This month we bring you news of a new Unite gen sec, a Q&A with one of the participants of our Leo Panitch Leadership Programme and we take a deeper look at the new Momentum Assemblies. Enjoy.
Power in a union. When the three candidates for the Unite general secretary race were initially announced, there was some concern on the Labour left that Sharon Graham and Steve Turner would split the left vote and gift the top job to the Labour’s right’s Gerard Coyne. But Sharon’s Graham’s dynamic grassroots campaign, focused on building power in the workplace and with deep roots in the rank and file was the decisive winner. Unite members have made their voices heard. They want a union that organises and that uses its leverage to take on bad bosses. At Momentum, we wholly agree that any route to socialist change in Britain requires working class organisation to be stronger than ever before. We look forward to working with Unite and our allies across the labour movement to achieve that goal.
Winning streak. Another internal Labour election – another victory for the left. For the third time running, Billy Hayes and Seema Chandwani were elected to the Conference Arrangements Committee – a committee that crucially decides the timetable and topics debated on the conference floor. And in the Young Labour equalities elections, Momentum-backed candidates won three out of the four positions: Abdullah Okud becoming BAME officer, Aisha Malik-Smith Disabled members officer and Grace Ashworth Women’s Officer. Ever since Starmer became elected leader the socialist left has won every single internal Labour election. The Party membership is resolutely socialist.
TWT. It’s happening. A year and a bit stuck indoors and finally we have the chance to meet up and strategise for the future. Come join us on Saturday at 1pm for our session on ‘Socialist strategy after Jeremy Corbyn’ and don’t miss out on some of our other tips: ‘The big proportional representation debate’, ‘Should socialists leave the Labour Party?’, ‘Pasokification: can social democracy survive?’, ‘Solidarity is power’ and ‘Sarah Everard, state violence and gender’. You can find the full schedule here. Buy your ticket here, and remember to use the code MMTM21 for a 10% discount exclusive to Momentum members. See you there, comrades.
• Are you a CLP delegate to Labour Conference? If yes, then please let us know by inputting your details into this table here. It’s really important that the left is organised at this year’s Conference. The Labour’s left victories in internal elections prove that there is a socialist majority inside the Party. But now we have to make it count.
• We’ve reached our £20k for Conference target – with just under two weeks to spare! Thank you to everyone who donated. Over the coming years we are doing the hard work of building up the capacity of our movement so that the 21st century is one of socialist advance. We are now upping our Conference fundraising goal to £30k – can you chip in?
• The Leo Panitch Leadership Programme is underway! Forty budding Momentum activists across the country met up over the last few weeks to improve their theory and practice, with lots more sessions planned over the coming months. Click here for some pictures.
• Momentum assemblies – the two member-led bodies that are deliberating on the proposals to revamp Momentum’s structures and constitutions – are now weeks away from wrapping up. Thanks to all of those who have been involved so far. You can read our report below for more detail on how they are going.
• Did you read the second issue of the Educator? If not check your inbox and have a read of cultural theorist and Labour activist Jeremy Gilbert on solidarity and comradeship.
• Momentum Community is hosting a new AMA (Ask Me Anything). On Wednesday 15 September at 7pm, as part of Momentum’s Green New Deal campaign we will be joined by the American journalist and author Kate Aronoff. If you haven’t signed up to Momentum Community then you can do so here.
• The Momentum-endorsed Young Labour student reps have written their own newsletter. Check it out here.
If you want your local group activity to be included in The Organiser then please email us at [email protected] We’d love to hear from you.
This issue we talk to Andrew Hedges, a member in the North East who applied to be on the Leo Panitch Leadership Programme so that ‘Momentum can become a force for good in my area’.
We chat to Andrew about what the course has taught him so far, and how he believes Labour CLPs should take some tips from Momentum when it comes to political education.
Why did you apply for the Leo Panitch Leadership Programme?
I signed on to the programme for two reasons really: to try and solidify the left in my CLP. But also because I wanted to start a campaign. In my local area there was a sports ground that was built with the wages of the miners who worked in the village. About 70 years later, it fell into financial disrepute, and was privatised. It was privately owned for about 20 to 30 years, but then, about a year and a half ago, it was shut down and the sports clubs were thrown off it. So I wanted to start a campaign that was trying to organise and get the community active in buying back this piece of land or work with the council or parish council to buy it and bring it into community ownership.
You recently had a weekend of workshops as part of the programme. What was it like?
It was really good. Callum Bell from the NCG ran a couple of community organising workshops that were really positive. He covered everything from the first steps of how you organise your group, to how you understand the community around you, and how you go about contacting people. He also went through one to one conversations: how to talk to people about what motivates them, and how they can get active in a campaign, and how it’s important to be really positive and open. It was a really refreshing way of looking at activism.
The political theory aspect was also excellent. David Wearing did a talk on the history of imperialism, and Keir Milburn did one about imagining socialist futures. It was really positive because it showed a really good way to reach out to people within CLPs. Political education can be quite limited within CLPs to getting a Shadow Minister in or getting someone from Novara Media. And actually, what both those workshops showed us was ways of getting people active in small groups and thinking for themselves. Often, it’s assumed that we all know what we want Labour to do. And actually there are a lot of people in the Party who haven’t really considered what the Party is capable of doing, and so set their expectations very low.
How did you come away feeling?
Yeah, it was energising and exciting because we left with a sense that actually, we can do these community campaigns and be quite successful at them as there’s a strategy to go through. And there’s loads of other people in Labour who can imagine a future for the Party that is not just this kind of bureaucratic attitude towards CLP management that we often see at local level.
It was exciting to see loads of people ready to get very active in the Labour Party at a point where it’s been particularly grim. And rather than just talking about, you know, the failings of Keir Starmer the whole time, which you can easily spend a weekend doing, this was actually really positive, and looked at how to be constructive within the Party.
This month we chat to Jonathan Mitchell, chair of Momentum Southampton.
We spoke about Southampton Social Aid group, their new community organising campaign, and what tips he would give to other Momentum activists looking to get more involved in their local group.
What have you guys been doing since the 2019 election defeat?
When coronavirus hit, a lot of us on an individual basis went into mutual aid groups. In fact, one of our members started Southampton Social Aid Group, which is basically a cooperative. It’s started doing a food club, which is a subscription based food bank, where you give around £3.50 a week, and you get lots of food back. It’s a really great project.
We’ve also been setting up a lot of political education. I did the Future Councillors’ training programme that Momentum organised and wanted to distill some of those ideas so we ran a session for our members on how local government works.
From July, I started running community organising sessions in a neighborhood called Weston, which is a working class neighbourhood with a high density of social housing.
We’ve been knocking on doors and talking to people about what issues matter to them. And it’s been a great sampling exercise, just going to a proportion of homes and hearing great ideas. I’ve been coordinating members on it and they’ve all been really enjoying it. We’re quite close to finishing the target zone. The next phase will be doing an actual campaign.
What will that campaign be?
Antisocial behaviour and crime has come up a lot. And I think there’s a lot we can do on that.
That isn’t usually the happiest terrain for the left.
What does defund the police actually mean beyond just the sloganeering and rhetoric? Really what it means is consciously decreasing the policing budget, and then redistributing those funds into other social programmes. It’s not about that money disappearing into the ether.
But what are these social programmes? I’m a youth worker, and before the pandemic, the council had some outreach related to youth crime which now doesn’t exist. And I think it can be a clear demand that we want those kinds of outreach programs to be re-started specifically targeting the area. When we come to setting up a community meeting, and someone says that they want more police, we can shift the focus to youth outreach, but also make the argument that more police isn’t necessarily the answer. More police on the beat does nothing to stop the root causes of crime.
What next for the campaign?
We’ve almost finished knocking on every door in the sample area and the next stage is to advertise and run a neighbourhood meeting. We’ve also got three universities that cover our area, and the hope is to reach out to experts on social policy or law and create some very practical political education for the neighbourhood.
What would be your one tip to other Momentum groups?
It’s a bit of a cliche, but trust in your own capabilities. I think there’s a lot of people with quite amateur skills, but who are in fact really capable. Even if it’s just designing a leaflet or doing a little political education on something you know something about – don’t be afraid and get involved. I haven’t done the community organising with an extreme amount of knowledge, but I just got myself stuck in with what feels like the right way to do it. And it’s been well received.
‘We’re trying to create something better’
How Momentum members are creating a constitution fit for a new era
During the NCG elections of last year, there was a consensus amongst the membership that Momentum needed to change. In response, the sitting NCG promised to ‘refound Momentum’ and overhaul the organisation so that it would become more member-led.
Initially there was a focus on local groups: helping already existing ones come up with a strategy for how they can flourish in the years to come, reviving groups that had disbanded and founding completely new ones. You can read more about that in Issue #3 of the Organiser.
This process is ongoing – but the next stage of refounding is to focus on Momentum’s democratic structures and constitution.
This began back in June when every local group, or individual members supported by 20 members, were able to make submissions with proposals for how to transform Momentum.
These proposals – which ranged from an overhaul of regional structures, to a move to a proportional voting system for NCG elections, and to the proposal for local groups’ improved access to data – were then to be brought to two assemblies comprised of approximately 20 people each and being a mixture of members, affiliates and NCG members. For the exact balance, read here.
The two assemblies have since been formed. The first one is titled ‘Politics and people’, and its remit is Momentum’s a) Policy platform b) Aims, commitments, and ethics c) Representation and liberation (How it can be more representative of marginalised groups) d) Selections (The principles that guide how we endorse candidates for elected positions).
The second is titled ‘Power and participation’, where the participants discuss a) The role of local Momentum groups b) How individual members not in local groups can organise c) NCG elections and direct democracy d) Transparency and accountability.
Held approximately every two weeks over a three month period, with each session run by trained facilitators, the assemblies act as deliberative spaces where participants are able to take up proposals, assess their strengths and weaknesses, contribute their own proposals and work towards consensus on which should be put to a ballot of the members.
Emma Hewitt, a Leeds Momentum member, was put forward by her group to attend an assembly and has been participating in ‘Politics and people’.
“I’m really happy Momentum is doing the refounding process,” she says. “Ever since Corbyn stepped down as leader the feeling with members has been that they don’t really know what Momentum stands for. So to have us come together and agree that in a democratic way is a really, really positive thing.”
Leeds Momentum is one of the groups that put forward proposals about better disabled and LGBTQ+ representation on the NCG, and for Momentum to campaign for better access for disabled people within the Labour Party. Hewitt says she came to the assembly ‘on that platform’ but was pleasantly surprised by the number of other groups with similar proposals. But, while broadly similar, the difference between the proposals is something the assembly has to thrash out.
“Now our job is to amalgamate all those different proposals,” she says. “So that we can then present it back to members as a coherent policy which they can decide if they want or not.”
And it’s not always been easy to find common ground, says Hewitt.
“Everyone’s got their own opinion, and it takes a while to reach consensus,” she says. ““There are big, big debates about whether we should have quotas or not, and lots of discussions about who the working class are, how we engage working class people, and how we identify who is working class in the first place.”
Jordan David, a member of Liverpool Momentum, is taking part in the ‘Power and participation’ assembly.
“I think we all feel the responsibility of trying to create something better than what we currently have,” says David. “But I think it’s a brilliant way to move forward with amending and updating Momentum’s constitution.”
There was, initially, some confusion in David’s group about how participants should approach the assembly. Is it an executive body that will make decisions independently? Or a representative body that solely exists to represent the views of local groups?
“Those of us from local groups do feel very strongly that we’ve been put here to represent our groups,” he says. “But we’re also empowered to step forward and make our own points. We’re all trying to collectively create something that members can support, and ultimately anything we produce is voted on by the membership.”
And how are the meetings conducted?
“It’s interesting, because there are a lot of fiery characters,” says David. “Yeah, we have had some heated debate. But I think the facilitators have done an excellent job at remaining impartial and making sure everyone is involved in the discussion.”
“I’m personally someone who will sit back at the beginning of a discussion and get the lay of the land,” he says. “I only tend to speak when I know what the space is like and what the other people involved are like.”
“The facilitator recognised that instantly, and found a way to invite me in. I generally thought it was run really well and in a way that was mindful of different personality types.”
The assemblies are ongoing and will look to publish their proposals to the entire membership by October, before reconvening to prepare a final package of proposals for ballot.
In this month’s newsletter, we’ll take a look at three elections in other nations that are taking place this year: Canada (20 September), Germany (26 September) and Chile (21 November). Polling in all three countries indicate strong performances for leftist or centre-left parties.
In Canada’s snap election, Justin Trudeau’s centrist Liberals have a slight lead in terms of estimated seats. But the centre-left New Democratic Party (NDP) are averaging 20% (+4pts), which would result in around 30 NDP seats (+6), giving them the balance of power in a hung parliament.
The centre-right Conservatives would win the most votes but come second in terms of seats, whilst the Quebec nationalist Bloc Québécois (BQ) would win 27 seats.
In Germany, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) have unexpectedly risen to first place in polls, and look to be on course to lead the German federal government for the first time since 2005.
Coalition discussions will take place after the election, but one possible option is a coalition between the SPD, the centre-left Greens and the centrist Free Democrats (FDP). The incumbent government (a coalition between the SPD and the centre-right Union parties) is unlikely to retain its majority.
Finally, a Presidential election will take place in Chile in November, and leftist candidate Gabriel Borić holds a narrow lead in recent polls over centre-right candidate Sebastián Sichel.
If elected, Borić – a former student protest leader who was elected to Congress in 2013 – would be the most left-wing Chilean President since Salvador Allende in the 1970s.
Ex-Labour leader and war crime dodger
You’d think the man might show a crumb of humility, considering his attempt to enforce ‘western values’ upon Afghanistan has clearly gone so woefully. Alas, no. In fact, in a speech to a military think tank on Monday, Blair doubled down, arguing that to defeat the threat of terrorism in the Middle East we need more ‘boots on the ground’. Utterly delusional.
For him, the war on terror will never be over. In the same speech he talked up the threat of ‘radical Islam’ and terrorists’ potential use of biochemical weapons – and implicitly criticised Joe Biden for giving up on the project of ‘nation-building’ in the Middle East. The idea that ‘nation-building’ – read imperialism – is a recipe for peace rather than constant instability and war is a fantasy that Tony and his warmongering acolytes can not let go of.
The western occupation achieved precisely zero of the objectives it set out to achieve – notwithstanding the incredible profits the military industrial complex managed to accrue – and instead brought even more misery and destruction to a country it was supposed to be saving. How can Blair and all the other cheerleaders for war not see what is in front of them? Because to do so would mean coming to terms with their own complicity in all the devastation, misery and hundreds of thousands of deaths that have taken place in Afghanistan and Iraq since the turn of the century. How then would he be able to look at himself in the mirror?
The landscape of British politics has shifted and evolved so much in the past 5 years. Since our first festival back in 2016, TWT has existed through 2 Labour leadership elections, 2 general elections and now a global pandemic.
But in that time, the need and desire for radical political education has only grown. Since 2016 we’ve welcomed tens of thousands to TWT events and we’ve seen the growth of a network of over 30 local Transformed groups across the country. And now we’re back in Brighton this year for our 6th festival.
And 18 months on from the start of COVID, after so much isolation and fragmentation, it’s more important than ever that our movement comes together in person.
TWT21 will be a place to participate in crucial discussions around left strategy and the future of our movement, as well as an opportunity to to build up key organising skills.
And of course it will be an amazing chance to meet and build relationships with people in person that you might have only seen on Zoom, and to get left activists in your area more involved with Momentum, and also just to have fun!
With us not being able to run a physical festival last year, and with the shifts we are seeing in the post-Corbyn political landscape, as it stands TWT is in quite a precarious financial situation. This is going to be quite a make or break year for us and so it’s really important that we get as many tickets as possible sold – and even if people can’t make it to Brighton, we’re going to need as much support as we can get in the way of donations to help sustain TWT and ensure we can keep putting the festival on each year as well as supporting political education across the UK all year round.
So if you are able to come, please do make sure you buy a ticket – and if you are in a position to do so, please consider getting one of our “pay it forward” tickets which funds 1 other person coming to the festival free who can’t afford their own ticket. We are committed to making TWT accessible for all but we won’t be able to survive without enough ticket and donation income this year.
You can buy tickets here. And remember, Momentum members get a 10% discount on tickets by using the code MMTM10 at checkout!
That’s all for this month, comrades. We hope you enjoyed this month’s issue. 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.
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