In four months time we face a general election amid an unprecedented political crisis. This is set to be the most racist general election campaign any of us has experienced. Tory chancellor George Osborne’s proposed cuts will take total government spending to just 35 percent of GDP — the lowest since the 1930s. The impact will be devastating.
Labour promises billions in cuts too and is unwilling to challenge Ukip’s scapegoating of immigrants. The leaking of Labour’s advice for canvassers was revealing — the way to take on the Ukip threat is to not challenge racism, but rather “move the conversation on” as quickly as possible. In Scotland Labour’s suicide mission is continuing, with the election of right winger Jim Murphy as Scottish Labour leader.
The failure of the mainstream parties to either fix the economy or provide an alternative to austerity has led to fragmentation on the political terrain. Support for the two main parties in Britain is at a historic low. And the party which has so far benefitted most from the crumbling of mainstream parties’ support is Ukip. It targets migrant workers and Muslims, but this doesn't mean that other groups enjoy any respite — this rising racist cesspool will swamp all boats. But racism goes broader and deeper than “official politics”.
The US slogan, “I can’t breathe”, relating to the killing of Eric Garner, finds its echo here. The same words were used by Jimmy Mubenga shortly before he stopped breathing during a forced deportation in 2010. The G4S guards who restrained him were acquitted last month. One of the accused, Terrence Hughes, had 76 text messages on his phone hurling racist abuse towards Africans, Asians, Muslims and immigrants. The judge decided they had no “real relevance” to the trial.
In parts of Europe the fragmentation is accelerated. As we go to press the Greek government is desperately trying to secure a new president. If it is forced to call early elections there is a possibility that Syriza, the radical left party, will top the polls. We have to provide an alternative here too. One element of this is a left electoral challenge. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (Tusc) will be standing in many seats, and there is potential for these campaigns to become beacons for anti-racists, NHS campaigners, fans of Russell Brand, and all those who want to fight austerity.
Beyond the electoral field is the battle in workplaces and communities over cuts, pensions and pay restraint. While last year saw some fantastic national strikes, most notably in the NHS, it also saw retreats by the big union leaderships. There have been signs of resistance from the rank and file members. Unison is escalating action in the NHS with further national strikes on 29 January and 25 February.
The Stand Up To Ukip campaign (SUTU) will be calling days of action and a protest at Ukip’s spring conference in Margate on 28 February. On 21 March there are demonstrations in London, Cardiff and Glasgow under the banner Stand Up to Racism and Fascism. These strikes and campaigns give us an opportunity to bring together those sickened by austerity and racism in all its forms.