Jonny Jones discusses how Jeremy and his supporters, whether they are inside or outside the Labour Party, could help to build a social movement that can challenge the Tories and point towards serious social transformation.
Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader has been met with astonishment and celebration from many, ridicule and fearmongering from others. While the Tories lurch from mocking him to painting him as a threat to national security, the left has been trying to take it all in: what does it mean to have a socialist leading the Labour Party, elected by 60 per cent of the voters, whose ranks were swollen by hundreds of thousands of people, motivated by a campaign characterised by demands for peace and social justice?
Everybody knows that Jeremy will face going to face opposition not just from the Labour Party establishment, but from the British and global capitalist establishment as well. He clearly realises that resisting these attacks will require him to situate himself as part of a broader movement. Jeremy has already said that “The way forward for Labour is to recruit more members, to become a stronger social movement, but above all have an absolute passion to end inequality and poverty in Britain.” I don’t here want to get into a discussion about whether socialists should be inside or outside Labour. What I do want to suggest are a few constructive ideas for how Jeremy and his supporters, whether they are inside or outside the Labour Party, could help to build a social movement that can challenge the Tories and point towards serious social transformation.
A movement in the streets
Tory Justice Secretary Michael Gove took to the airwaves on Sunday to contrast Jeremy’s “humane tradition” with the very different approach of organisations “who want to bring protest on to the street”, saying he thought it “important that we keep our politics civilised.” The contrast is, of course, a ridiculous one. The “civilised” politics that Gove professes to hold have led to enormous attacks on benefits, education, healthcare and workers’ rights. In opposition to this. We have seen a wave of street protests – from the student revolt of 2010 through to UK Uncut and the anti-austerity demonstrations called by the TUC and the People’s Assembly, and Jeremy has supported them all.
In a recent interview Jeremy called for opponents of austerity to protest at the Tory Party conference in October, saying that “what happens in parliament is a reflection of what happens outside”. Jeremy’s campaign should try to mobilise as many of its supporters as possible for the demo. Jeremy could directly message his supporters and use the impressive social media reach of his campaign and the media machine of the Labour Party itself to publicise it. Trade unions are already laying on transport and could be encouraged to provide more if there was big demand. A huge turnout in Manchester would strengthen Jeremy’s anti-austerity position, and a militant protest that was big enough to block roads, disrupt delegations and shut down the conference would enormously bolster the movement outside parliament and lay the basis for ongoing protests and deeper local organisation.
A movement in the workplaces
Four years ago Ed Miliband gave an interview about public sector strikes in which he repeated the mantra “These strikes are wrong” like a broken record – and this was the man dubbed “Red Ed” by the Tory press. What a difference to see Jeremy continue his unstinting support for striking workers while a backbencher by backing the striking National Gallery staff during his first speech at TUC conference as Labour leader. Having a Labour leader who supports striking workers could be of great importance as the Tory assault on trade union rights begins in earnest. However, simply hoping for a Labour government in 2020 that can repeal the new anti-union bill would be a real mistake. That’s why it’s good that the TUC has called for a day of action to oppose the bill, but how can the enthusiasm of Jeremy’s new support be brought into this fight, and how can we got from days of action to winning? He has always supported action from below, and it would be really helpful if he explicitly came out and argued why it won’t do to wait for 2020 – both because it’s such an urgent fight and because waiting would mean (at best) him taking office with a weak movement behind him, badly placed to stand up to the establishment attacks on his government.
Jeremy has already made it clear that voter registration will be a key task, adding the post of shadow minister for young people and voter registration to his shadow cabinet. He should place a similar emphasis on union recruitment, launch a major campaign to promote it and call on his supporters to join a union, become union reps, organise at their workplaces and take on their bosses. Trade unions should offer major resources for signing-up new members. The task of rebuilding our power in the workplace will be a long one, but this is an opportunity to promote a significant influx into the union movement.
A movement for our future
John McDonnell’s appointment as shadow chancellor was a sign that Jeremy has no intention of relenting on his anti-austerity programme. Like Jeremy, John has been a committed socialist activist throughout his parliamentary career, and soon after his appointment he spoke to Jon Snow on Channel 4 News saying:
I don’t think change comes from Parliament, or from above. Change comes from below. One of the roles I can play is to stimulate debate about the potential alternative there is. We used to use the slogan “another world is possible” and I believe that, but you can only achieve that is people are absolutely convinced that there is an alternative. So part of my job isn’t just about the politics of the Parliamentary Labour Party or the politics in the House of Commons, it’s about getting out there and stimulating this debate on the alternative.
There has been much discussion of the kind of economic policies that Corbyn should pursue and of next steps, strategies, and programmes he could adopt. In the important discussions and debates among Corbyn, McDonnell and their supporters, that slogan of another world and its possibility, indeed, its necessity, should not take a back seat.
The movements that have emerged around the world over the last few years have at their best coupled the power of mass action with an anger at the existing state of affairs and a longing for something different; something better. The Egyptian Revolution was infused with a desire for “Bread, freedom and social justice”. The 15-M movement of the squares in Spain demanded “Real Democracy Now!” The Occupy camps around the world pitted the immense majority against the few with its slogan “We are the 99%”. Each of these, and many others, have been a crucial education for the left, one that we are still attempting to learn the lessons of. But one thing that is clear is that marrying mobilisation and organisation with an internationalist vision of a better future is a challenge we have to meet.
The recent surge of support for refugees, including the demonstration of tens of thousands who marched through London on Saturday, shows the potential for an internationalist movement in solidarity with migrants. Jeremy’s support for this campaign, and his unequivocal linking of the migrant crisis with imperialism, strengthens that potential. The inspirational work of organisations like London2Calais shows that it is possible to organise concrete solidarity not on a purely humanitarian basis but on a political one. Translating that potential into a living, breathing campaign is something Jeremy and his supporters should attempt in the months ahead.
Finally, a vision of a better future must tackle the question of runaway climate change. That’s why it’s so important that Jeremy has included the creation of a million climate jobs in his environmental platform. The One Million Climate Jobs campaign connects the need to save the planet from capitalist crises (economic and environmental, through enormous investment in renewables and the growth of quality, well-paid public sector jobs) to campaigns and struggles in every arena, from street protests to factory occupations, to make it happen. It is a programme for social change that is linked to mass mobilisation and self-activity.
The movements that we need to deliver serious change will only be born out of significant social struggles. Jeremy’s election alone is not going to deliver those struggles, but his actions and those of his supporters over the coming years and months could strengthen all of us who want to see a socialist future.