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Lessons from Greece and Syriza: The Labour Left Must Deliver Real Change

corbynmass A mass meeting during the campaign

The Left now has control of the Labour Party. A magnificent grass roots campaign has delivered Jeremy Corbyn to the Leadership and his fellow traveller John McDonnell is the new Shadow Chancellor. A movement in born and we can only hope that they can deliver the real and lasting change that 1/4 million people voted for in the Leadership election.

Ironically the Westminster bubble,  which is despised by so many and not just the Left, maybe not actually the biggest headache facing the new leadership team. We expect gossip and backstabbing; it’s all part of the corrupt cesspool that makes Parliament such an embarrassing excuse for democracy. The Left are going to face a hard time there, but the real battle is going to be fought in Local Government where the hand of the Leadership will find it hard to reach.

The Tories cuts and privatisation agenda which has seen £228 per head slashed from Hull City Council spending (the figure is £14 in Guildford, proving cuts are politically motivated) and bite hard across Labour held areas, allows councillors to cry crocodile tears about the nasty old Tories, whilst at the same time voting in a cuts budget. Then they create either fully privatised or “at arm’s length” operations and get themselves on the boards with all that goes with those positions.

The challenge is whether or not the Left can convince Labour Local Authorities to do the right thing and actually challenge Austerity either by dipping into reserves, by borrowing to invest, or by outright challenge to their settlement.

Liverpool took on the Tories (who had a stonking majority in comparison to today) with great success in 1984 when they forced Tory Environment Secretary Patrick Jenkin to write a £35 million cheque to refund planned cuts. With rebate Liverpool enacted a £100 a week minimum wage, achieved a 35 hour working week with no loss of pay, started more apprenticeships in four years than the previous 40 years, build 5,000 new Local Authority houses and created 12,000 new jobs. In every election during that 1983/87 era Labour increased its vote against the national trend. This is evidence as to what can be done. The narrative is that Militant destroyed Liverpool. Of the 47 councillors that fought the Tories, just 11 were affiliated to that papers aims. It was ordinary, rank and file Labour activists that delivered change. They were let down by Neil Kinnock who connived with Thatcher’s Rate Capping Bill and failed to enable a mass movement across Labour Councils to defeat the Tories attempted destruction of Local Government.

The Left must coordinate action outside of Parliament by calling a Special Conference of Labour Councils to plan how they are going to reverse the cuts, end privatisation and bring back services under democratic control (SERCO are set to take over vital parts of Hull City Council’s financial delivery) and kick start their economies.

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are in leadership positions, the first Socialists since George Lansbury, due to an anti Austerity surge not just from Labour members but from the public who registered to vote in their droves. Many of these people are brand new to politics and are young to boot. Jeremy and John are in the fantastic position of leading a new and non cynical movement which, if harnessed effectively can transform the Labour Party into a new and powerful movement to give workers a say in what happens to them in their lives. Jeremy gave them a voice today when he put residents questions to Cameron at PMQs.

corbynSunThe establishment media in full cry

The fact that the BBC, Sky and the written press are united in their hysterical response to Corbyn’s non singing of the so called national anthem is proof positive that the Establishment and vested interests are seriously rattled by the potential Left surge has. The key word is potential as there are many battles ahead. There are contemporary comparisons from abroad which the Left here would do well to observe.

Syriza and the Left surge in Greece this January in elections encapsulated the will of the people to shake off the the vice like grip that the Troika (the EU, IMF and the World Bank) had over their society. Prime Minister Alex Tsipras and his enigmatic Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis had a potent mandate to overturn Austerity and defy the vested International interests railed against them. For extra protection they called an emergency referendum in June to seek a fresh popular authority to challenge the Troika. But in August Tsipras was forced to sign a third and extremely vindictive bailout deal. We can only imagine what threats were issued to the Greek Government, but the upshot is crushing VAT rise to levy 1.6 billion Euro, allied to tax rises and the absolute trashing of pensions and healthcare for senior citizens.

The result has been Tsipras and Varoufakis resignations and a new election this weekend. The right, and especially the openly racist Golden Dawn are set to oust Syriza and possibly take power. Just to make sure a certain Klaus Regling the head of the European Stability Mechanism, who are there to make sure Greece pays, darkly warned, “The threat (of a Grexit) as a possibility must always be there and is still there”. This was followed by an evil laugh before he stroked his white cat.

The serious point is that the perception is that Syriza are just like all other politicians; out for themselves and willing to say anything to get elected, but perish the thought they act on their promises. This leads to disillusionment and a swing to right wing extremism with all its trite nastiness.

The new Left leading Labour must follow through and create a new Party which will fight Austerity right on the front line; in Local Government, the Social Security System, the NHS and public services.

If Labour Councils continue to be compliant, fail to organise and deliver Tory cuts the disillusionment with politics ever making a difference may lead us down some of the dark paths starting to be followed in Europe where the words, “train, camp, deportation and expulsion” are back.

Hope most overcome fear, do Labour Councils have the stomach for the short term fight for the long term gain of a Socialist society?



About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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