Where have all the election posters gone? Campaigning for a working class alternative to austerity

by Martin Ralph, member of the International Socialist League and candidate for Old Swan Against the Cuts (Liverpool) in the local elections.

Over 600 socialist candidates across Britain are standing in the 22 May local elections. Anger over the brutal austerity policies that have increased year on year since 2010 has led to an urgent need need for working class representation.

Many different sections of the working class, especially the most vulnerable and poorest, are being hurt by these continuing and deepening cuts. Knowledge that younger generation will be worse off than their parents is a further cause of anger. That is why there is the growing mood for election campaigns of local groups with connections in the working class areas where they are standing. 

One such class struggle candidate is Martin Ralph representing Old Swan Against the Cuts (OSAC) in Liverpool. This group has been campaigning consistently against the government and local council cuts for over a year and is standing in the elections in order to deepen that struggle. An absence of political party electoral posters in houses across the ward is unusual, with only four Labour Party and two UKIP (a racist party) posters on display. In the past Labour posters would be seen everywhere, but each year the number has sharply declined. As we write with just days before the election OSAC posters are the most visible (about 40 in 30 streets).

OSAC have produced two leaflets with information about our programme and campaigns, 6,500 residencies have received each. This has been possible with the assistance of a motivated group working with others, 25 people from OSAC, the International Socialist League, Left Unity, Bridge Community Care and Reclaim (the last two campaign against the Bedroom tax and give advice about benefit cuts).

During the campaign OSAC was invited to speak to a meeting of local residents based in a sheltered accommodation centre (aged from 55 years). OSAC agreed to help them with their campaign for a crossing for the busy road outside of their centre. At the end of April OSAC were also invited to speak to a meeting of Merseyside FBU (firefighters) and received £71 from their collection, later the OSAC leaflet was sent to all FBU branches on Merseyside. OSAC held four public meetings during the last 12 months and union and community speakers were always invited to speak about their struggles and strikes — thus forging links with the FBU, PCS, UCU, Unite and CWU unions and Liverpool TUC. OSAC is part of Liverpool and Merseyside Against The Cuts and money from members, sympathisers and collections at union meetings raised over £800.

OSAC has become known in Merseyside as a campaigning group. For example, Beryl and Mitch were campaigning against the council for disabled people’s rights for over three years before they joined OSAC. Mitch is a wheelchair user and someone who was working on building site when he had an accident that led to the loss of his legs. Beryl used to be a cleaner in the local fire station. OSAC offered them a way to keep their struggle going and they have become very active members because it is organised democratically by its membership. 

A new member said recently about the group:

Old Swan Against the Cuts is an interesting group of people. They are a group of people, I’d say, who aren’t traditionally involved in politics (and are mostly working class) who are being kept involved and feel there is a place where they are being nurtured politically. In truth it does require a couple of clear head politically minded individuals to keep it all steady and productive
Of all the election campaigns (local, general, Scottish and European) I’ve been involved in over the years I felt today (Saturday 17th May 2014) was one of the most significant. I feel there are a few parallels with the community, political and electoral activism I’ve been involved with in Liverpool 11 (Croxteth and Norris Green) over the years.

I know people (voters) want to be believe in something and someone better. I think you’ve established with OSAC a vibrant grassroots, working class group as well as a genuinely earned profile well before these elections and it won’t be a case of ‘here today and gone tomorrow’ and working class voters particularly want to believe that’s true.

The election campaign is:

full of positive energy and gained its own external momentum, the group itself has local committed supporters and those of us from beyond are working as a team for the greater good. There’s a growing social bond and OSAC is clearly open to anyone who wishes to be active (i.e. leaflet, attend meetings etc), to make connections and earn some smiles and good will in return, plus learn, share and grow our social and political understanding.
The feedback in handing out leaflets person-to-person today especially to young people was extremely uplifting, I gave away all my window posters very easily, the postman (with who I swapped names) took a leaflet and we crossed paths constantly while, he even enabled me to leaflet in a block of flats that we couldn’t otherwise. The postman is from Algeria and we even got to talk about the Post Office privatisation, football and revolution (you like Che Guevara?) in between both of us posting the same letter boxes

The comments from workers, perhaps the majority of them women, who we talk to shows the vast majority no longer trust the Labour Party. Sometimes we are mistaken for the Labour Party and typical comments include, “Labour are useless”, “they do nothing” and “they do not listen”. A number have said they voted Labour all their lives but will never vote for them again and a youth said with simplicity and profundity, “no cut is justified”.

During March in Liverpool, as in many towns and cities, the Council agreed, without a single dissenting Labour voice, to cut £1 million a week in services and jobs for the next three years. The Labour mayor said in 2013 that “these cuts will kill”, and recently the deputy mayor of Liverpool said “we have cut all we can – we are now cutting into the bone”. The Labour Party is murdering council services. These services are a lifeline to the homeless, women seeking refuge, the elderly, disabled people, young children, autistic children and many more. The cuts, if they are not stopped, will close libraries, sack staff, outsource and privatise services to other organisations like housing associations (not-for-profit companies). The Labour Party is nothing more than a puppet for the government.

Some people are asking: “With a general election approaching in 2015 why are Labour making these cuts? Why not fight the cuts now and aim for a Labour government to finish austerity?” The answer is if Labour form a government they will continue with austerity cuts. Miliband has already said that the cuts will continue. The working class is beginning to reject Labour (from a beginning to a mass movement can of course take sometime). Workers, women and youth have shown in this election campaign in the Old Swan that belief in the traditional parties is waning because they help exploit and oppress people. But, they want to have a political participation to decide their own destiny democratically, and not to let the old parties and politicians decide for them. That’s why members agreed to build Old Swan Against the Cuts, and that’s why they want to continue the struggle for a future without austerity.