We hope you are all keeping well. This month we bring you brilliant news from the Stansted 15 appeal, an interview with a member of a rejuvenated Southwark Momentum and a behind the scenes look at our burgeoning Eviction Resistance campaign. Enjoy.
In for a fight. Around 10,000 British Gas workers are currently striking against a plan to fire and rehire them on a contract which would extend their hours while keeping their pay at the same level. Workers say that the company is using the pandemic as cover for the ‘fire and rehire’ programme, only months after heralding them as key workers. Centrica, the parent company of British Gas, posted an operating profit of £229m for its UK heating business to June 2020, up 27 percent year on year. Read our Class Enemy of the Week below for more on the Centrica CEO’s poor treatment of their workforce. This is a massive fight in the battle for who pays for the crisis. We know whose side we’re on. Solidarity.
Policy Primary. Our movement doesn’t lack radical ideas to transform society. Which is why Momentum is running a democratic process to decide the left policy platform for Labour Conference 2021. Local groups – alongside affiliates and unaffiliated campaigning orgs – now have the opportunity to propose policy motions to take to conference, with the 8 most popular as voted by the membership comprising the left’s policy platform for Conference 2021. The deadline for submissions is 23 February. We can’t wait to get to Conference with the entire movement behind a transformative policy programme.
Giro a la izquierda. In brilliant news from Ecuador, socialist Andreas Arauz – successor of pink-tider Rafael Correa – has won the first round of the presidential election with 32% of the vote. The run-off in April will be against either indigenous activist Yaku Perez or neoliberal banker Guillerme Lasso, who are neck-and-neck with 95 per cent of the vote counted. The right will rally around either Lasso or Perez. Arauz’s first-round victory hasn’t been easy. The current president Lenin Moreno – an ex-ally of Correa who has moved right since being in office – implemented authoritarian measures to try and prevent correistas from standing and there have also been allegations of voter suppression in poorer areas of the country. If he wins, Arauz has promised a wealth tax and an end to privatisation.
Stansted 15. Back in 2017, 15 comrades cut through a barbed wire fence at Stansted Airport and chained themselves together beneath a plane set to deport 60 people to West Africa. The flight was stopped that evening and because of the actions of the Stansted 15, 11 of the deportees are still in the UK with three of them given leave to remain. The British justice system came down hard on the activists – charging them with terrorism-related activity of which they were initially found guilty. But a High Court judge overturned the decision last week. “There was, in truth, no case to answer,” he said.
- As mentioned above, we launched our Policy Primary – a chance for our movement to collectively decide our platform for Labour Conference 2021. For more information on how you can get involved, click here.
- The first round of the Future Councillors’ Programme is complete. We delivered 13 sessions, from speechwriting to running a selection, to around 100 participants over the course of the programme. Keep your eyes peeled for the second round coming up this year.
- Read NCG and Grassroots Voice NEC member Mish Rahman’s Labour List article on a concerning paper passed by the NEC on ‘High Quality Candidates’.
- For a full summary of all that the Grassroots Voice 5 have been up to since their election, read the first NEC report back here.
- Join our next report back from the NEC on Saturday 13 February at 3pm, where we will be joined by Youth rep Lara McNeill and CLP rep Yasmine Dar. Set yourself a reminder to join the stream, here.
- We are holding a meeting for members interested in contributing to our process for deciding rule changes for Conference. The meeting is at 6pm-7.30pm on Monday 8 February (tonight). Click here for the registration link.
- For the first time in decades, Women’s Conference will elect a Women’s Committee. If you are committed to promoting a socialist and feminist agenda, and to opposing all forms of discrimination, including a commitment to trans rights and gender self identification, then click here to see how to apply.
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.
Each issue we interview a Momentum member, digging a little deeper into their political history and what motivated them to get involved in political organising. This month we talked to Aleem Bashir, 27, Secretary of Bradford Momentum.
When were you first politicised?
My first ever political position was won in a by-election to become year rep in Year 6. One of my first protests was in the year 6 cloakroom demanding more flapjacks in the school tuck shop! Throughout secondary school I attended various anti-war and anti-fascist marches. At university I became Treasurer/Vice-President for the Islamic Theology Society and later became Union Affairs Officer at the University of Bradford Union of Students. This was a turning point for me and gave me the motivation to become more active in local and national politics.
What books/thinkers have you read that have influenced you?
One of my favourite books when I was young was Steven Gerrard’s biography. I found it really inspiring how in his early years he nearly had his toe amputated yet went one to become one of England’s footballing legends. I am a firm believer everything happens for a reason and that without difficulty there is no success.
I spent a year at Park Lane college for my A levels. I studied Sociology and Psychology and these subjects had a massive impact on my thinking of society. Milgram’s study of obedience made me more aware of how people with authority can abuse their power for their own interests. I don’t agree with everything he says, but the way Louis Althusser explains how the ideological state apparatus works to support the status quo really hit home. It gave me the understanding that to change society you must change the institutions that make society what it is.
What made you join Labour in 2015?
I heard rumours that the Labour Party was taking a change of direction putting the grassroots first. My family and extended family have always voted Labour. We were always told of how Labour supported the workers throughout the ‘80s and how it introduced the welfare state and the National Health Service. I knew if I ever did join a party it would be Labour.
What pushed me to join was Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign and eventually him becoming leader. I found it astonishing how a decent, down to earth, humble individual could become leader of the main opposition party. This gave me hope for a better future, after having been stung with 9k tuition fees, the academisation of schools in my area and cuts to local council budgets that were attacking the heart of society. At this point I was optimistic that change was around the corner and I wanted to be part of the movement.
For this month’s issue we spoke to Sam Foster from Southwark Momentum. He talked us through the group’s beginnings, why activity started to trail off during the Corbyn years and how the refoundation process is galvanising Momentum members in the area to get organised once again.
How did it start?
It was quite an exciting time – people were flooding in to some very busy meetings. What was definitely evident was the presence of enthused younger, perhaps more inexperienced activists, of which I was one, joining with this older coterie of people who might have been socialists in the Labour Party for a long time, or socialist activists who had been kind of reactivated or energised by Momentum stuff.
That kind of coalition definitely presented some barriers, I think, for someone like myself, because I had not had that much experience of political activism or political meetings. You went along and it was kind of dominated by the older comrades who were immediately taking votes and picking people as delegates to committees and stuff. I didn’t really know what was going on at first!
But it was really good to get to know other socialists near me. And it meant I felt comfortable going to Labour Party meetings which was really important.
But then the group gradually began to kind of wound down in activity. It was very heavily represented by members from Camberwell and Peckham, one of the three CLPs in the borough. And they were very successful at taking over their CLP. So after they’d done that a lot of the people who were most active within Momentum became officers of their CLP, taking over a lot of their time. And by the time I got on to the Momentum committee, in 2018, it was definitely just a smaller and less active body.
How did the refoundation come about?
It kind of came partly out of the Forward Momentum campaign last summer. I was a bit involved in that campaign myself, and definitely found that when they had those meetings with Momentum members to kind of discuss how they felt about Momentum or kind of general conversations about what their priorities should be, a lot of people felt basically felt the same. There was a consensus around how it would be good for it to change. And so it was obvious that there was the potential to still do a lot of great stuff.
After Corbyn, it wasn’t completely obvious that Momentum needed to exist – we kind of had to re-justify why it is needed. That includes at a local level. Because it might be an effective organisation for you know, making Facebook videos and you know, Twitter posts, and producing slates to go out via emails, but then it can do all of that without local groups existing. So there has to be this new process of justifying in principle why it should be there before you can even get to the point of actually recruiting people to join it and make it effective.
So, I think having that campaign process made it clear that there was still a lot of potential if it was member-led and doing real organising.
How did the meeting go?
We had over 50 people attend, which was more than we expected. We had the Streatham, MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy. Sonali Bhattacharya from Momentum’s NCG and James McCash, who’s a councillor in Southwark and also an activist with the National Education Union. So we had a national perspective, as well as a more local one. Then we split off into breakout rooms.
The aim of the meeting was to generate some activity and get some projects going that would be the priorities for Southwark Momentum going forward. We ended up with these seven different areas, which is quite a lot. And we just let people join the breakout room that they felt most interested in. So we had these discussions and then after that, we had some feedback from each group, and then voted on which of the areas we wanted to prioritise. It was quite important that the meeting was angled towards coming up with concrete objectives and practical steps for specific things to get done next. We wanted our meeting to end with people having made some commitments and to come away thinking about what they can actually do.
So the breakout rooms were: we had one to discuss the mutual aid groups and solidarity funds we have popping up locally, and we discussed how Momentum might be involved in them and how we can organise to assist them. We had another group on the NEU’s campaign and trade union involvement; a group on local government and councillor selections; one on the Green New Deal and climate change; one on the zero COVID campaign; another one on housing and rent strike campaigns. And then finally, one about socialism within the Labour Party and how to respond to the mass suspension of members and so on.
Are people feeling encouraged?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s something that’s been very, very pleasing. Because it’s exactly what I was hoping would happen and has happened. We’ve been seeing a bunch of new faces pop up, with people really keen to be involved. And a lot of activity on these groups are people discussing ideas, what they want to do, and people getting in touch to say, I’ve just moved to the area or, you know, I’m really keen to do things that are coming up. It definitely feels like there’s been an infusion of enthusiasm.
‘A tsunami is coming… unless we act’
How a Momentum campaign is building for the end of the eviction ban
Perhaps the most stark indicator of the economic scarring the pandemic has left in its wake is the scale of the eviction crisis that lurks just weeks in the future.
Back in August, Shelter reported that 300,000 renters in the UK had been left in arrears, unable to pay their rent due to either being laid off or ineligible for a government support scheme. That number has now skyrocketed to 840,000.
And in spite of the government’s eviction ban, 70,000 households have already been made homeless during the pandemic – either falling prey to an illegal eviction or leaving after pressure from a landlord – despite the insistence of both Boris Johnson and housing minister Robert Jenrick that no one would lose their home.
With the eviction ban lifting on 21 February in England, and the end of March in Scotland and Wales, what can be done to stop tens – if not hundreds – of thousands more people being pushed out of their homes either on to the street or into temporary accommodation?
Tenants’ unions are undoubtedly part of the answer and have grown significantly over the last decade. Acorn has groups in most major cities and some towns in England and Wales; the London Renters Union has three branches across the capital; while Living Rent has branches across Scotland.
It’s easy to see why they are needed: the rental sector has grown dramatically over the last thirty years as Thatcher’s right to buy precipitated a drop off in social housing and a boom in buy to let landlords. Coupled with the fact that renters rights are pitiful – unsurprising when landlords are heavily represented in government – it’s encouraging that renters are finally getting organised.
But what do tenants’ unions do? Much of their work revolves around educating members and the wider community on their rights as renters, campaigning for legislative change but also using people-power to resist unfair evictions and bad landlord/letting agent practices. Strength in numbers can be important when bailiffs are involved.
Aisling Murray, 26, is an active member of both Acorn Brighton and Brighton & Hove Momentum – and an organiser in the Action Group local Momentum members have set up in the city to support tenants unions with the looming eviction crisis.
When the ban on bailiff evictions is lifted at the end of February, with evictions predicted to reach a peak by mid-April, she is prepared for the worst. “With nearly a million people in rent debt, we expect a massive wave,” says Murray. The plan – and one that will be replicated by other Momentum Action Groups – is to mobilise Momentum members to support the work of tenants’ unions in resisting evictions.
“Tenants’ unions already do great work,” she says. “But the sheer scale of the crisis means there will need to be lots of us to protect people from being turfed out of their homes.”
Since the beginning of the campaign in September, 35 Action Groups have been set up across the country – with some already being called into action. Lewisham Eviction Resistance recently joined forces with their local London Renters Union branch to block an eviction in south London. Hopefully it will be the first of many successful actions.
With the eviction crisis fast approaching, the groups are readying themselves for the fight. But there is more to the campaign than supporting tenants’ unions with eviction resistance. The one policy change that could all but erase the crisis in a heartbeat is the forgiveness of rent debt.
Che Spencer Pote, 22, an activist involved in setting up an Action Group in Liverpool, believes the choice the government is faced with is obvious: “The government cancels rent debt or we’re faced with a mass wave of evictions. That’s the reality.”
So what to do? In Brighton, Aisling Murray and other Eviction Resistance activists are preparing a motion that urges the Labour Party to demand the government writes off rental arrears accrued over the pandemic – and calls on the CLP to actively support the work of the local tenants’ union. In a branch meeting in Lewisham earlier this week, a similar motion was voted down by the right of the Party. Local activists have collected the counter arguments and are in the process of sharing them with other groups across the country.
But there are also plans in the works for bigger political interventions to pressure billionaire landlords and the government into forgiving rent debt.
“The Tories are going to use the rhetoric, oh we can’t write off rent because landlords are just people who have one extra home and are renting it out,” says Murray. “But actually lots of the poorest housing in the UK is owned by corporate multimillionaire landlords.”
“If you analyse the real estate market from the top down, which is what our research team have done, you can see who the biggest players are,” says Charlie Macnamara, 26, a Momentum member volunteering with the campaign team. “And you can see loads of these people have regular dinners with Tory ministers and have a lot of influence. These people are currently lobbying for evictions to be back on the table.”
The plan, then, is to specifically target the big corporate landlords with the aim of having a knock on effect on government policy. But what kind of actions are we talking here?
“We want to target things that they care about and that we can meaningfully disrupt, such as a hotel chain owned by one of the biggest UK landlords with hotels in many cities where we have action groups,” says Macnamara. “There’ll be a mixture of spectacular protests that are designed to draw attention, and ones that maybe have a more direct disruptive element. As well as propaganda activity, such as distributing posters and flyers that name and shame these villains.”
In the three branches I spoke to – Brighton, Lewisham and Liverpool – exciting plans are being hatched. And for Aisling Murray, this kind of community-facing activism is exactly the thing that Momentum needs to be doing.
“I know people are feeling quite despairing because of the government’s mishandling of the pandemic,” says Murray. “But a campaign like this can really galvanise activists and have a real impact on people’s lives. The fight in the Party is important but looking outward and organising in our communities is going to be key for sustaining the left.”
Want to get involved? Go to our website to find your nearest Action Group, or for more information on how to set up your own.
CEO of Centrica
British gas workers are on strike. They’re fighting against an attempt to downgrade their working conditions through a “fire and rehire” process which would see their union-negotiated contracts terminated and workers rehired only if they accepted worse pay and conditions.
This naked attack on the rights of working people is being masterminded by this week’s winner of the coveted Richard Branson ‘Class Enemy of the Week’ award: Chris O’Shea. Chris is the CEO of British Gas parent company, Centrica, and he stands to make a £300,000 windfall from the increase in his shareholding if the “fire and rehire” goes ahead as planned.
Despite the fact that he’s already earning close to a million pounds a year and Centrica reported a pre-tax operating profit of £901m in 2019, that isn’t good enough for Chris. Oh no – his dedication to the greed and malice that characterises the boss class demands that he goes one step further, and screws his workers over just one more time. That profound commitment to the profit motive is what makes him so special.
If Chris O’Shea and Centrica can get away with this during a pandemic there will be a dangerous precedent set just as we enter a severe economic downturn. Go to GMB’s website to find out how you can support British Gas workers in this dispute.
Not long ago we at The World Transformed launched the first series of TWTFM, a magazine style podcast that brings together theory, history, culture and activism on a topical subject.
As a result of the economic downturn caused by Coronavirus, and the government’s haphazard response, we stand on the brink of mass joblessness. In this first episode of TWTFM, we unpack the function of unemployment under capitalism, hear from trade union organisers leading the fightback against redundancies, talk to disabled activists on their experience of the DWP, and discover how the left can push for a future beyond unemployment.
Subscribe now to get Series 2 in your feed as soon as it drops.
Looking to take some of these discussions further? Why not checkout our Disability 101 resource developed in collaboration with Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) and organise a discussion in your local group.
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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