Whether it’s the history of European imperial powers… the way the lowest paid workers are treated, or the way migrants are brutalise, we face – in this century – barbarism, & the answer to these issues is, of course, progressive politics and socialism.’Diane Abbott MP
By the Arise Volunteers Team
On Saturday, 1000 people tuned-in live for the Arise Festival annual rally – and 10s of 1000s more watched on social media (you can watch the full rally here). The online event, entitled Fight the Tories – For Socialism, Not Barbarism, was a key opportunity to bring together socialist MPs, trade unionists, movements and activists from across the globe in advance of the TUC and Labour Party conferences. The message was clear: now is the time to fight the Tories and to rally the Left for the struggles ahead.
The meeting was chaired by the Labour peer, former General Secretary of the NUT, and respected socialist and internationalist, Christine Blower. She began by bringing solidarity greetings from Dave Ward, General Secretary of the CWU, saying ‘this should be a 1945 moment’ and stressed the importance of building the strongest, broadest alliance to fight for the alternative to the Tories’ assault.
Blower then introduced the first speaker, John McDonnell, who spoke directly from the AOC arms fair demonstration in Liverpool.
He said: ‘We’ve got to link the Labour Party, the trade unions and their industrial struggles, with the social movements. People are willing to come out and fight for justice. Our problem at the moment is that the Labour leadership isn’t nailing Johnson or providing an alternative’.
The next speaker, Sarah Woolley, General Secretary of the BFAWU, agreed: ‘the party that should represent the working class is too busy fighting internal fights and expelling people’.
Jess Barnard, Chair of Young Labour, joined McDonnell and Woolley, saying ‘my message to the leadership remains: stop fighting us, deliver your vision, and let us fight for a Labour Government’.
The speakers all agreed there was much to fight against. Holly Turner, from NHS Workers Say No, railed against the paltry public sector pay offer, slamming the Government’s decision to raise taxes on people who fought so hard throughout the pandemic to keep services afloat.
Ann Galpin, Co-Chair of the TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee, described the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on disabled people and quoted the shocking statistic that 6 in 10 Covid-related deaths were disabled people. Galpin finished with a rallying call to join the DPAC days of action because ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’.
Like Galpin, the Labour peer, Shami Chakrabarti, savaged the Government’s double-standards throughout the Covid crisis: ‘on the one hand there is freedom for the wealthy and corrupt, but total oppression for ordinary people, especially the poorest’.
‘I don’t remember the Health and Safety Executive busting into unsafe workplaces, but we have seen police break-up women’s rights protests’.
Momentum’s Solma Ahmed emphasised the importance of fighting racism as we combat the Tories’ agenda. She criticised the Government for its failure to adopt the APPG definition of islamophobia and Boris Johnson’s record of anti-Muslim racism. But she also highlighted failures in the Labour leadership to fight Islamophobia, pointing to recent comments by Labour spokespeople in which Muslims ‘were smeared as bigots and antisemites’ while Trevor Phillips has been readmitted to the party.
Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU, emphasised the international dimension of the reactionary offensive, saying ‘we are seeing unfolding barbarism across the world’. He pointed to the disastrous consequences of military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, the death toll caused by the Government’s dismal response to the Covid crisis, and the misery caused by the climate emergency.
One of the international speakers, Hugo Gutiérrez, an elected member of Chile’s Constitutional Convention, reminded the audience of how such barbarism was meted out to the people of Chile. He highlighted that the rally date was the anniversary of the 1973 US-backed coup against Salvador Allende.
Gutiérrez described the struggle – after decades of dictatorship and neoliberalism – for a new Chilean constitution and the fight for democracy, driven by the social movements in the country.
After making positive predictions for the outcome of the Constitutional Convention and Chile’s upcoming elections, he quoted the former Chilean President, saying ‘our homage to Salvador Allende, and to the people of Chile, is that the great avenues will again be opened through which will pass free men to construct a better society’.
Drawing the links between the international and domestic perspectives, Diane Abbot said ‘capitalism and big business are essentially barbaric… Whether it’s the history of European imperial powers… the way the lowest paid workers are treated, or the way migrants are brutalised, we face – in this century – barbarism, and the answer to these issues is of course progressive politics and socialism’.
Jon Trickett was also clear on the solution, arguing that ‘there are people who say our 2019 policies were too radical, but they’re wrong. Left polices and ideas are now more relevant than they ever were’.
Like Trickett, Cat Hobbs, the Director of the campaign, We Own It, alluded to polling showing electors’ distrust of the Conservatives to run public services, and argued ‘Labour has a huge opportunity to be seen as defending public services, while the Tories go down as the party who have damaged the NHS’.
But another international speaker, Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of the US left magazine, Jacobin, warned that ‘we have majority on individual issues, but we haven’t been able to cement this into an electoral majority’.
He continued: ‘the challenge for socialists and trade unionists in the decade to come won’t be fine-grained or programmatic’ but about building a social base in communities, and ensuring that the Left does not ‘dilute our class programme into progressivism in the service of short term electoral gains’.
Jake Rubin, Assistant Secretary of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, set out what that fight means in the Labour Party: ‘Conference will give us a platform to urge the leadership to actually oppose the Tories – to stop marking the Government’s homework, but set out a vision to make people’s lives better’.
Matt Willgress, of Arise Festival, insisted on the importance of the left ‘working together in the Labour Party and beyond it’ in the fights ahead: ‘It’s false to argue that work inside the Labour Party and building movements in our workplaces, communities and the streets are in some way counterposed or contradictory. As Tony Benn argued, both are essential and supplement each other’.
Richard Burgon agreed, saying that Thatcherite ideas ‘are on the ropes’ and that ‘only the left can meet the challenges of our time, but that means urgently organising around a popular programme of practical policies. That means people on the left rolling up their sleeves and fighting.’
As Jeremy Corbyn reminded participants in a statement read by Christine Blower: ‘If we work together internationally we can win real change – and put people, health and planet before private profit. Let’s build solidarity and build a better world’.