“The conference brought together over 4000 people joining live in the day – with the 1000s viewing since meaning a total of over 10,000 joining the event – making it the largest conference of the Labour left in some time.”
By the Labour Assembly Against Austerity Team.
John McDonnell led thousands joining a major online gathering of the Labour left on Saturday 27th November, setting out the alternative both to the Tories’ misrule – and Keir Starmer’s lacklustre opposition. You can watch the meeting in full here:
A day of discussion saw the organisers, Labour Assembly Against Austerity, bring together Labour left MPs such as McDonnell, Richard Burgon, Diane Abbott, Jon Trickett, Apsana Begum and Bell Ribeiro-Addy and senior trades unionists, including Mark Serwotka of PCS, with campaigners from grassroots organisations such as anti-austerity campaigners People’s Assembly and public ownership advocates, We Own It and international left guests from the US, Latin America and Africa.
The event spelled out the tasks for the Labour left to reorganise and reorientate, facing a post-Corbyn Labour leadership that has consistently failed to challenge the Conservatives crony agenda, outsourcing and private profit in the covid response; and is increasingly moving right as migration is driven up the political agenda to distract from the former. This is all despite Stamer being elected on a broad soft-left platform supporting an economic agenda of public ownership and a foreign agenda of opposition to military action.
At the conference, reconnecting with extra parliamentary and grassroots left campaigns was spelled out as a key the task for the left, alongside stepping up the fight for party democracy with an internationalist outlook that works with global progressive and socialist movements.
John McDonnell’s lecture started by setting out what he believed the Labour left need to prioritise, which he characterised as Tony Benn’s pledge, ‘to secure an irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of working people’ and, in particular, ‘to address the grotesque levels of inequality of wealth and power in our society and the existential threat of climate change’.
John provided an assessment, that “the dominant theories upon which the economy has been managed, had been forcibly challenged, so that far from what was claimed by neoliberalism… the market patiently doesn’t always know best. ‘Private good public bad’ as the dictum for the provision of public services has led to rip-off profiteering and poor – and at times dangerous – delivery of services we depend upon.
The wealth amassed by the rich at our expense hasn’t trickled down as neo-liberalism projected. So neo-liberalism is no longer credible. And we’re confronted now with the potential of a paradigm shift in how people see the economy and society.”
He expressed concern that Labour was unprepared to fight a general election, and that, “the time is urgent for us to explain what a Labour government would mean to people. For me, that means actually what socialism would mean to be. And I think this is where we come in as party members, it’s down to us to elaborate. The alternative that labour could provide in government. And it’s down to ask them to create a climate of opinion both within the Labour Party and the trade union movement, and in wider progressive movements, and the wider society.”
John’s lecture set the scene for the day and was followed by sessions on, ‘Britain in crisis — the urgent case for public ownership’, ‘On the brink of catastrophe — for a socialist internationalism to end war, global injustice and climate chaos’ and ‘Building the fightback — for socialist solutions’.
In the session on building a fightback, Richard Burgon MP said, “Our party has to map out its own alternative” and that Keir Starmer had “strong public backing for the policies which won him the leadership” but the policy platform was no longer being pursued. He said, if we “seize this moment to spell out a better alternative,” such as with a wealth tax targeting the billionaires who had benefited during the pandemic, “we could have Labour activists across the country, knocking on millions of doors in our communities.”
In the session on public ownership, Jon Trickett MP argued that public utilities which had been originally financed by the public, had faced “thirty to forty years or retreat as public wealth was transferred to private hands, and in particular handed to private investors in billions of pounds of dividend payments”.
Cat Hobbs from We Own It highlighted the recent announcement the government would spend £1.7bn to prop up the collapsed private energy supplier, Bulb, rather than take it on as a public supply company as an example of the government’s commitment to private ownership. She set out that natural monopolies in energy, water and transport were all urgent priorities for public ownership, in order to deliver public investment and lower bills and fares and that polling for We Own It found the public backed public ownership to deliver that reinvestment in the service rather than paying investors.
Closing the day, Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP facilitated a roundtable on winning global justice which she said, “couldn’t come at a more crucial time when inspiring struggles around the world for equality, peace and justice, including the incredible victory of the Indian farmers struggle, to the global Black Lives Matter uprising to the the worldwide movement for climate justice, all these international struggles and connections must be central to everything we do as socialists.”
Speakers in the session highlighted the need for international socialism, that understood how capital exploited the Global South’s poverty to maximise its profits, including Alicia Castro from Argentina who said, “We are in a critical moment at a crossroads of extraordinary crisis, economic and social crisis collapse of democracy is environmental tragedy” and that, it was time for an “extraordinary income tax on those who have profited from the effect of the pandemic like the pharma sector”.
In response, Labour MP Diane Abbott, said, “The government did have a choice to help suppress the virus internationally, but chose not to, in particularly having the choice of waving the patents on vaccines, but chose not to do it. This is what many African countries, asked for. But it was Britain and Germany and the US, which refused to waive patents, because they were more concerned about helping big pharma make big profits, than helping people to fight the virus internationally.”
Overall, the conference brought together over 4,000 people joining live in the day – with the 1000s viewing since meaning a total of over 10,000 joining the event – making it the largest conference of the Labour left in some time. It provided an opportunity for the best organisers across the labour, trade unions and social movements to come together and share best practice in organising whilst formulating a co-ordinated strategy to defeat this government. Now let’s step up the fightback!
- You can watch the full conference “Resisting the Tory Offensive – Winning an agenda for people and planet” here.
- Watch the John McDonnell Lecture on “The Political Economy to Secure Socialist Change in 21st Century” here.
- Watch “Building the fightback – for Socialist Solutions” with Richard Burgon, Helen O’Connor, Mark Serwotka, Mish Rahman and Gemma Bolton here.
- Watch the “Urgent case for Public Ownership and Control” here.
- You can follow the Labour Assembly Against Austerity on Facebook and twitter.