  15. voltairespriest said,

    Not that I can recall, no. If he did mention it, it wasn’t a big feature.

  16. martin ohr said,

    you see that is weird because when I said to Nellist that the SP were not well known for being anti europe he berated me at length and said I’d obviously not been paying proper attention these past years.

    It could almost lead me to think that Big Dave is just another shit-bag politician who’ll say whatever suits his purpose.

  17. voltairespriest said,

    He’s not a shitbag, Martin. He does hold politics on Europe which I, and apparently you, would disagree with, but there’s an awful lot more on which we’d all agree, and I don’t think his integrity is questionable at all.

  18. martin ohr said,

    I didn’t call him that for that. I think he’s a shitbag for forming an alliance with the CPB under the slogan no2eu and then pretending that he things the “EU is the most important issue facing the working class” his words not mine. I was surpised and took him up on it- from his position on the platform he had a pretty big rant directly against me for pointing out somethings he actually agrees with but made him uncomfortable in front of the secretary of the CPB who he was sharing a platform with.

    Your integrity is definitely in question if you say things which you know not to be true and which your audience knows not to be true.

    If fact the whole of the NO2EU meeting I attended had a surreal feel to it with 30-40 SPer’s pretending to agree with the CPB and pretending to be exasperated with anyone who didn’t- whereas they all knew it was a rotten bloc coalition, and moreover knew that everyone knew too.

  19. voltairespriest said,

    Really? Denham and I went to a No2EU meeting in Coventry and disagreed volubly with the assembled audience, who almost all agreed with No2EU’s platform. The debate was actually quite good, as Jim and I would both attest to you, and both the speaker (Dave Nellist) and the local SP full timer thanked us for our contributions afterwards.

    I guess we had different experiences of the whole thing.

  20. martin ohr said,

    I guess so- I quite like Nellist, maybe he just had an off night. Rob Griffith was particularly obnoxious that night- although not as much as the alliance for green socialism people were at the leeds no2eu meeting.

  21. Dr Paul said,

    Seeing that the Millies (and the SWP) treated the Socialist Alliance purely as a focus for recruitment to their own organisations, and then dumped it after they had drained it of whoever they could recruit, why should anyone take seriously their intervention in this latest unity campaign?

    • Mr Mick said,

      Dr Paul clearly did not get his qualification in politics or history. Unfortunately the history of the SA, that was on the net, has dissappeared. It was set up in Coventry in 1992 until 2001 it only survived threw the support of the SP (Dave Nellist being the chair for most of the early period) , rather than taking the SP had they putting in. After over 10 years of SP involvement the Socialist Alliance was effectively closed after just 12 months of SWP control.
      It’s worth remembering history or you may end up re-living it.

      • Will said,

        aye — and ‘Dr Paul’ is also a self-regarding cunt of a high order (similar in kind of that utter tool and fuckwitt sloBBY Fudge who comments here like a bad case of STD). I mean, who the fuck calls themselves a Dr who has a fuckking phd in the social sciences other than pompous self-regarding cunTs?

        The only fuckers who shuD have doctor in front of their name are fuckking doctors of medicine — for obvious fuckking reasons (i.e. could possibly be of relevance when saving lives in extremis and shit like that). Other than that — youse can fuck the fuck off.

  22. John T. Capp said,

    Perhaps Dave Nellist was saying that Europe was the number one issue for socialists when fighting a European election, and as the debate around the Lisbon Treaty was in focus? Doesn’t seem like a great stretch of the imagination.

  23. voltairespriest said,

    Yes, quite.

  24. Walton Andrew said,

    If you want to see TUSC’s comments on Europe – look at Paul Couchman’s article in the Surrey Herald. This is still an important issue, but it is not as central to the debate as it was when the European elections were happening and Lisbon treaty was being ratified, for obvious reasons.

    http://elections.surreyherald.co.uk/independentsandothers/2010/04/paul-couchman-tusc—on-europe.html

    Paul makes it clear that TUSC thinks we need a workers’ Europe and we are internationalists, but we oppose the bosses’ European Union and Lisbon Treaty, which paves the way for privatisation of public services and is undemocratic.

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