Rhodri Morgan blamed Labour’s collapse in the recent council elections on the leadership of Gordon Brown. But the simple fact is that the party founded by and still primarily funded by workers has been betraying those workers for eleven years – and Labour in Wales has played a full part in that betrayal.
The scale of Labour’s humiliation is staggering. With only a third of the electorate bothering to vote, and Labour winning just 24% of those votes, no more than one in twelve voters put their cross next to a Labour candidate. In Wales Labour fared no better than in England – and in the Vale of Glamorgan, proposed site of Morgan’s beloved military academy, the Labour-Plaid coalition lost power to the Tories.
The Morgan administration has enacted reforms at the Senedd which have counteracted some of the effects of the neo-liberal Westminster government. But the depressed state of so many Welsh communities demands urgent and radical action, paid for by public funds, which in turn requires outright opposition to free-market ideology and privatisation in all its forms. So why are Labour trumpeting the biggest PFI in history at St Athan, costing £11 billion of taxpayers money to create at best 2000 jobs at an incredible £5.5 million a job!?
Iraq is often cited as a major reason for voters’ disillusionment in Labour. So why did Rhodri Morgan fail to utter one word of condemnation of the invasion? If this was, as has been mooted, part of a deal whereby Blair would not interfere in Morgan’s running of Wales, then Labour’s collapse here is due reward.
Time and again, from the axing of the Llanwern steelworks to the closure of the LG factory in Newport, Labour politicians in Wales have no answer except they are sorry, but we are all helpless in the face of the all-powerful market.
However, Morgan and co are quite happy to embrace capitalism when it promises ‘jobs for Wales’, even when this is based on a complete lie, as at St Athan. Devolution in Wales, as in Scotland, has spawned a narrow nationalism which has played straight into Plaid’s hands by declaring there is such a thing as a “Welsh interest”, when in reality the interests of the working-class and those of their exploiters remain as incompatible as ever.
As PR have constantly argued, there is no short-cut to a revival of class-consciousness amongst workers without the rebuilding of labour organisation and the defiance of anti-union laws in order to succesfully prosecute struggles. For this reason we welcome wholeheartedly the upsurge in working-class militancy which the government’s loss of credibility is fostering. And for this reason also we have criticised the wholesale capitulation to electoral politics into which much of the left has fallen. It is a sad fact that, however derisory Labour’s results have been in this election, the results of groups further to the left have been correspondingly awful.
This phenomenon was not limited to Cardiff, where the Socialist Party and the SWP/Respect/Left Party shared a few dozen votes between them. There is no dressing up the scale of the left’s defeat throughout the UK: in the London mayoral election the fascists got 53,000 more votes than the only left of Labour candidate. Respect Renewal did little better, winning no more than a single additional councillor in Birmingham. Its combined vote in London was lower than that of the BNP, who now boast a seat on the GLA – a presence every socialist in London must actively campaign against and challenge.
So what way forward now? The idea that the left can mount a united electoral challenge is comprehensively refuted by the experience of the last decade. The various attempts at left unity – the SLP, SSP, SA, Solidarity, CNWP, Respect and Respect Renewal – have all failed.
This was certainly in part because of the conflicting interests of the various groups involved. However, more importantly it was because, rather than addressing what the working class objectively needed to take it forward, these groups were all premised on something the working class certainly did not need – the abandonment or watering down of huge chunks of the socialist programme in order to make their electoral message more palatable.
The left has to rebuild itself first and foremost in the struggles outside Parliament. When it engages in electoral activity in future it must present an uncompromising revolutionary anti-capitalist programme – it could hardly fare worse than it did this time around! If we do not raise revolutionary socialist arguments, how will we ever build a revolutionary vanguard within the workers movement?
Instead of another false unity initiative the left needs to honestly and openly reassess its mistakes over the last decade. No single party however nominally broad can at present encompass a spectrum of activists both inside and outside the Labour Party and on the left of the Greens as well as non-aligned socialists and members of the various left groups.
But socialists from all these strands of the left must begin to organise and work alongside each other now. The demand that before we can unite in action we must join a single party or quasi-party organisation is a sectarian barrier to the real regroupment that urgently needs to take place.
Rather, activists need to agree to fight together around the key priorities of the working class now. That means starting right now to build the base organisations of the unions ready for a renewed offensive by Labour and the Tories. It means fighting any upsurge in repossessions or evictions with the oncoming housing crisis. And it means standing firm against the continued attacks on women’s rights and immigrants, campaigning resolutely against the war and using opportunities like the Convention of the Left in Manchester this September to agree on joint campaigning priorities and to begin a real debate about the way forward.