On January 20 around 2,000 peo- ple marched through the streets of Luton to protest at General Motors' threat to close down the Vauxhall car plant.
Up to 10,000 rallied in the town centre against plans to butcher 2,000 jobs, which would severely damage the local economy. The turnout was nothing to shout about, but, given the weather conditions and of course the low level of class struggle, it did at least represent a start.
The left was present in all its guises, with the Socialist Alliance registering a significant presence. Not only the national body, but Bedfordshire Socialist Alliance and various other local alliances brought banners and leaflets. The Beds SA leaflet had one pleasing aspect: in blaming Labour for the current crisis, it also called for Luton South to elect an MP who "stands for a democratic republic in which the workers have real and enforceable rights". This represents a tentative effort to raise working class consciousness to the level of politics - in the genuine sense of the word.
The demonstration displayed a distinctly heterogeneous political composition. The Green Party banner bore the legend, "Save Vauxhall, not Huntingdon Life Sciences". There was also a Liberal Democrat banner. Not surprisingly when the working class is all but absent as a political force, there were appeals from the platform for "unity" across "all the community".
The last speech posed serious questions for those who see this period in terms of a steady, continuous leftward shift. Local Tory MP Sir David Madel was met with jeers from members and supporters of the left groups. But there was also a ripple of applause from the assembled carworkers - no doubt many are at present inclined to show their appreciation of anybody prepared to speak up 'for Luton' or 'for Vauxhall production'.
The fact that a representative of Britain's most consistently anti-working class party could even be invited onto the platform by the organisers speaks volumes. It provides a clear warning to those who kid themselves that we are in the midst of a sustained upsurge of class combativity - the "1930s in slow motion".
We still have a long way to go. However, through conscious, organised intervention the SA can begin to provide a way forward - not just for Luton carworkers, but for the entire working class across the country - in the shape of a real political opposition.