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Radical Left Comes out of Shadows at UK Labor Conference

Addressing an anti-austerity meeting on the fringes of the British Labor conference this week, a rabble-rousing MP led boisterous comrades in a chant of "the workers, united, will never be defeated".

In the past, this would have been an anachronistic curiosity, but the tub-thumping politician was John McDonnell, Britain's new shadow finance minister and darling of the hard-left.

"The wave of emotion in our movement at the moment is absolutely tremendous," he told the sweltering Brighton Friends Meeting House on the sidelines of the party's annual conference on the English coast.

"There is no standing on the sidelines any more, there is one struggle. We want peaceful, non-violent direct action," he said at the meeting, attended by a mix of trade union stalwarts and youthful campaigners.

Just months ago, such comments would have been unthinkable from a leading British politician, reflecting the seismic shift on the country's left.

But activists inspired by protest movements across Europe who have taken to Britain's streets to fight public spending cuts now have some genuine clout with Jeremy Corbyn as their new leader.

"You've got Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece, Bernie Sanders in America and people looked at England and thought 'where's the left-wing expression?'" said Julian Kett, 19, as he sold Marxist newspapers outside the main conference hall.

Far-left events were the new hottest ticket in town, with noticeably stronger attendance than at meetings held by the center-left think tanks of former prime minister Tony Blair's "New Labor" era.

Conference attendee Talullah Gunputh, 22, said: "It would be great if we had Britain leading the push against austerity".

"It's sad that things are worse in other places like Spain and Greece, but a lot of bad places in Britain are shuffled under the carpet."

Owen Jones, a political commentator, told AFP that "the Corbyn phenomenon is part of a wider trend of discontent that's sweeping the western world."

Despite the evangelical mood, winning over the British public remains an overwhelming challenge given its resounding rejection of Ed Miliband's moderate-left policies in May's general election.

The new Labour leadership has promised to cut the deficit while ending austerity, but faces a tough job convincing the electorate -- or even some of its own MPs -- on its more leftist economic strategy.

With Corbyn and his allies now in charge of the party's levers of power, many of the party's MPs -- particularly those loyal to the Blair legacy -- are nervous, predicting decades out of power.

Simon Danczuk, MP for Rochdale, has warned that the "lunatics had taken over the asylum".

But leftist factions are reveling on center stage.

"This is our opportunity. Get our heads up, get the confidence back, let's take the rest of the movement with us," Scottish MP Neil Findlay told the crowd at the Brighton Friends Meeting House event, which was so packed that attendees spilled over into the garden.

A series of trade union speakers, each trying to outdo the last in passion, volume and hyperbole, had already whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

It culminated with a call for "civil disobedience" by Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union national president Ian Hodson, whose revolutionary fury was tamed only by a temperamental microphone.

"We have to unite to fight -- resistance is duty," he said. "We will take the necessary action, which includes civil disobedience."

To roars from the audience, Fire Brigades Union chief Matt Wrack said: "People are sick to the back teeth of sneering politicians".

He referred to copies of the party's 1945 manifesto, which were on sale at the back of he hall.

"It says 'the Labor party is a socialist party and proud of it. Its ultimate purpose is the establishment of the socialist commonwealth.' What a fantastic ideal!".

Marxist Kett told AFP that he had "given up hope" on Labor before Corbyn.

"The mood is there, times are a-changing," he said.

"It's not just a pipe-dream. This is happening in the context of a wider turn against capitalism."

Source: Agence France Presse


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