Article published: Wednesday, November 14th 2012
In the penultimate interview of the Manchester by-election series, Beth Knowles interviews Alex Davidson, the candidate for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).Alex Davidson, Vice Chair of the Civil Service Union PCS in the North West region, is the TUSC candidate in the Manchester Central by-election. His party is a coalition between the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party and several individuals from the trade unions, supposedly designed to combat the increasing sectarianism of the left.
Cuts and austerity
As anyone who has had a TUSC leaflet through their door will know, the party are vehemently against the austerity and cuts supported by the main three political parties and implemented by the Labour-led council. I asked Davidson what his alternatives would be for Manchester.
“There are two ways to combat austerity, firstly MPs have more power than they like to admit, they have instant media visibility and a profile to raise issues. I’d use this platform.”
He went on to say: “The council have a clear majority in Manchester yet there’s been no fight, they’ve just adopted the cuts programme. They’ve privatised social services and tried to cut Sure Start. They have reserves of £270million which are unallocated; they should be used to keep essential services open. The problem is there’s no political need to not cut.”
Social deprivation and poverty
Unlike the Labour Party, TUSC and the Socialist parties still preach about their working class roots and sensibilities, Davidson even promises to “take the average workers wage” if elected as an MP. I asked why he thought Manchester Central was one of the most deprived cities in the country, with the traditional Labour base bearing the brunt of low life expectancy rates and some of the most dire child poverty in the UK.
“There has been a level of engrained poverty since de-industrialisation, look at what’s disappeared in areas like Ancoats and Clayton that has never been replaced, apart from by retail outlets.”
He continued to explain: “Labour concentrated on the financial sector rather than concentrating on re-industrialisation, this forced people to be trapped into welfare and low-paid, low-skilled jobs… The Council focus on regeneration is not going to address the engrained poverty.”
Part of the reason factions of most trade unions allegedly support the TUSC is their split from the big party politics of Labour and major trade unions. This split began to happen during the dark spot of Labour history during the 1980’s and was forced even further during the New Labour era. I questioned Davidson on whether he thought low voter turnout in Manchester Central was due to this same feeling of disconnection with big party politics.
“The reason is people are tired of big party discourse… Labour has ceased to be relevant to working class communities… When I’ve been knocking on doors people have said ‘we used to vote Labour and now we don’t vote.’ Their vote is based on pensioners and people who think Labour are better than the Tories.”
He added: “Thatcher said her greatest achievement was New Labour… The working class base could always affect Labour policy in the past. The TUSC is an attempt to get over that and have working class unity”.
Currently 25% of the workforce in Manchester is employed in the public sector, still one of the highest levels in the country despite 2000 voluntary redundancies within Manchester City Council last year. As a civil servant himself, I asked Davidson what he would do to improve the conditions and image of the public sector in national politics and press if elected.
“The image of the public sector was invented to justify attacks on terms and conditions and pensions. There is a lack of a trade union political voice; most people are more inclined to listen to MPs than trade union General Secretaries.”
He went on to suggest: “We need to destroy the distinction between public and private sector workers somehow being locked in to a race to the bottom. The logic of the Tory argument is somehow because the private sector’s conditions have been shot to bits over the last thirty years we need the public sector conditions to go on a dive in terms and conditions too. Which is why we backed the call for a general strike at the TUC conference… it’s needed to build solidarity between public and private sector unions.”
On the conditions question he confirmed: “We need to end the pay freeze, putting in pay settlements that are above the rate of inflation, not just in the public sector but in the private sector too.”
Financing the sentiment
Increased pay, re-nationalisation of public services and saying no to all austerity measures are at the core of TUSC’s beliefs and policies, but is this realistic in the worst recession in a generation? Davidson said he believes true tax collection and making the bankers pay for their crisis can pay for everyone.
“This could be funded through £120billion in uncollected tax, if the government are concerned about the deficit they should chase down that… We’ve also got hundreds of billions in unspent capital in the banking system; the repeated rounds of quantitative easing have put hundreds of billions in to the banking system.”
He added: “The government already owns RBS and its subsidiary NatWest… directly control them and use the capital put in there by taxpayers to restructure the economies of depressed areas with engrained poverty like the centre of Manchester. “
Davidson continued to explain how he thinks industry can be re-kindled in Manchester with public money that’s effectively already been spent by the government:
“What infrastructure projects can we immediately invest in to create jobs, there’s a huge problem with congestion in Manchester, because of a lack of decent public transport… nationalise the train system, re-regulate the bus service, kick out the French transportation company that runs the Metrolink, taken them under direct control, reduce prices and increase the coverage of the public transport system to create jobs. Fund that through the nationalised banks.”