Unions and Labour should put thousands on the streets to oppose the far right

• For an emergency motion for Labour Parties, see here.

By Sacha Ismail

Whatever the exact number, it is clear there were thousands on the far-right demonstration in support of Tommy Robinson in London yesterday (9 June) and only a few hundred counter-demonstrators.

After a period of disarray for far-right street activism, their mobilisations are getting bigger and more confident. At the same time, anti-fascist counter-protests are in general much smaller than they were, for instance, a decade ago, at the time of the rise of the EDL.

More generally, with some exceptions, there is a trend for labour movement and left demonstrations to be much smaller than they were at the start of the Tories’ time in office. The recent TUC demonstration, contrasted to the TUC demos in 2011-13 is a case in point.

There has been a low level of strikes and, until the recent mobilisations in solidarity with the UCU strike, a low level of student militancy.

We have the most left-wing Labour leader ever, yet the Corbyn leadership’s record of mobilising people on the streets is much worse than those of Michael Foot, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and Hugh Gaitskell. (Yes, seriously: see here.)

We need the ‘Corbyn surge’ to help develop workplace and street activism, not act as an alternative to them. We need to fight the tendency to think that our problems will be solved simply by electing Labour politicians and a Corbyn government, rather than organising and mobilising party members, trade unionists and the wider working class.

We should argue for the Labour Party to mobilise for mass demonstrations against the far right. The party nationally should give a lead, but CLPs can also take initiatives. Momentum nationally could also play an important role, if it wanted to. Active, campaigning, regularly meeting Young Labour groups in every constituency would obviously help too.

And trade unions are arguably even more important. Where Labour has around half a million members, the unions still have, despite drifting downwards, well over six million. Moreover that six million, while less political and committed, embraces a much wider and more representative cross-section of workers than Labour’s membership.

There were union banners and even, as Socialist Worker reports, national union leaders on the 9 June counter-protest, but the unions supporting it evidently did not mobilise any of their members! This has become standard.

There is no reason – sorry, no good reason – that the unions and the party could not put thousands on the streets, at least enough to out-number and help demoralise the far right, whenever the latter raise their ugly heads. What is required is will and pressure to make it happen, from as many activists and leaders as possible.

The labour movement needs to stretch its limbs and get out on the streets. Next, we should work hard for the biggest possible turnout and the biggest possible labour movement involvement in the demonstrations against Trump in July.

In addition to the need for mobilisation, there are some wider political lessons here too:

1. The need for the labour movement to act and feel like an inspiring, dynamic moral crusade, which – despite the changes in Labour – it does not at present.

2. The need to stop triangulating on immigration and migrants’ rights, unapologetically defend free movement, and start fighting the nationalists’ poisonous attempts to divide the working class.

3. The need for a much more class-based and class-focused left project which, by cohering a unifying class identity in the fight for a better life for all, can cut through the nationalists’ attempts to present themselves as the champions of ‘ordinary working-class people’ against a supposedly liberal establishment. That, not capitulating on immigration, is the way through the post-Brexit political swamp and out the other side.

At a time when the voices arguing for the left to adopt a nationalistic agenda are getting louder, we need to be arguing back with clear, convincing arguments.

Let us know what you think? Write a reply? Email theclarionmag@gmail.com

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