Labour: a time like no other (report of Labour Party conference 2015)

By Sacha Ismail and Martin Thomas

At a crowded left-wing fringe meeting at Labour Party conference, on 28 September, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said:

“When workers want to take action, we will support them automatically. Our movement should not be divided, there is one struggle. We need to take industrial action and we need to take direct action, on the streets and into the occupations… We are campaigning to close the [immigration] detention centres, we are in solidarity with the people in them.

“The secret we discovered two centuries ago, in the fields and the workshops of the industrial revolution, and the secret now, is that we need unity, we need determination, but above all we need solidarity.”

From the floor, Rachel Mullen, a young worker active in the Bakers’ Union, talked about the work they are doing to unionise and organise young workers in the fast food and other service industries.

Rhea Wolfson from the new organisation Labour Young Socialists talked about how LYS is building a united, democratic left in Young Labour and Labour Students. Communication Workers’ Union activist Maria Exall called for the building of a united Labour left on a similar model, with strong local groups and democratic national structures, so that we can debate and agree ideas, demands and action.

Inside the conference, on trade union rights, unions had moved weak resolutions calling for opposition to the new Trade Union Bill, but saying nothing about how, and little about the restrictions already put on workers by Thatcher’s laws – except for a useful call from Unite to allow workplace ballots for strikes (although in fact there should be no legal restrictions on the right to decide to strike).

Eleven CLPs put in more radical motions, many modelled on the Right To Strike initiative. Some including demands to repeal all anti-union laws, including Thatcher’s.

The unions felt the Corbyn surge too. They accepted Right to Strike clauses on restoring the right to solidarity strikes, and the composite was passed unanimously.

Another successful composite from CWU and UCATT called for a “Working Group of MPs, trade unions and party members” to be established that would bring “a New Deal for Workers” policy to be brought to next year’s conference.

It is a time like no other in the history of the Labour Party. Trade union leaders and some centre-ground Labour politicians are trying to keep up, but with some difficulty.

Most of the constituency Labour Party delegates at the conference would have been elected before the leader election campaign, and some up to six months before.

So, we had to expect the conference to lag behind the movement. The delay of a further conference for a full year would be unfortunate. There has been talk from both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell about calling an additional special conference before the next regular conference in late September 2016. They should do that. At the moment a year will be a very long time in politics for a Labour Party in such a radical process of change.

Activists should push for fuller debates at local, regional and national conferences, both official and unofficial.

To the dismay of many on the left, Trident lost out in the constituency delegates’ vote for areas to debate. Unions seemed to be worried that if motions not to replace Trident were put to the vote, they would either have to vote against Corbyn, or face a backlash from their own right wings.

GMB was going to vote to replace Trident. Unite has an ambiguous policy from its 2012 conference. It says “it cannot be right to spend large sums on weapons of mass destruction when essential services are facing cuts”. But it also says: “support our members and their employment until we have firm commitments to a policy that would see the jobs and skills of Unite members preserved”, and right-wingers in Unite have interpreted that as a mandate to back Trident replacement.

Unite was reported as likely to abstain. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey was quoted (Independent, 27 September) as saying: “We won’t be voting in favour of any anti-Trident resolution”. But some said that the Unite delegation might vote against replacement if the issue came to the floor.

The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and other left groups who supported a discussion of Trident did not have the degree of influence over CLP delegates that you might imagine. There were some signals that the vote against prioritising was swayed not by the right wing but by Corbyn people.

They were worried they would lose, because big unions would vote for Trident; or that they would win narrowly and be pitched into early confrontation with the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Whatever the truth of that, debate on the issue should and will surely be organised. As far as veterans could remember, Labour conference has debated nuclear weapons only once in 26 years since Neil Kinnock managed to bury Labour’s nuclear disarmament policy through a “policy review” in 1989. (That one time was 1997, when Tony Blair, triumphant, felt confident to trounce the rank and file). A policy to scrap Trident and use the money to rebuild the welfare state and create jobs is or would be immensely popular.

And we still need to build a democratically authoritative left in the party, able both to make sure debates happen in the wider party, and to organise reasoned debate inside itself.

On Europe, the old nationalistic “left” position of calling for a vote to leave the EU has collapsed. At the TUC in early September, the GMB moved a proposal which suggested the unions might vote for withdrawal if Cameron wins bad exemptions for Britain from EU policies. (So, if he does that, we “punish” him by voting for even worse departures, and even more re-erection of barriers between nations? Huh?)

But at Labour conference GMB secretary Paul Kenny called for Labour to support “membership of the EU as a strategic as well as an economic asset” and “approve of UK membership of the EU”. He also called for an independent Labour campaign on the issue, utterly separate from big-business pro-EU campaigns: “no platform with the CBI and no platform with the Tories”.

The Labour Party is being rebuilt as never before. We should organise the newcomers into democratic local Labour Parties and constituency Young Labour groups and turn those organisations out to the streets, to campaign for the NHS, for the right to strike, and on many other issues.

The rules introduced by Blair in 1997 still oppress the Labour Party. On the first day of this conference, only 48 minutes were given to debate from the floor. On the second day, 155 minutes of debate, but only 98 of those from speakers from the floor as distinct from movers and seconders.

The new Labour Party is making a good start on changing its culture, and needs to change its rules. And, as the left organises within this new Labour Party, we must create the space and the culture for reasoned debate within the left.

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Labour Party conference votes to restore right to take solidarity strike action

On Monday 28 September delegates at Labour Party conference voted unanimously for a motion committing the party to fight the Tories’ Trade Union Bill and the next Labour government to “legislate for strong rights to unionise, win recognition and collective bargaining, strike, picket and take solidarity action.”

Those words came from a motion promoted by the Right to Strike campaign, submitted by a number of Constituency Labour Parties and in complete form by two, Broxtowe and Chesterfield.

This is the first time since the early 1990s that the Labour Party has supported the crucial right to solidarity action – to strike in solidarity with other workers in struggle. During the 1997 general election, Tony Blair boasted about his plans to keep Margaret Thatcher’s anti-trade union laws – which ban solidarity action, political action, flying pickets and much else that makes trade unionism effective. During thirteen years of Labour government, the trade unions never pressed for the abolition of these laws.

Trade union motions on workers’ rights submitted to this year’s conference said nothing about repealing the old (pre-2015 Trade Union Bill) anti-union laws, with the exception of two proposals from Unite: firstly, allowing workplace instead of postal ballots for strike action and, secondly, making the law “compliant with ILO [International Labour Organisation, a UN agency] core conventions and European human rights obligations”, presumably expressed in that way to mean different things to different people.

Allowing workplace ballots would be a potentially very significant change. Unfortunately, in the “compositing” meeting where bits of different motions are forcibly stuck together, even the more left-wing unions would not accept the text from Chesterfield and Broxtowe calling for a Labour government to “repeal all the anti-union laws passed by the 1979-97 Tory governments”. They had a number of excuses: we suspect the real reasons are a desire not to sound too radical, and a certain reluctance to create a situation where workers can more easily take action without reference to the law – or, therefore, to their unions’ bureaucracies.

We should continue to argue for the position that the law should not limit workers’ right to strike at all. Workers should be able to decide to take action without reference to any kind of legally-imposed process. We should decide our own democratic processes.

Very positively, however, the left unions, led by Unite, did accept the Right to Strike text about positive legal rights – including the right to take solidarity action.

Passing motions has limited value; words on paper are no substitute for building a strong campaign to fight for trade union rights. Nonetheless, this is real progress – and progress that would not have happened without hard work by left activists to push the position of the mass movement forward.

Speaking for the composited motion, Broxtowe delegate Pete Radcliff expressed some very important ideas (see here for the full speech):

“Sympathy action, solidarity action, political action should be the democratic right of our trade unionists. Instead they are all currently illegal.

“It is our duty to support workers who have difficulties defending themselves because of their responsibilities.

“One of the proudest actions I ever took as a trade unionist was to have taken strike action – in the steel industry before Thatcher as near as damn destroyed it – in support of nurses and hospital workers in 1981.

“The right to take such action was taken away from us during Thatcher’s onslaught on our rights.

“We should celebrate the desire of workers to demonstrate solidarity in our movement.

“We should not allow it to be remain illegal.

“Our trade union movement should have had – and should have again – the right to question and take action against the political actions of their bosses.

“Whether it be the privatisation of our services or the provision of arms and support to the prisons of the fascist, flogging and beheading Saudi Arabia – our trade unions should have the right to take action…

“Democracy is not just votes in parliament – democratic rights, trade union rights should be the right of every worker.

“Our trade unions as they move forward against this insidious Trade Union Bill need to know that this Party is behind them – and that we will restore the rights taken away from them in the days of Thatcher as well.

“Let’s be clear in our support for them today.”

***
***

There is much in this motion that activists in the Right to Strike campaign and on the left more generally would not find ideal, but it nonetheless represents a step forward.

Composite 3 – Employment Rights

Conference unreservedly condemns the Trade Union Bill which had its Second Reading on Monday 14th September and regards it as yet another attack on the employment rights of millions of people in the UK.

Conference acknowledges that the Bill follows a series of measures to erode employment and trade union rights in the last Parliament between 2010 and 2015 such as the Transparency of Lobbying (or Gagging Act) and the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act which has undermined workers’ access to justice. As an ideologically driven attack on trade union rights and freedoms, the Bill does nothing positive for workers but instead tips the scales considerably in favour of unscrupulous employers.

Conference notes that on 6 August it was announced that the legislation will attack public sector unions’ ability to organise by compulsorily ending check-off arrangements. Conference also believes that these measures are harmful to public sector employers, by cutting off an important revenue stream and making it more difficult for them to engage constructively with unions.

It also attacks unions’ right to fund a working-class political voice, including the vital link between unions and our party.

The proposals will:
• allow agency labour to be used to break a strike
• introduce very high thresholds for industrial action ballots
• severely restrict the right to picket and peacefully protest
• render strikes ineffective through longer notice periods
• significantly reduce union facility time and withdraw check off of union dues in the public sector
• give the Certification Officer investigatory powers into trade unions without specific reason
• require union members to “contract in” to their union’s Political Fund every 5 years significantly reducing the ability of unions to engage in political activity.

Conference believes that:
• it is almost without precedent that a government should seek to force through legislation that will undermine funding of the main opposition party.
• this is a partisan and brazenly political attack. David Cameron is targeting union and Labour funding which is fair, clean and democratic, while doing nothing about spending limits nor addressing the fact that Tories are financed by a small pool of mega-rich donors.
• workers’ right, including the right to strike, are essential to the labour movement’s ability to stand up for workers’ interests, and democracy.
• the good work undertaken by the Work and Prosperity Commission in their review of working life before the election offers a useful framework for the Labour Party to develop a policy which strengthens the employment rights of workers in the UK.
• the UK has some of the lowest employment rights protections in the OECD and regrets that our legislation does not comply with ILO core conventions.
• stronger employment and trade union rights increase productivity, reduce inequality and help create a more balanced economy and urges the Labour Party to commit to ensuring they are at the heart of a progressive Labour economic policy.

Conference calls on:
• all sections of the Labour Party to actively oppose the passage of the Bill, together with any associated secondary legislation, through Parliament.
• the Labour Party to use this opportunity to campaign for the introduction of secure workplace balloting to be used in all industrial action/strike ballots and for statutory ballots relating to internal trade union democracy.
• Labour to commit to repeal the Bill and all associated legislation/regulation when Labour returns to Government and to introduce a comprehensive package of employment rights compliant with ILO core conventions and European human rights obligations, along with the levelling up of workers’ rights across the EU; legislate for strong rights to unionise, win recognition and collective bargaining, strike, picket and take solidarity action.

The Party should unambiguously promote trade union membership and workers’ rights and to highlight the positive role played by trade unions in the UK in 2015.

Mover: Unite
Seconder: Derbyshire Dales CLP

Contemporary motions submitted to Labour Party conference on right to strike and anti-union laws

righttostrike

At least four Constituency Labour Parties have submitted policy to the upcoming Labour Party conference (27-30 September, Brighton) on the Tories’ threats to trade unions and the wider issue of the right to organise and strike. The Right to Strike campaign believes similar policy has been submitted by other CLPs and is currently drawing up a list.

There are many important issues coming up at the conference, but in many ways this is the most important of all. Workers’ freedom to organise and take action, including to strike, is the crucial right which determines ability to affect everything else – from wages to social provision to the environment.

We call on the Conference Arrangements Committee to ensure that these vital issues are discussed and not pushed off the agenda.

***

Broxtowe CLP has submitted the following “contemporary resolution” on trade union rights to Labour Party conference.

Conferences notes

1. That at the start of August trade unions launched a “Kill the Bill” campaign against the Tories’ proposed legislative assault on trade unions and workers’ rights.
2. In early September it emerged that the Government is considering requiring those who take part in a picket to carry an authorisation letter and hand over their details to the police.
3. That in addition to even more severely curtailing the right to strike, the Trade Union Bill also attacks unions’ ability to organise and fund a political voice, including the vital link between the unions and our party.

Conference believes

1. That workers’ rights, including an effective right to strike, are essential both to the labour movement’s ability to stand up for workers’ interests and to democracy.
2. That the Tories are blatant hypocrites, requiring 40 percent or more for a strike though their party took office with the support of less than 25 percent of the electorate.

Conference resolves

1. To work with unions and organisations including the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom and Right to Strike to oppose and attempt to stop the Trade Union Bill.
2. That the next Labour government should repeal these attacks (if they pass), repeal all the anti-trade union laws passed by the 1979-1997 Tory governments, and legislate for strong rights to unionise, win union recognition and collective bargaining, strike, picket and take solidarity action.
3. That the party should unambiguously promote trade union membership and workers’ rights.

***

And this from Chesterfield CLP:

Conferences notes

1. That at the start of August trade unions launched a “Kill the Bill” campaign against the Tories’ proposed legislative assault on trade unions and workers’ rights.
2. That in addition to even more severely curtailing the right to strike, the Trade Union Bill also attacks unions’ ability to organise and fund a political voice, including the vital link between the unions and our party.

Conference believes

1. That workers’ rights, including an effective right to strike, are essential both to the labour movement’s ability to stand up for workers’ interests and to democracy.
2. That the Tories are hypocritical requiring 40 percent or more for a strike when victory in parliamentary elections can be won on a much lower percentage of the vote.

Conference resolves

1. To work with the unions and with organisations including the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom and Right to Strike to oppose and attempt to stop the Trade Union Bill.
2. That the next Labour government should repeal these attacks (if they pass), repeal all the anti-trade union laws passed by the 1979-1997 Tory governments, and legislate for strong rights to unionise, win union recognition and collective bargaining, strike, picket and take solidarity action.
3. That the party should unambiguously promote trade union membership and workers’ rights.

***

This from Newark CLP:

Conference notes that at the start of August trade unions launched a “Kill the Bill” campaign against the Tories’ proposed assault on trade unions and workers’ rights.

Conference notes that, in addition to ending the ability to vote to strike by a straightforward majority, the Trade Union Bill renders strikes ineffective through longer notice periods, criminalisation of picketing, use of agency labour, punitive fines and state interference via the Certification Officer.

Conference notes that on 6 August it was announced that the legislation will attack public sector unions’ ability to organise by compulsorily ending automatic dues check-off arrangements. It also attacks unions’ right to fund a working-class political voice, including the vital link between unions and our party.

Conference believes that workers’ rights, including the right to strike, are essential to the labour movement’s ability to stand up for workers’ interests, and to democracy.

Conference believes that the Tories are blatant hypocrites, requiring 40 percent or more for a strike though their party took office with the support of less than 25 percent of the electorate.

Conference resolves

To work with the unions and campaigning organisations to oppose the Trade Union Bill.
That the party should unambiguously promote trade union membership and workers’ rights.

***

Labour International CLP, representing party members around the world in other countries, has submitted this:

Conference notes that at the start of August trade unions launched a campaign against the Tories’ proposed assault on trade unions and workers’ rights.

Conference notes that workers in other countries with successful, advanced industrial economies and a strong manufacturing base, such as Germany, enjoy wide-ranging employment and union rights.

Conference believes that these rights play a key role in these countries’ economic and social success.

Conference notes that on 6 August it was announced that the legislation will compulsorily end automatic check-off arrangements, affecting public sector unions. It also attacks unions’ right to fund the vital link between unions and our party.

Conference notes that legal advice made public at the end of August states the legislation would undermine freedom of association as set out in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Conference believes that workers’ rights, including the right to strike, are essential to the labour movement’s ability to stand up for workers’ interests, and to democracy.

Conference resolves

To oppose the Trade Union Bill through legal routes as well as by campaigning in conjunction with the TUC, affiliated unions and socialist societies.
That the next Labour government should repeal these measures if they pass, legislate for strong positive rights to unionise, win recognition and collective bargaining, strike, picket and take solidarity action.
That the party should unambiguously promote trade union membership and workers’ rights in line with ILO standards, along with the levelling-up of workers’ rights across the EU.

Behind the manufactured “mandatory reselection” panic

By Martin Thomas

The Guardian on 6 September tried to stir up panic by claiming that “Jon Lansman, a Corbyn supporter who acts as the spokesman for the Bennite Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD), is planning to table a motion at the party conference calling for the reintroduction of… mandatory reselection of MPs”, as a plan for “weeding out MPs opposed to the hard left”.

The facts are as follows. In 1979 Labour conference changed the rules so that Labour MPs, once elected, did not automatically remain Labour candidates in their constituencies for life. They could be chosen election after election, but only through renewed selection process.

It was nothing more than the usual procedure for labour movement representatives – union general secretaries or branch secretaries, constituency Labour Party secretaries, etc. – all of whom are elected for terms of office (maybe renewable), not for life.

In 1990, however, Neil Kinnock’s leadership pushed through a change. At the time they said they were keeping mandatory reselection, only rationalising it.

Since 1990 no new selection contest is held unless a majority in a “trigger ballot” votes not to endorse the sitting MP. In practice this has made selection contests difficult to get.

Rule changes cannot be proposed off the cuff at Labour Party conference by individuals. The National Executive (NEC) can propose rule changes at short notice, and has abused that privilege.

Unions and CLPs can submit rule changes, but must do so a year in advance. The rule changes coming to Labour Party conference this year, 2015, are those which were submitted in 2014.

The Conference Arrangements Committee has already ruled out nine of the 12 rule-change proposals submitted in 2014. It argues (untenably) that the issues raised in those rule changes were somehow covered by NEC documents in previous years.

One of those nine rule-change proposals, from Birmingham Ladywood CLP, would replace the “trigger ballot” with asking every constituency to open nominations for parliamentary candidate, and confirming the existing MP without a contest only if she or he gets an “overwhelming” majority of nominations.

The CLP’s delegate (not Jon Lansman!) may ask conference to overturn the CAC’s ruling-out. She or he will have every democratic right to do that.

In fact many Labour MPs will face new selection contests before 2020 just because constituences will have been redefined.There will be a periodic review of constituency boundaries. Since the scheduled 2013 review was cancelled, and the boundaries have not been altered since 2007, large changes are likely.

The “purging” actually under way has been not of helpless but harmless MPs, but of Labour Party members’ right to decide or even discuss.

After Corbyn’s victory, build support in workplaces and unions: interview with Pete Firmin

petefirmin

Pete Firmin, Political Secretary of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), speaking in a personal capacity.

What are the main lessons of the Corbyn campaign so far?

That the existing left doesn’t have to control everything — the reason the campaign has surged is because it’s got out of control and in the positive sense. Nobody has controlled it or been able to control it top down. It’s flourished in ways nobody’s expected. That has been incredibly positive.

In addition lots of people new to politics or at least Labour Party politics have come around it; there’s a big layer of people who are long-term members of the party but have been frustrated over the years by New Labour policies and attacks on democracy. They’re coming out to support the campaign too. I don’t think the party establishment understand that at all. When people like Blair and Clarke and Mandelson come out and say anyone but Corbyn, the more reaction there is against them and they just reinforce us.

The other thing is how politically mixed the support has been. It’s not a firm left support, it’s much looser and more heterogenous. Of course that doesn’t mean the left shouldn’t be firmly involved and try to influence things, but we won’t do that if we assume everyone is fully paid up to all the things the left is for. That will just turn people off.

What have you and other LRCers focused on?

I organised in my constituency, Hampstead and Kilburn, for getting people along to the nominating meeting — we lost to Yvette Cooper by one vote. Interestingly our MP, Tulip Siddiq, was backing Andy Burnham but he came fourth. To give her credit we persuaded her to nominate Jeremy and, though she was not supporting him, she defended the decision publicly when it was attacked.

Our Labour Party branches have been doing a weekly stall on the local High Road for the last two years and in the last two months it’s noticeable that everyone who stops wants to speak about the leadership election and a clear majority support Corbyn.

I’ve been active in the social media stuff, encouraging long-standing political contacts and friends to sign up as members or supporters — some of whom have been purged.

The LRC did a public leaflet early on encouraging people to sign up and vote, and LRC members in lots of places have been doing stalls, or been involved as organisers for some of the big meetings, as well as doing phone banks and so on. We’ve generally helped to build the campaign. Also, and I think this is very important, LRC members played a good role in winning union support, particularly in Unison.

What are the main tasks for the left?

I’d argue that we need a new organisation bringing together the whole of the Labour left, and that’s the only way we’ll attract significant numbers to get on board, a significant chunk of the tens of thousands who volunteered to actively support Corbyn. Obviously people are already joining existing organisations in small numbers, but only small numbers. Those organisations don’t have strong roots in most of the places where there is strong Corbyn supporter — either where it’s not that organised formally or where there’s a strong local group.

I don’t think the right will be stupid enough to try to kick Corbyn out in the next few months, but they will try to undermine him in any way they can, and unless we have strong, organised support inside and outside the party he won’t be able to do things, even opposing austerity.

What demands should the left raise?

On structures and democracy the main thing is to reinstate conference as a proper decision making, binding body, which also means scrapping the National Policy Forum, which was only put together to take away power from conference. We need to encourage democracy at every level. Branches feel they might be able to put a resolution to their GC [CLP General Committee] once in a while if they’re lucky; we’ve got to create a situation where those resolutions have some meaning.

Jeremy has been talking about a dedicated consultation on party democracy quite quickly, which could get round the fact that otherwise we won’t be able to make rule changes until next year and implement them even later.

The debate about reselection is a tactical thing. Reselection is already there, and if people have support it can be done. I would favour introducing proper, much stronger, mandatory reselection, but it’s a question of how fast you proceed, as the next election isn’t until 2020. The Tories’ boundary changes also throw everything up in the air as there won’t be many sitting MPs whose constituencies remain unchanged. In some ways it’s red herring: the right are using it as a way to say they don’t want to be accountable. On councillors too, we’ve got to get through the idea that representatives are accountable.

The immediate issue is the Trade Union Bill, and the party throwing its weight behind opposition to it, not just in Parliament — though it’s not impossible we could win there — but also giving support to the lobbies and protests and actions that unions and campaigners take. Corbyn will give that commitment. We need to make sure it’s real in practice.

Beyond this, we need to put opposition to the existing anti-union laws back on the table; I’m sure John McDonnell will be keen to raise this as he did under the last Labour government. More generally we need to make unions central to the party again.

The other things are anti-austerity, reversing cuts, wages in the public sector as well as private, but of course there will be a fight in the party about that too.

What Corbyn’s campaign has been saying is quite moderate, not really socialist at all. How should socialists respond to that?

Yes, especially on economic policy, a lot of it is quite moderate, and I think there may well be a pressure for that from within the core of the campaign. There’s a lot of stuff said, for instance in terms of “tax justice”, which is absolutely right, but quite moderate in terms of what you do with the economy. Some of it has been better, for instance on the railways, where Jeremy went beyond nationalisation to talk about it being run by workers and service-users.

There’s whole swathes of issues which haven’t been raised, particularly on the politics of the workplace — zero hours contracts or how companies like Amazon treat their workers. All that needs to become a very big deal if we’re going to build the organisation and support that’s necessary in the unions, I don’t mean at the top level, but at the workplace level.

What we mustn’t do is rest on the fact that national unions have given support. We know that some of them were more solid but many very shaky, and doing it partly for opportunistic reasons or reluctantly, for internal union reasons. That’s certainly true in Unite and Unison. Unless we take the political fight through to branches and into the workplace, it will remain shaky and general secretaries may well try to rein things in and, far from promoting left policies and party democracy, insist on compromises with the right. Also, unless the unions are much more militant in their opposition to austerity, the whole thing will lack legs.

The left shouldn’t just act as cheerleaders for Jeremy; if possible we should avoid conflict with him, but we also need an independent socialist assessment of what to push. There needs to be a whole debate about priorities, but also a recognition that for many of the new supporters and activists, a lot of this is new ground, for instance in terms of workplace struggles. There’s an educational process needed.

How can we get a new united Labour left?

What’s on the table at the moment is the existing Labour left groups working together on various things. In my view that falls far short of what is necessary. But perhaps unsurprisingly there’s a reluctance to dissolve into something bigger and more dynamic. In the short term that coalition is what we’ll have, I think, but in the longer term things are up in the air. Certainly the LRC will continue to push that we need more.

Where there are strong groups on the ground, where people have really started to organise locally, they need to discuss this and put pressure on the national left organisations, to say it’s not good enough to just work together, we need more than that. If that pressure comes from below that could shift things. The moves in the youth section towards a more united organisation could help there too.

Motion for branches and CLPs on the refugee crisis

On 14 September a 34 strong meeting of Beeston North branch Labour Party in Nottinghamshire passed the following resolution. It will go forward to Broxtowe CLP.

“We openly condemn the government’s failure to take compassionate action in relation to the largest migration crisis since World War 2 and the pressure that continues to exert on the EU. Over 2,500 have died in the Mediterranean this year. Literally millions of people are experiencing being stateless, homeless and hungry for months and years.

“We call on members to join in with the vibrant and spontaneous national and local campaigns that are aiming to give relief to those people in desperate need.

“We support, and we call on members to campaign for, an end to the inhuman ban on movement of refugees and migrants to this country.

“We demand that the government creates an emergency fund to government and local government agencies that will allow them to provide the necessary support to house, feed and provide with work those refugees who wish to move here and meet both their international as well as their local humanitarian responsibilities.

“We demand that the government co-operates with other governments within the EU to ensure that the necessary support for these desperate migrants is shared across Europe fairly and not offloaded on the poorer countries within the EU.”

Motion for branches and CLPs on “An open Labour Party”

On 14 September, a 34-strong meeting of Beeston North branch Labour Party in Nottinghamshire passed the following resolution. It will go forward to Broxtowe CLP.

Could you put the same or a similar motion in your branch or CLP?

“This branch/ CLP believes that there should be no infringement on the rights of free speech and free criticism within the Labour Party.

“There should be no ban on memberships of campaigns or organisations as long as they are not campaigning against the election of a Labour government or Labour councils.

“The only acceptable limitation on membership of the Party, other than the exclusion of known and unrepentant former members of neo-Fascist organizations, is that people who join or are members or supporters commit to support Labour candidates in future elections. Earlier electoral activity is of no importance.

“We call on the CLP to welcome in any supporter and member prepared to make such a commitment and will not implement any bar placed at national level on their local membership and support.”

Building a strong left after the Labour leadership vote: interviews from Sheffield and Merseyside

maxmunday

Max Munday, an SCLV supporter who is coordinator of the Sheffield for Corbyn group, speaks about what has been built in Sheffield, their plans after the election and suggestions for other local campaigners.

Why is the campaign shaking things up in the labour movement?

I think the campaign gives people a clear, positive focus. Immediately after the election we had demonstrations; people were clearly saying we don’t like the Tories and we don’t want cuts. This is more positive, we have a clear goal of electing Corbyn and an opportunity to get left-wing ideas discussed with a national platform.

There is a similarity with Syriza and Podemos, but in some respects the Corbyn campaign is better. As compared to Podemos it’s not based around a trendy leader, but more rooted in principled left-wing politics. Of course we may see similar struggles to stop a move to the right if Corbyn wins.

The buzz around the campaign in Sheffield is things like people wandering around wearing badges, talking about it in the pub, promoting it on social media, but it’s not just online stuff. A lot of people are regularly attending meetings and becoming active, and we’ve had very successful rallies.

How have you organised?

In mid-July we convinced a local Red Labour supporter who we’d worked with in the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory to host a planning meeting to kick start Sheffield support for Corbyn. We got 25 people. Since then we’ve met as an open forum, without reference to people’s status in the Labour Party. We began with lobbying of members at the different Labour endorsement meetings. We’ve also organised phone banking sessions, which have been well attended from across the city and beyond, across South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire.

We elected a steering committee to organise our rally at the Crucible Theatre and in Tudor Square outside. We did good press work. There was a lot of excitement and the Crucible was booked out in about fourteen hours, overnight, as soon as tickets became available. We must have had over 1,500 people in total. The fact that the event went smoothly showed people our competence but also our extensive connections in the city. We had a positive youth meeting afterwards as well.

We’ve worked with some very good activists to put on a meeting for BME people in Sheffield at the start of August. It was attended by a lot of Pakistani, Yemeni and Somali people who said their communities have been taken for granted by Labour for too long and who want to refresh the party on the basis of a united working class and proper representation.

The rally as an opportunity to bring councillors into the campaign, and for us to say to them, be open about supporting Corbyn, and we can talk together about opposing the cuts. We need to be positive, collaborative but unflinching in our disagreements. But bringing councillors in, that’s a good step.

We have activists who want to stand in the council elections — we have all out elections in Rotherham and Sheffield next year — but we need a discussion about the basis for that. Some people want councillors to take a clear anti-cuts stand, but others think you need to be more pragmatic, at least until you get a critical number of councillors and critical size of movement in the community. That argument has to be had.

The thing we didn’t get right with the rally was not having more grassroots campaigners speaking on issues like refugee solidarity work, our local NHS campaign, plus broader issues like Kurdish solidarity, so that people could see it’s not just a list of policies, but things we’re fighting for as a movement.

Who’s involved?

We’ve got a really good range of supporters, from those who fought for the left in the 70s and 80s through to people who weren’t born in the 80s. There’s about a 60:40 split members to supporters, and lots of people are tentatively involved in the party, because they’ve had really bad experiences of the right before and they’re nervous, but they’re also incredibly excited by this opening.

The older comrades have loads of experience of fighting for left-wing politics in the party and outside and that’s vital to draw on, or instance on tackling the issue of democracy in the party.

We’re going to have a workshop on the erosion of democratic rights from the 80s and the 90s, so we can better think about where we want to get to. We need to understand how it was shut down in order to reassert it.

What response have you had from the local labour movement?

It’s mixed. Perhaps because we’re such a grassroots network, working with but not run from the central Corbyn campaign, that has put off some of the more routine-focused or politically conservative union officials. Unfortunately we had unbelievable hostility from the Unison regional office when we tried to ask for their support, completely ignoring the national union’s agreed policy. That’s an issue Unison activists really need to take up.

We’ve had very strong support from prominent members of the Trades Council and Unite, who’ve let us use their offices for phone banking. Also a lot of help from the First Bus workers’ Unite branch. The summer break has also been a problem for getting unions involved.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised that we’ve worked so well as a Sheffield campaign. Within the group we’ve got big differences on international politics, and even on Labour Party politics, yet people are really committed.

What next?

We’ve got a post-election meeting to discuss next steps on 14 September and a big social on the 20th. Socials are important: we also need to bring people together more informally. That allows more fruitful discussion and means we can have a labour movement that functions on different levels, creating a sense of community.

That would be my advice for people in other cities. Also make sure you get contact details when you meet people, and keep in touch, so you can start to build a profile or map of the area you live in, what forces you have in the party and the wider labour movement. If we don’t get these solid connections the movement could turn out pretty ephemeral after 12 September.

How would you like to see the Labour left organise after the election?

We need a balance between clear positive momentum around the policies and gearing up to counter any challenge from the right. Many of the people who are excited about Corbyn aren’t used to harsh struggles and arguments in the labour movement. We need to be realistic but we don’t just want to be defensive.

We should aim for politics to be discussed in communities, in workplaces, with a stronger Labour Party tied to stronger union organisation, but also stronger socialist organisation on the ground.

Someone said at a meeting the other night, “our [Labour] branch never goes to a picket line together”. If the party was active in workers’ struggles and the community it would allow us to take on the difficult arguments about topics like Europe and immigration, to pro-actively make the case for a class solidarity.

We haven’t yet discussed about how much energy people should put into becoming branch and constituency officials, about the possibilities and limitations of that for promoting socialist politics, but that discussion is going to be had. It’s worth saying that some people love being in our network but don’t want to be too active in the party.

We need a strong grassroots movement, to complement a Corbyn leadership with rank and file pressure at the bottom, because without that it will flounder. Trade unions are an essential part of that too.

Is your group a space for discussing ideas as well as organising?

We’ve got a plan to hold workshops, to understand the party better, to talk about democracy, also one about councillors and the cuts, but also we’ve agreed to have discussions on big issues like the EU. On that there’s a legacy of Tony Benn’s politics and a sharp disagreement on the Labour left. We need to be discussing these things on the left as well as in the formal structures of the Labour Party.

Everyone is positive about having those debates, which I think is a testament to the strength of our organisation and its positive, comradely atmosphere.

What kind of organising would you like to see at a national level?

The key thing is strong roots in local groups that feed into the national structure, to allow not only coordinated organisation but discussion of political program and demands. I’d also want to see the support given by unions nationally replicated in involvement at a local level, because without that we’re going to struggle.

I don’t think we should wait for a national organisation, we need to do things locally now. I’d want a national structure to aid and guide local groups, but not dictate every action. The labour movement needs renewal at every level, and the Labour Party moved to the right in part because we haven’t had, at a local level, enough assertiveness to counter that.

Now we’ve got an opportunity to do that effectively. We need strong local groups all over the country.

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“Bring together the entire labour movement”

By a Merseyside Corbyn supporter

In Liverpool, organisation sprang up around the twice weekly phonebanks. In the last couple of weeks there have been times when we’ve had more volunteers than phones.

There have been two large rallies on Merseyside, but both organised by the district TUC rather than the local campaign. 350 attended one in Birkenhead at the start of the campaign and 1,200 in Liverpool later. We are soon to meet as Corbyn supporters to discuss the state of the local party and what we can do about it. Hopefully we will bring in some members of the affiliated unions too.

We need to assess the strength of our forces locally in relation to the state of the party and wider movement. We need long-term organisation and are starting to build that.

We need to put people in the same CLPs in touch with each other so they don’t feel isolated. Where we are confident and numerous enough we should stand for positions in local parties. But we need to be wary of getting bogged down in a long march through the institutions of the Labour Party.

I think we should call local meetings of the entire labour movement — the party, affiliated and non-affiliated unions, and community groups — to discuss how to keep a Corbyn-led Labour Party “on track”.

We need to be good party activists but, as ever, keep the interests of the class before the interests of the party. We should not simply become foot soldiers for a leftwing leadership.

If Corbyn loses we should guard against demoralisation and point out that we’re still streets ahead of where we were five months ago.

Lots of people will understandably not want to slog their guts out for a Labour Party led by one of the others, which is why the labour movement as a whole needs to be made into a political home for the people enthused by Corbyn’s campaign.