Johnnie Hunter speaks to YCL general secretary and Communist Party candidate Zoe Hennessy as she hits the streets of austerity-squeezed Glasgow North West
THE Star has been following Zoe Hennessy on the campaign trail. The 24-year-old supermarket worker is a trade unionist, Young Communist League (YCL) general secretary and Communist Party candidate for Glasgow North West.
Speaking at a packed hustings in Drumchapel, organised by the local community council, she declared: “After five years of Tory austerity and an independence referendum, the Communist Party is back to contest Glasgow North West.”
Speaking to Zoe during a canvassing session in the constituency, I asked her why the CP regularly chose Glasgow North West as a constituency. “The Communist Party has a very proud history in this area,” she said. “The Upper Clydebank Shipbuilders (UCS) work-in still captures lots of people’s imaginations. Chapping on doors, plenty of people still remember Sammy Barr standing for the party in the 70s.
“My branch is also very active in the constituency. We’re regularly out campaigning and raising the party’s profile all year round.”
This is Zoe’s first time standing for election, and that was not a decision she took lightly: “I’m standing because young people have been so badly hit by austerity policies. Youth unemployment has actually risen in Scotland, and it is mostly young people who are underemployed or working zero-hours contracts and earning less than the living wage.
“In both situations workers are not guaranteed enough hours to live on, and live at the beck and call of their employer. Communists call for not only an end to zero-hours contracts, but also demand an end to the scandal of underemployment. Implementing a living wage now which rises to two-thirds of male median earning (currently £13.65) would benefit millions.
“Austerity is not about fixing a deficit,” she argued. “It’s an ideology that seeks to destroy the welfare state, making ordinary people and their communities pay for a crisis they didn’t create, while the rich get even richer.
You only have to look around the communities in Glasgow North West to know that this is true. In Drumchapel, for instance, almost half of children grow up living in poverty. One in five young people are not in education, employment or training, and the unemployment rate is 53 per cent. We have a record number of billionaires in Britain, and yet people have no work and children are going to bed hungry. It’s criminal.”
The big story in the mainstream press regarding the election in Scotland has been the seemingly irrepressible surge of the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon. Zoe explained that “there has been a crisis in working-class representation in politics, and that’s not just in Scotland but the whole of Britain.
“For the last 20 years the Labour Party has ignored its working-class base and made huge concessions to big business. For many young people like me, protesting against the Iraq war was our political awakening. So many people that I’ve met during the campaign have told that they won’t vote as there’s no point — politics is controlled by a tiny elite of extremely rich and powerful people.”
“So nationalism has filled the vacuum left by not having a progressive Labour Party standing on the side of working people. But the rise of nationalism has been disastrous for working people in Scotland. The independence campaign has been extremely divisive, and it continues to be. People no longer see things in class terms but along national lines.
“As communists we argue that austerity is not anti-Scottish, it’s anti-working class — and therefore demands a class response. From the creation of the welfare state and the NHS to the UCS work-in and the poll tax campaign, our history shows us that class mobilisation and unity at British level is the only thing that can challenge big business.”
Zoe was very clear that this rise of nationalism was not the solution to what the CP identifies as a crisis in working-class representation: “The SNP are very effective at posing to the left of Labour. But they don’t walk the walk. In reality they have simply passed on Tory cuts, and are happy to privatise the transport industry. Their position on Trident is commendable, but they are still committed to Nato membership.”
On the contrary, she said communists are wholly opposed to both TTIP and the European Union, pointing out that austerity and spending cuts are often based on EU treaties and directives.
I asked her what she made of the common refrain that “young people aren’t interested in politics these days.” She countered: “I don’t think young people are apathetic, I think they feel betrayed and excluded by politics.
“A lot of my friends voted Lib Dem in the last election, because of their commitment to scrap tuition fees and cancel Trident. Students rightly showed their anger over that in 2010. Huge numbers of young people participated in the independence referendum, many 16 and 17-year-olds who can’t vote in this election.
Communists believe that the voting age should be 16. If you can join the army and have children, then you should be able to vote.”
Despite her enthusiasm, Zoe and her canvassing comrades remain realistic about the CP’s chances. “Glasgow North West is a two-horse race between John Robertson for Labour and Carol Monaghan for the SNP. It was a safe Labour seat, but polls are saying that the SNP will overturn Robertson’s 12,000 majority,” she explained.
On this basis I asked her what the Communist Party’s objective was in contesting the seat. “Only the Communist Party has put class on the agenda in this constituency. Only the Communist Party will call for the repeal of Thatcher’s anti-union laws and put trade unions at the heart of the fight against austerity,” she replied.
“John Robertson needs to be challenged for his record on not standing up for the community and challenging the cuts and privatisation. When Carol Monaghan calls for an end to austerity without ever mentioning trade unions, she needs to be reminded that her party implemented the council tax freeze, presided over a record Holyrood underspend, voted down the living wage and hasn’t really got any redistributive policies.
“Monaghan and Robertson talk about transferring power from one political party to another. The communists have policies to transfer power away from those who own the wealth to those who create it.”