On Saturday the 15th of November the Leeds Labour Party organised a meeting- ‘An Audience with Owen Jones’. The meeting was hosted by Alex Sobel, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Leeds North West and current councillor in Moortown.
Ben Mayor, Leeds Socialist Party
Socialist Party members intervened selling papers, leafleting and discussing our perspectives with other interested audience members. There were many positive and productive discussions, with several people expressing an interest in standing as council candidatea for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) in next year’s local and general elections in May.
TUSC is the electoral coalition that the Socialist Party works in along with other socialist organisations and anions such as the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) as well as in West Yorkshire being supported by the West Yorkshire Fire Brigades Union (FBU). TUSC aims to offer a real alternative, with councillors and representatives who will refuse to implement any cuts to workers jobs, pay or conditions.
The meeting began with a packed lecture theatre full of anticipation, with around 150 people in attendance. Owen Jones spoke for around 30 minutes where he outlined the situation that society finds itself in by highlighting the rising poverty and inequality that is widespread across society and speaking of the huge wealth appropriated by the top 1% in society. He also spoke of the failure or mistakes of the trade union movement and mentioned in passing, with no real detail given, that in the past we have been betrayed by our leadership.
Owen Jones’ speech was a lively one, articulately explaining the situation that faces the vast majority in society today with rising prices and falling pay while services are privatised and the rich get richer. You would have thought that this would have led to an opening up of debate and discussion, an explosion of ideas and energy as to how we can fight back against this.
Yet, apart from a few notable questions commenting on the role of the media as well as the rise of Podemos in Spain, the contributions were mostly pre-prepared and vetted by the chair. This meant that they were unfortunately short and Jones then immediately replied to the questions or contributions and the discussion moved on.
The overall conclusion of the meeting was a confused one. The meeting had been called by a prospective Labour party candidate yet the meeting heard little from Alex Sobel at all. It seems people were meant to be impressed by the presence of Owen Jones and thus be inspired to vote or join Labour at the end of the meeting.
The final question that was selected from the audience, where Socialist Party and TUSC representatives were unfortunately overlooked, hit a chord as it commented on the role of the Labour Party and asked why people should get involved. Owen Jones was not able to give a conclusive answer, only an abstract position of ‘working together’ and ‘hope’ was put forward, and whilst Jones admitted the Labour Party was certainly not perfect this was in fact a glossing over of their recent record in their official capacity as the ‘opposition’.
Jones completely failed to address the political failings of the Labour Party or to give any concrete suggestions of how we could force Labour to adopt the kind of politics he claims to support. His only answer seemed to be that everyone should join Labour and “get on the streets”. In fact, Jones gave very little in the way tactics and strategies for defeating the cuts, and on several occasions shied away from using the word “socialist” to describe himself.
If Socialist Party members and TUSC supporters had been allowed to come into the discussion we would have promptly outlined that the controlling Labour council in Leeds is planning to cut around 450-500 jobs from adult social care in the city, a workforce that is represented by the GMB union which had official representatives present at the meeting.
The fact that both Alex Sobel and Owen Jones failed to mention this speaks volumes, particularly while the council sits on astonishing reserves of around £90m in their bank accounts. Representatives of the GMB spoke to us before the meeting and expressed their conviction that these cuts can be fought and that it comes down to a matter of political will. The Labour Party has no desire to fight the cuts. In fact they are happy to implement austerity not just in council level but also from Westminster if given the chance, as Ed Balls has promised himself .
Alex Sobel and Owen Jones both made references to the fight for a living wage. Many would rightly support a rise in the minimum wage to one that you can live off. The Labour Party is calling for a rise of the minimum wage to £8.00, by 2020. Given that the rate of inflation is set at 1.2%, meaning that our bills keep rising while our pay stays still results in actual pay cuts. £8 in just over 5 years will simply not be enough.
The call by the Labour party for £8 an hour by 2020 is completely out of step with what we all need and want. The GMB union, along with the Bakers Union are calling for £10 an hour, and not in 2020, but right now! Both of these unions are still affiliated to the Labour Party yet the Labour party cannot openly and boldly campaign alongside these two unions, of democratically organised working people to bring about a much needed and necessary wage rise.
This shows the real extent of the union link that both Alex Sobel and Owen Jones spoke so proudly of in Saturday’s meeting in Leeds. Effectively amounting to the Labour Party saying, ‘we’ll take your money, but not your ideas or campaigns’.
The Socialist Party and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition oppose all cuts. It is within the power of local councillors to refuse to implement austerity. As our forerunner, Militant, showed in the past, in Liverpool during the 1980’s, and today through our elected TUSC councillors. Workers and trade unionists need real political representation, not nice words as a cover for privatising and butchering jobs and services.
That is why we will be presenting the biggest electoral challenge to the left of Labour in 100 years. TUSC will be standing 100 general election candidates alongside 1,000 local council candidates to give a real choice and option for working people like ourselves.
This attitude was summed up by a young worker and student who left the meeting proclaiming that they wanted to stand in the local elections for TUSC. ‘If no one represents our ideas and what is best for us, then we have to, it’s as simple as that’. We completely reject the notion of choosing between two sides of the same coin. The Socialist Party and TUSC are setting out to build a real representative to working people.
Stand in the elections and join us!