“We can fight; we must fight. If we do, we can win. Never has there been a more crucial time to win for the working class in all its diversity. That’s our duty. Now, let’s get to it.”Richard Burgon MP
By Sam Browse, Arise Volunteer & Streatham CLP.
On Saturday, thousands of Labour activists tuned in to be part of Arise Festival’s kickstart to a year of activism, ‘Fighting back in 2021: How Labour’s Left should respond to the current crisis’. Listeners heard from an impressive array of speakers, ranging from MPs in the Socialist Campaign Group, left journalists, trade unionists, and activists in the Labour Party and wider social movements. The message was loud and clear – the Labour left is here to stay, and will be at the forefront of both resisting the Tories’ reactionary agenda, and standing for socialist solutions to the crisis and democracy in the Labour Party.
In the first session, chaired by Laura McAlpine and entitled ‘Understanding the crisis – the Tory agenda and the alternative: for #ZeroCovid and a #PeoplesPlan’, speakers discussed the Government’s response to the crisis, and what the Left’s strategy should be. Diane Abbott, Rebecca Long Bailey, Jon Trickett, Ben Chacko from the Morning Star, Andrew Murray from Unite, and Amy Smith from Arise Festival agreed that the public health crisis had to be understood in class terms – the Government response had most adversely affected working class people, especially Black communities.
In concluding her initial remarks, Diane Abbott said ‘the Tories, through their mishandling of the crisis, have turned what was a public health crisis into an economic crisis, so we have to fight for the correct strategy to fight the virus – a Zero Covid strategy – but we also have to fight for equality and the right economic measures to make sure that the poorest and most vulnerable do not pay the price for fighting coronavirus’.
The second session, Chaired by Rachel Garnham (Campaign for Labour Party Democracy), saw participants debate ‘Resisting the Tories: Mobilising Labour’s grassroots, the trade unions, communities and the movements’.
Sian Errington, from the Arise Festival team, set the scene by arguing that ‘work inside the Labour Party and building movements in our workplaces, communities and the streets are not in any way counterposed or contradictory. As Tony Benn argued again and again, both are essential and supplement each other’.
Building on that point, Andrew Scattergood, national Co-chair of Momentum, emphasised that we should ‘focus on building power in local government and in our workplaces… building a confident movement that leads resistance against the Tory treatment of working class communities, that elects the best of our movement into national and local chambers, and continues the task of democratising the Labour Party, pushing it to adopt transformative, socialist policies’.
The panel featured further contributions from Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP, Christine Blower (former NUT General Secretary and Labour peer), Helen O’Connor (People’s Assembly Against Austerity), Ronan Burtenshaw (Tribune), Gemma Bolton (Labour NEC), Sean Waters (Sussex Uni Labour), and Dr John Puntis (Keep Our NHS Public). All emphasised the importance of socialists in the Labour Party joining with trade unions, community campaigns and social movements to resist the Tory’s agenda.
The final rally was chaired by Matt Willgress (Arise Festival National Organiser) and featured John McDonell, Richard Burgon, Nadia Jama (Labour NEC), Rachel Garnham (CLPD), Matt Wrack (FBU General Secretary and LRC) and Ian Lavery.
Outlining an agenda for action for the new year, the panellists spoke to the theme of ‘Fighting back in 2021: Fighting for socialist solutions’. Nadia Jama set out a raft of measures Labour should support both immediately and in the long term, and emphasised the importance of supporting workers ‘not only when bosses abuse the rules, but when Ministers write rules that cannot responsibly be followed’.
Given the challenges outlined by the other panellists, Richard Burgon empathised with those who were struggling to maintain their political optimism in the new year, but concluded the rally by quoting the inspiring words of Salvador Allende, the Chilean President murdered in a US-backed fascist coup.
“As the final moments of his life came, Allende said ‘we will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Go forward knowing that sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again, where free people walk to build a better society’.
“His voice endured those circumstances, his message endured the decades since then, and the spirit of that message lives on. Let’s keep it close to our hearts and know that however difficult it may seem, others have struggled against far far greater difficulties. We can fight; we must fight. If we do, we can win. Never has there been a more crucial time to win for the working class in all its diversity. That’s our duty. Now, let’s get to it”.