By Sean Burns, South Belfast Labour Alternative
Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election to the Labour leadership with an increased majority – despite a bureaucratic witch-hunt and a campaign of media slander – is a powerful testimony to the popularity of left-wing, anti-austerity policies. It represented a blow to the interests of the establishment and the pro-capitalists entryists within Labour – the Blairites.
The Labour right-wing have been knocked back but not knocked out. With the Tories in disarray, the Blairites are again focussed on renewed public attacks on Corbyn’s leadership. Over 100 Labour MPs failed to vote in favour of a motion in favour of ending support for Saudi Arabia over its genocidal war in Yemen, leading to its falling by a narrow margin.
Mandatory Re-Selection Needed
Unable to immediately oust Corbyn, their strategy – described by right-wing Deputy Leader Tom Watson as Project Anaconda – is to demand concession after concession in order to strangle his leadership and demoralise his supporters. If the Parliamentary Labour Party is allowed to remain in a bubble, unaccountable to the party’s membership, then the right can succeed.
The re-introduction of mandatory re-selection of MPs is of critical importance. This would smash Blairite MPs sense of untouchability and allow local members the right to select candidates who represent the new Corbynista wave. This must be coupled with other measures to democratise the party from top to bottom, including allowing socialist and anti-cuts groups to affiliate.
Rebuild NI’s Labour Tradition
In Northern Ireland, Labour’s membership has grown from 100 to over 3,000 in the space of a year due to support for Corbyn’s anti-austerity message, making it one of the largest parties here. As it stands, Labour members here are denied the right to contest elections. A review of this position is currently underway.
If Labour Party members here win the right to stand, it will represent a positive step forward. However, there are complications in how the British Labour Party is seen in working class communities on both sides of the divide. Many Catholics will be hesitant about backing a British-based party with a history of implementing repressive measures. Many Protestants see Labour as having a nationalist leaning, especially given Corbyn’s supportive statements towards the republican movement.
Tackle sectarianism with class unity
It is crucial that a new working-class party takes independent and genuinely anti-sectarian positions, based on the interests of the working class as a whole, on the complicated questions which divide our communities. They cannot be ignored. This means advocating mutual respect, solidarity and compromise and emphasising what unites us in opposition to the Green and Orange Tories.
If the right to stand is again denied, we cannot allow it to derail attempts to build a cross-community, left-wing voice for workers and young people. Labour members should work with others who genuinely oppose austerity and all forms of sectarianism to forge ahead.
The Socialist Party, alongside other activists, launched Labour Alternative to begin this process. In the three seats contested in the Assembly elections, our young candidates won the highest left vote in decades. We will seek to work positively with Labour Party members to advance this project in the next period.