October 28, 2020

Hello comrades,

We hope you are all keeping well. This issue we bring you news of two inspiring victories in South America, a Q&A with the comrades at Brent Momentum, a special report on the great work being done on our Volunteer Slack, and we reveal our Class Enemy of the Week. Enjoy.

La pueblo unidad. After a right-wing coup forced Evo Morales out of power over concocted claims of electoral fraud, overwhelming pressure from the Bolivian working class finally led to a re-run of last year’s election. Movement for Socialism (MAS) won by 20 points. An incredible victory for the international left. (For more on the coup leader Jeanine Añez, see Class Enemy of the Week👇 ).

Rent free. As reported in last month’s Organiser, rent strikes are gathering pace at student halls across the country. In Bristol, around 1,300 students are withholding their rent, with another 200 doing the same in Manchester. The students are fighting back. For more detail, read the latest Novara Media report.

Real opposition. “I fear my own party is being taken for a ride by this government… [we are] in the perverse situation of condoning laws that ride a coach and horses through our nation’s civil liberties and could even be used against the labour movement itself”: Dan Carden, resigning from Labour’s front bench after voting against the SpyCops Bill. Keir Starmer whipped to abstain, with a majority of Socialist Campaign Group MPs defying him to vote against the bill. LabourList has the full story.

🚫 Neoliberalism🚫 Chile’s widescale protests against inequality in 2019 have won a concrete victory: the ripping up of the Pinochet-era pro-privatisation constitution. A referendum achieved off the back of the protests resulted in a 80% majority in favour of re-writing the constitution, with a body of elected citizens set to take on the task. A kick in the teeth to the economic orthodoxy. Read this Tribune piece for some good background on the history of neoliberalism in Chile.

  • The Eviction Resistance campaign is growing, with new action groups set up across the country every day. We also ran two activist training sessions, soon to be posted on our social media.
  • The Future We Need NEC Campaign held a virtual rally, speakers included Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP and our very own NCG member and NEC CLP rep candidate Mish Rahman. To see how to order your preferences in the NEC elections, click here. Voting closes on 12 November.
  • The For a Socialist Future Young Labour campaign launched with a virtual rally featuring Owen Jones and Zarah Sultana. The ‘Socialist Future’ slate can be found here. Voting is open.
  • Momentum joined forces with Unite and Open Labour, signing a joint statement urging MPs to vote against the SpyCops bill. We showed how a united left within the Party can stand up to the leadership when it matters.
  • In the last two months, we have held 12 more sessions of our Future Councillors’ Programme, with sessions on the tactics of where to stand, shortlisting and selection processes. Upcoming workshops will cover online promotion, coalition building, and speech preparations.
  • On the Volunteer Slack, members held a lunchtime political education session with Apsana Begum on the government’s new housing laws. Want to know more about the Volunteer Slack and how it works? Check out our special report below 👇 .

Every issue we will ask members to give their thoughts on different questions facing our movement. For this issue we asked: “How should Momentum and the Labour left orient itself towards the Labour leadership?” Here are two of the answers we received.

The main target must be the Tory government and Tory local government administrations as well as their allies: the privatisers, outsourcing companies, climate change deniers, and the far right.

However, unity at all costs is a recipe for the continued rightward drift and ceding of the “Overton Window”. Credit should be given where credit is due to the leadership and particularly effective and sympathetic members of the leadership (e.g. Ed Miliband, Angela Rayner) should be critically supported but without illusion. The left should not be afraid to call out Starmer and the right wing members of his team, and should mobilise to replace the worst of them (e.g. Rachel Reeves, Wes Streeting, Jess Philips)

Mark Burton, Manchester

1. Stick fully to holding for Keir to the pledges. Praise him when he does, be a critical “friend” when he doesn’t.

2. Challenge the leadership to acknowledge and support (and learn from) local socialist Labour leadership such as Preston.

3. Set up “outside” grassroots campaigns that specifically link to Keir’s pledges, and then show how they can work to the leadership. Model what we want to see.

Olly Armstrong, Momentum Birmingham

For the next issue, we want to hear from you. Momentum has begun a re-foundation process where members will decide the organisation’s future. But what do you think a re-founded Momentum should look like?

Let us know in 200 words by emailing us at [email protected]. This section is all about hearing from our members.

For this month’s issue we spoke to members from Brent Momentum. They talked us through the group’s beginnings, its achievements, what it’s been up this year – and the secret to maintaining a healthy activist culture.

What did Brent Momentum get up to in the early Corbyn years?

The local Brent Group was initially convened using social media and we had about 60 at the first meeting. To build support we organised a music and comedy night and until COVID, we have regularly organised other social events, including a quiz night and a barbecue.

We organised to build influence in local CLPs and run for executive positions. One of the first things we did was organise for the selection, and then the successful election, of Jumbo Chan as councillor for Kensal Green ward in December 2015. John McDonnell came up to help. We couldn’t really influence subsequent council selections as much as we’d have liked, as the outgoing LCF had agreed a ridiculously early freeze-date which meant many of the new Corbyn-supporting joiners were not eligible – although Faduma Hassan was selected. We organised to ensure that the CLPs renominated Jeremy after the “chicken coup” of 2016, and lobbied our MPs, Dawn Butler, Barry Gardiner and, less successfully, Tulip Siddiq, not to speak out against his leadership.

Has the group been involved in any community organising over the years?

We haven’t really started any new community organising initiatives, but we did swing behind some other campaigns – against the sale of Bridge Park Community Centre to a developer based in an offshore tax haven, against the forced academisation of local schools, against the scrapping of the Council Tax Support Scheme, and on other anti-racist and trade union solidarity demos – including a protest against antisemitic graffiti in Dollis Hill. We’re now putting in effort into setting up a local London Renters Union branch to support local renters as much as we can while the housing crisis continues.

How would you best describe Brent Momentum’s relationship to the local Labour Party?

Brent Momentum operates in the London Borough of Brent, which covers Brent Central CLP, Brent North and some wards in Hampstead and Kilburn – other wards are in Camden Borough. In Brent Central, where the MP is Dawn Butler, the left has been well implanted for a while and so a lot of positive initiatives can be taken in the name of the CLP itself, giving them broader appeal.

We have recently become more influential in Hampstead and Kilburn, but Brent North, where many branches don’t meet, is proving more difficult. Brent’s Labour Council needs more socialists on it, so we encourage grassroots candidates with a campaigning orientation to get involved.

What is Brent Momentum up to these days?

We just organised an event to encourage potential local council candidates to consider running and to discuss on what political basis we should do so. We phonebanked a lot of our members ahead of this. It wasn’t huge, but we met some new people and we plan follow-up meetings.

Last year we ran a very successful Brent Transformed event, an ambitious all-day initiative with different workshops and great speakers, and we are planning the second such event now. Once ballots go out for the NEC elections we will be phone-canvassing Party members to support the Grassroots Voice Six CLP candidates.

If you could give any tips to other local groups, what would they be?

Make meetings interesting to as many people as possible. Get outside speakers to educate yourselves and spend some of the meeting planning activity and campaigns. Work out which Party branches need activating and help individual members to build them up. The right wing thrives on moribund branches – active ones are more likely to come our way.

Keep in touch regularly with Momentum members who don’t attend meetings: phone them and hear their concerns. Social events, COVID permitting, are a good way to meet and involve new supporters and can be just as political as meetings. Elect local Momentum officers who will put the work into making monthly meetings productive and ensuring campaigning goes well. Don’t let demoralisation take hold – the struggle continues!

‘It’s a great leveller’: How a GE campaigning tool changed how Momentum members communicate

Back in September 2019, Momentum’s Campaigns staff were thinking about how they could mobilise as many Labour members as possible for the upcoming general election. Taking inspiration from the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign they adopted a method called Distributed Organising – which involves devolving campaigning responsibility to as wide a group of activists as possible – and decided that a programme called Slack, an instant messaging system mostly used in diffuse workplaces, would be the ideal platform to use.

Matt Buckley, 22 was studying abroad when the election was called in October 2019. “I was a member of Labour International and had initially tried to use Labour’s tool to phonebank from abroad,” says Buckley. “But it didn’t work for those of us who were outside the EU so I joined the Momentum Slack instead and was able to get to work right away.”

As well as a group to support activists to phonebank from home, there were channels for data and research teams to coordinate their activity. Thousands of activists got involved. The research team has even branched out and created their own website – The Working Group – to provide data and information to counter mainstream media narratives.

The initial idea was for the Volunteer Slack to be limited to just the General Election campaign – but nearly a year later it has become quite a different space. Less geared towards immediate campaigning goals and now a forum for Momentum members to discuss and learn from one another.

Rosie Carter-Rich, a former Momentum Campaigns staffer involved in setting up the Slack prior to the GE, was keenly aware of the benefits of keeping it running. “We realised the Volunteer Slack was a place where people who perhaps hadn’t done much campaigning, and maybe didn’t otherwise have a way to get involved, could meet each other and learn skills,” says Carter-Rich. “It’s now a space for people to contribute meaningfully who for many reasons weren’t able to join a local group. So, for example, if they are housebound, carers, disabled, living in a remote part of the country or abroad. We didn’t want to lose that place.”

Now, the group runs regular political education events – on Monday they held a talk with Apsana Begum MP on the new Tory housing laws – and skillshares where grassroots activists and Momentum members learn from one another. They have discussion channels to talk about the big issues facing the movement, and channels for the different campaigns Momentum is focusing on (such as the current Eviction Resistance campaign), as well as a channel with resources and help guides to assist new joiners in navigating the platform. They also have a “Welcome” channel, with newbies encouraged to introduce themselves – and longstanding members will all tend to reply with a hello.

For Roh Perera, 30, a student in Dublin and a Volunteer Slack member, the platform has huge potential for facilitating horizontal communication between Momentum members. He thinks it should be used by members across the country – whether active in local groups or not.

“I think it’s a brilliant way for local groups not to become isolated and a great place to share ideas and thoughts about what’s going on in Momentum,” says Perera. “Groups should be sharing what works and what doesn’t and the Slack is a great forum to have that discussion.”

“I love it because the space is a great leveller. You’ll find people on there having discussions with NCG members – it really makes you feel like part of a movement. Being involved in local groups is really important but we also need to be joined up and national. I think the Volunteer Slack is a great place for that.”

And with Momentum moving forward into a new era – what for the future of the Volunteer Slack? “A lot will depend on the refoundation process,” says Buckley. “But we’re hoping to provide support to local groups and we’ve discussed establishing regional groups within the Slack. We want to consolidate it as the place where Momentum members go to speak to one another.”

Why not get involved? Click here to to get started on the Volunteer Slack.

Jeanine Áñez

Ultraconservative leader of the coup to oust Evo Morales

You have probably seen coverage of the Bolivian election on your timelines this past week. The election marks a colossal turnaround for the Bolivian left, coming almost a year after a military coup removed socialist leader Evo Morales from power and brought in Jeanine Áñez as interim president.

But who is Jeanine Áñez?

As well as being our class enemy of the week, she was also an ultraconservative Catholic Senator from the MDS party, their only elected representative in the Senate. You could assume that fringe hard-right extremists like her don’t tend to have much power when a huge socialist party like the MAS enjoys massive popular support, and you’d be right – but Jeanine had a plan.

The 2019 elections again saw MAS win power, but despite her complete lack of support from the Bolivian people, Jeanine was able to coordinate with police and military to paint the election as illegitimate and force her way into power with help from cheerleaders in the corporate media.

The coup was followed by a crackdown on the socialist left and indigenous communities. But despite violence, Bolivia’s working class and indegnous organisations mobilised heavily and took direct action against the regime and its coup government. Under mounting pressure Áñez was left with no choice but to concede that she would hold a long delayed election, which MAS won in an even bigger landslide that in 2019.

So who better to win the coveted Richard Branson award for class enemy of the week than wannabe dictator Jeanine Áñez? Truly, an awful human being.

Solidarity with the people of Bolivia – El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!

That’s all for this month, comrades. It’s a difficult time – and one which is made doubly difficult by how hard it is to meet up and organise against a Tory government doling out billions to their ruling class mates while children go without food. Bastards, the lot of them.

We hope The Organiser offers some respite – as well as some inspiration for how we can fight back – to fuel you for the months ahead. Any feedback you have and ideas for how to make the newsletter better are much appreciated. Don’t hesitate to send us an email at [email protected] with your thoughts.

In solidarity,

Casper

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