Is it ‘T’ ‘U’ ‘S’ ‘C’ or ‘Tusc’, I ask the small group of TUSC campaigners by a street-market in Swansea.
“It’s ‘Tusc’,” says an activist. “But we don’t really mind, as long as people are talking about us.”
Perhaps more people should be talking about TUSC, or the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition to give it its full name: as of 27th March, 133 TUSC candidates had been registered to stand. Of 50for15’s seats, Great Grimsby, Lancaster and Fleetwood, Lincoln, and Brent Central all have digitally visible TUSC candidates: on Twitter, it’s possible to find Val O’Flynn for Great Grimsby, Ryan Aldred for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, and John Boyle for Brent Central; Elaine Smith for Lincoln isn’t on Twitter, but she is on Facebook.
Compare this number with the SNP, who could only ever logically stand in 59 seats, and Plaid Cymru’s maximum of 40 – there are obvious reasons for why the SNP and Plaid Cymru are standing fewer candidates than TUSC, but it’s nonetheless an impressively large number for a group that has so far attracted little coverage beyond hyper-local blogs, like the Brixton Blog and, indeed, 50for15, local newspapers such as the Kilburn Times, and far-left publications like the Socialist Worker.
As their name suggests, TUSC is more a coalition of like-minded individuals than a party per se. All trade unionists and anti-austerity campaigners are invited to apply to stand as representatives of TUSC – they just have to endorse their policy platform.
The platform includes pledges to “stop all privatisation,” renationalise transportation, the Royal Mail, and “all parts of the justice system.” Banks are to be brought into “genuine public ownership… instead of giving huge handouts to the very capitalists who caused the crisis.” There is also a clause to “welcome diversity and oppose racism, fascism and discrimination.” “No to imperialist wars and occupations!” the document also proclaims.
The policy platform also makes it clear that the existence of TUSC is primarily a reaction to a perception of Labour’s shift to the right:
“The Con-Dem government has inflicted five years of savage austerity on working class people. Unfortunately there is no prospect of this changing beyond the general election, as the leadership of the Labour Party has made it clear that a Labour government would not mean an end to austerity.”
In Swansea West, a few hardy TUSC activists, who were also members of the Socialist Party – not to be confused with the Socialist Workers Party, whose members are also active in TUSC – had set up a street stall by a weekend market in Uplands, a student-heavy part of town. It’s also Dylan Thomas’ birthplace:
There was a generally positive, if not ecstatic, reaction to TUSC’s presence over the course of the couple of hours I spent with them. One woman, visiting from London, enthused that she’d be looking up her local candidate when she got home, and several others were very happy to take TUSC’s campaign literature. There was certainly no negative reaction to their street stall.
Ronnie Job, the prospective Parliamentary candidate has pledged to be a “workers’ MP on a worker’s wages – I’d give the rest to local anti-cuts campaigns,” but it is hardly as if he is very likely to win this seat. Labour has held it continuously since 1964, although with a majority of just 401 in 1979 (against the Conservatives) and of just 504 in 2010 (against the Liberal Democrats).
TUSC’s best chances may lie with their most high-profile candidate, Dave Nellist, who is standing in Coventry North West. Previously a Labour MP for Coventry South East, Nellist was linked to Militant Tendency, a far-left group that was deracinated from the Labour Party under Neil Kinnock’s leadership. Not that he went ‘gentle into that good night,’ as Dylan Thomas might have put it: it took five years of internal wrangling to eject Militant from Labour, and when Nellist contested the 1992 general election in his old seat under the banner of Independent Labour, he lost to the Labour candidate by just 1,351 votes.
The only formal relationship TUSC currently has with any of the trade unions is with the Rail, Maritime, and Transport union. The late firebrand Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, co-founded TUSC, and was a member of their steering committee, which other trade unionists attend in a purely personal capacity.
So, when several major trade unions are affiliated with Labour rather than TUSC, how does TUSC activism go down with trade unionist colleagues? “It doesn’t go down well with the leadership; the members are more interested,” says a TUSC activist.
“The leadership always says we’ve got to support Labour; now because there’s a general election and we’ve got to beat the Tories; after that, it’s so the Tories don’t get back in. It’s a never-ending cycle.”
The main thrust of TUSC’s campaign literature is anti-austerity. In a leaflet being handed out in Swansea, they accuse every major party of promoting an austerity agenda:
The descriptions are harshly worded, and seem especially so in the cases of Plaid Cymru and the Greens, who have both campaigned against austerity.
“Plaid supported Labour’s austerity budget in the Assembly,” Job replies, pointing to the fact that Labour has thirty of the sixty seats in the Welsh Assembly, one shy of a majority, and therefore relies on the smaller parties to push through legislation. And in both 2012 and 2013, Labour got the budget passed with support from Plaid Cymru; however, in 2014, Plaid Cymru protested that it did not represent an “all-Wales approach”.
“I say to people who are going to vote Green, I understand why you want to, but look at Brighton where there’s a Green council: they’re pushing through cuts while their MP’s on the picket line with the workers,” he says, referring to a strike by dustmen and street sweepers in 2013, where Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, supported the workers against pay cuts that were sort-of-but-not-exactly approved by the Green-led council.
And how is TUSC actually going to fund its anti-austerity programme? “Research by PCS [Public and Commercial Services union] put lost taxes at £120 billion. That’s taxes avoided illegally and taxes evaded legally, and uncollected taxes. That’s practically the deficit wiped out.
“We want to point out there is great wealth in society: during austerity, the richest have become wealthier.”
Job describes TUSC’s position as similar to the Labour Party’s at the start of the twentieth century: “We’re in the same position as the founders of the Labour Party; we get criticism saying you’re splitting the working-class vote. It’s exactly the same arguments that were used against the Labour Party.”
Just as the Labour Party did not form a government till 1924, under Ramsay MacDonald – twenty four years after its founding conference in 1900 – Job is under no illusion that TUSC, formed for the last general election in 2010, will sweep to power any time soon. Indeed, he would be just as happy with some other similar group: “There needs to be a party for the working class,” Job says simply. “Whether that’s TUSC or something else doesn’t matter. Maybe one of the big unions will start something after the election.”
In Swansea West, where Swansea University is located, it’s likely that the Liberal Democrat vote will decrease dramatically. Job does not expect that they will all come flocking to TUSC. “If it’s because they’re radical, they might vote for us,” he says.
And what’s he hoping for on May 7th? “I’d be pleased with a few hundred votes,” says Job, “though in some places we might get a few thousand.”