A new mood dawns
William Sarsfield reports from the Durham Miners Gala 2019, where the ‘Appeal for a Labour Left Alliance’ was very well received
July 13 saw something like 250,000 people gather for this year’s Durham Miners Gala - the 135th. For many comrades - veterans of previous galas - there would have been much that was familiar in the event this year. There was its ‘family day out’ aspect; the burgers and booze fest; the labour movement worthies on the main stage; the raucous flirting of gaggles of youth and the political tents and stalls. It is an inspiring and enjoyable working class festival and everyone in the movement should attend this iconic event at least once in their life.However, many comrades reported that there was a different feel this year. Concretely, a sense that an important political shift was taking place: a new mood of defiance and more focused anger - not simply against the Tories and their reactionary agenda, but also the right wing of the Labour Party, and in particular the treacherous gang that dominates the Parliamentary Labour Party. The political element of the crowd on July 13 reflected a hardening of attitudes in the Labour Party and - auspiciously - this has coincided with the joint initiative of Labour Against the Witchhunt and the Labour Representation Committee to promote the newly launched ‘Appeal for a democratic Labour Left Alliance’.
It has been clear for years that the privately owned Momentum organisation is not fit for purpose. However, the recent treacherous comments from its proprietor, Jon Lansman, demanding the expulsion of Chris Williamson MP from the party, have focused the minds of many. The Labour left needs a democratic, militant organisation to fight the attacks on itself, from with the party and without - and our best opportunity is presented by Labour Left Alliance (though it is not just defensive, but campaigns to “radically transform and democratise the Labour Party and the trade unions”, and fights for the implementation of trigger ballots).
I think there were three features in this year’s gala that suggest strong support for a change.
First, there was the crowd itself. I got a taste of this harder mood when I joined comrades distributing the Labour Party Marxists paper, plus the leaflet on the Labour Left Alliance initiative and - most encouragingly of all - the Labour Against the Witchhunt leaflet on Chris Williamson’s victimisation. For hours, a mass of people streamed past us and - with the frequent delays, given the sheer numbers, particularly compacted around the narrow entrance - it was difficult to engage with people properly.
When we were able to interact, however, I was enormously encouraged both by the level of recognition comrade Williamson had from the crowd and, crucially, the numbers who took the leaflets (even if it meant a perilous journey back, against the flow of the crowd!); the angry comments against the witch-hunters; and the fact that a good number took bundles of leaflets to distribute to their own comrades and political contacts.
Hundreds responded in that active, partisan manner (quite apart from the many more who took the leaflet without making a comment). In many hours of this work I received exactly three negative responses. In fact, they were such a rarity that I allowed myself the luxury of challenging each one individually. When questioned more closely, a pattern emerged. Very quickly, the anti-Williamson hecklers (they were all Labour Party members) found that they could not substantiate their initial, knee-jerk slur of “anti-Semite”. (I cunningly achieved this by asking them what, exactly, had Chris said that was anti-Semitic? They seemed stunned by the very question, as if I had asked them if they believed in gravity.)
All three then quickly reverted to a version of ‘not liking his general views’. In other words, he has no place in the Labour Party because of his leftwing politics, not his alleged ‘racism’. Out of the mouths of children and naive Labour rightwingers …
This is hardly a scientific survey, but it seemed to me that the composition of the crowd changed during the day, as less political (more ‘family day out’) types turned up. Even less scientifically, I think a measure of the mood of the crowd was reflected in the look on the face of the small number of paper-sellers the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty turned out. We made a special effort to make sure they got Chris Williamson leaflets and - as anxious and despondent they looked - we could not find it in our hearts to engage them in an argument. It would have been like clubbing baby seals.
Second, it was good to see Chris Williamson take his place behind the LAW stall in the ‘Politics Tent’. The comrade was literally swamped with supporters and well-wishers, eager to shake his hand, wish him well and take a photo. No doubt it will further infuriate Labour rightwingers that the comrade posed with a pro-Jackie Walker poster - something he did for long stretches of time, just to make sure that no-one could confuse the message.
Third, there was the militant speech from Labour MP Laura Pidcock (although, for the sake of balance, we must remember she - like every single Labour MP - has failed to publicly support Chris). Without a doubt, however, her contribution was the most rousing, best delivered and best received of the day. Len McCluskey of Unite lit no fires (apart from when he called Tom Watson “a fucking disgrace”). Jeremy Corbyn himself was adequate - although he gave full rein to his habit of trying to sex up mild palliatives from the Labour manifesto by shouting at the top of his lungs in places where the actual words do not warrant the volume.
On the anti-Semitic provocation, the man simply repeated his passive, uber-Gandhian advice to the crowd that Labour would “not allow or tolerate in any shape or form whatsoever anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or racism anywhere in our party or our movement or our society” and thus, the plan must be: “Do not allow our message to be distracted. Keep your eyes on the prize of getting rid of this government and getting a Labour government dedicated to the redistribution of power and wealth in our society.”
As if the filthy smear of racism is not one of the means - and so far, the most successful - by which the ruling class and its venal media are toxifying the Labour Party and making it unelectable; establishing as ‘common sense’ the idea that Corbyn and the left are “institutionally racist” and present an “existential threat” to the Jewish population in the UK, as has been alleged.
In comparative terms, Pidcock was excellent. She called on the crowd to face up to “one fundamental truth - that it is the capitalist system that is at the root” of the injustices and the existential challenges before us. We need not only a new government, but a fight for a “different system”; of course, it is “exhausting, battling the press” and their lies; but we must not use our time on those who are “fickle and flighty, but use our energy on defeating the evils of exploitation, greed and the unfettered power of the ruling class”. She also seemed to come out in support of Chris - without naming him - when she spoke about how outrageous it was “for anti-racists, who have been fighting injustice and racism all their lives, to be labelled as racists”.
There are things in her speech that we could take issue with, but that would miss the point. The significant factor was the response of the crowd. People were on their feet to give the woman the longest, loudest round of applause of the day. She clearly struck a pugnacious chord with these thousands of working class partisans.
This explains the encouraging fact that the aforementioned joint call from LAW and the LRC - ‘Appeal for a democratic Labour Left Alliance’ - has attracted nearly 500 signatories in its first few days and that dozens of local left organisations are now exploring with the appeal’s drafters opportunities for closer ties and joint work towards a unified alliance. We urge readers to support this vital initiative l
Appeal for a Labour Left Alliance:
he degeneration of Momentum has reached a critical point. Jon Lansman’s attack on Jewish Voice for Labour as “not being part of the Jewish community” and his demand that Chris Williamson MP should be expelled from the Labour Party are indefensible. Sadly, Momentum at a national level has become an organisation that has now fully joined the witch-hunt against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.It is not good enough to call for people to join this or that existing group. We have to be honest: none of our existing Labour left organisations are, by themselves, the answer. But they can be part of the solution.
We therefore believe there is now an urgent need to build a democratic, transparent and socialist Labour Left Alliance that:
- organises democratically and transparently;
- both supports Corbyn against attacks by the right and is independent and able to criticise the leadership when necessary;
- opposes racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all other forms of discrimination and is consistently internationalist - a stance which by definition includes support for the democratic and national rights of the Palestinians;
- opposes attempts to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism;
- campaigns to radically transform and democratise the Labour Party and the trade unions;
- campaigns for the implementation of trigger ballots (as a step towards mandatory reselection), so that the Parliamentary Labour Party better reflects the pro-Corbyn views of the vast majority of members;
- supports and encourages struggles now against austerity and all forms of oppression.
For more information, go to https://labourleft.org