No vote for IWCA

The Independent Working Class Association is contesting one seat in the general election: Oxford East. Its candidate is Maurice Leen. The IWCA was formed in the mid-1990s in the aftermath of the Labour Party's decision to drop clause four from its constitution. Campaigning under the slogan "working class rule in working class areas", it has already enjoyed some electoral success, winning three seats on Oxford city council - a hung authority where IWCA representatives and a seven-strong Green Party grouping hold the balance of power. The IWCA is clearly not afraid to use the term 'working class' and presents itself as fighting to defend our class's interests, but does it meet the CPGB's criteria for supportable candidates in the general election? Admirable though its emphasis on class identity may appear to be, the IWCA's vision of 'working class independence' appears to be confined to defending the geographical communities it deems to be predominantly working class, particularly in those neighbourhoods where government-funded regeneration programmes are operating. There is little suggestion on its website that our class might have the potential to rule society as a whole. Asylum-seekers and immigration has featured as a major issue in the bourgeois media's coverage of the election campaign and it is certainly something addressed in IWCA literature. However, the message is mixed. On the one hand, the IWCA argues against communal segregation and policies that "artificially divide the working class against itself"; on the other hand, it campaigns for "the allocation of political refugees to areas that can most easily accommodate them" and "consultation with local communities regarding new arrivals". Whilst the IWCA does not blame asylum-seekers and refugees themselves for their plight, it does not appear to be willing to challenge the media portrayal that this form of immigration constitutes a problem and its policies regarding 'allocation' come across as hypocritical Nimbyism - effectively arguing that immigrants are okay, but we don't want any more around here, please. It is easy to imagine which aspects of their position are emphasised when IWCA canvassers are asked about the 'asylum-seeker problem' on the doorstep. The IWCA is also ill at ease with the word 'socialist', responding to the question "Is the IWCA socialist?" on the 'frequently asked questions' section of its website by stating: "Well, in the context of those who would still describe themselves as socialist - from New Labour to the student left - the answer has to be 'no'. It is only necessary to look at the history of the 20th century to conclude that socialism has failed. Many socialists give the impression that it is the working class who have failed the left. However, if blame were to be attributed, it would be more realistic to conclude that it is the left who have failed the working class. In any case we are in a new century now and many of the old dogmas are no longer relevant. We need fresh thinking, fresh strategies and fresh tactics." Whilst it is hard to argue with the view that the left has failed the working class, the IWCA does not respond by seeking to reclaim the word 'socialist' - let alone 'communist' - from those who have discredited it in the past and seek to explain its true meaning. Instead, it simply drops the term, describes it as "old dogma" and disassociates itself without coming up with any viable alternative. The Weekly Worker has criticised many left groups for their reluctance to adopt a programme and in some cases for even an active disavowal of the very concept. The IWCA, however, does have a programme. That much is welcome, but closer inspection reveals that its concerns are purely local and it contains no vision for "working class rule" beyond the limited arena of local government politics. With sections headed 'Anti-social behaviour', 'Community restorative justice', 'Drugs', 'Education', 'Housing', 'Local democracy', 'Police', 'Race and class', 'Asylum-seekers and immigration', 'Regeneration', 'Youth provision' and 'Women and childcare', the IWCA programme has little to say about broader national issues, except in their immediately local context, and absolutely nothing at all about international affairs. I searched in vain for any reference to the war and occupation of Iraq on the IWCA website (www.iwca.info) and its press spokesperson said the group was unwilling to answer questions on any topic via the telephone when I called asking for an interview. Considering it is asking people to elect its nominee to a national parliament, this omission is extraordinary. In the unlikely event that he is elected, Maurice Leen will not only need to start thinking about international issues, but he will have to vote on them. Does the working class not have an interest in the outcome of debates about imperialist wars? Does the IWCA not feel that it should outline a clear position on such issues, which are matters of life and death for the working class communities of Oxford East, whose sons and daughters will be among the armed forces sent out to wage such wars on behalf of western capitalist interests? Is the IWCA not interested in expressing its solidarity with working class movements in Iraq and other countries on the US-UK hit-list? Apparently not. The IWCA's candidate does not, therefore, merit our support in the general election. Steve Moorhouse