This month we bring you news of the growing movement for a free Palestine, a Q&A with a comrade in Redcar and we dig a little deeper into a suprising Labour victory deep in the Tory heartlands. Enjoy.
Free Palestine. For the second week in a row, hundreds of thousands took to the streets across the country in solidarity with the Palestinian people. The brave Palestinian resistance to Israeli settlements – and the ensuing bombing campaign – as well as the solidarity with their cause across the globe has been extremely heartening. There really is a growing movement against the occupation. But we can’t take our foot off the pedal. Keep a look out for a demo happening near you. We need to keep the pressure up on both the Israeli state, as well as the British government which helps to fund the occupation. To read Momentum’s solidarity statement, click here.
The results are in. There’s no dressing it up. The 6 May elections were woeful for the Labour Party. We were thrashed in Hartlepool, did poorly in Scotland and haemorrhaged council seats to both the Tories and the Greens across the country. But there were some glimmers of hope. In Salford, the radical Labour group under mayor Paul Dennett increased its vote share, even taking seats off the Tories. While in Preston, Matthew Brown’s Labour council – famous for the Preston Model – maintained its dominance by keeping its 30 council seats. We also saw Labour increase its number of councillors in Worthing and Falmouth, perhaps the beginnings of the Party chipping away at the ‘Blue Wall’… Read our special report below to see how they won in Worthing.
A big W. They’ve done it. In the longest bus strike in British history – a total of 82 days – drivers in Manchester have beaten back Go North West bosses, staving off an effort by the company to fire and rehire them. The workers have won: a commitment from the wider company to end fire and rehire practices; the reinstatement of two sacked workers and an above-inflation pay deal for two years. This is a massive moment for the wider movement and shows that the capitalist class’s efforts to rip up workers’ rights in the wake of the pandemic can be defeated. This should give confidence to workers across the country – while giving bosses considering fire and rehire second thoughts. There is power in a union.
Chile reborn. It’s the country that was used as a petri dish for neoliberalism under the brutal regime of Pinochet. But after elections last week that saw left-wing parties sweep the board, its constitution – a document that prohibited progressive reforms – will soon be re-written. This comes after a wave of anti-neoliberalism protests back in 2019 which forced the government of the time to call a referendum on the constitution. In October 2020, 78% of voters opted to draft a new document. Now, with right-wing parties falling well short of the one-third bloc it required to impede the reforms, the left-wing coalition has a clear shot at re-writing the constitution. There are socialist forces winning across the globe, comrades.
• In the wake of the massive Palestinian demonstrations against settlements in Eastern Jerusalem, Momentum released this statement of solidarity.
• As part of our new strategy, we’ve set out a commitment to support every Momentum member to get active in their trade union and linked up with trade union organisers across the country – sharing strategies to win in the workplace and build working class power. Sign up for our launch event, tomorrow at 6.30pm, here.
• On 6 May, a new wave of socialist councillors were elected and will now be fighting for progressive change in local government. We are relaunching our Future Councillors’ Programme to support activists who want to join them in the future. The deadline is tomorrow (27/5). Apply here.
• The deadline for our Leo Panitch Development Programme has passed. We’ve had lots of brilliant applications and can’t wait to get started. To understand more about Leo’s thinking, and how it’s inspired the programme, watch this fascinating event with Hilary Wainwright, Sam Gindin, Max Shanly, Bhaskar Sunkara and our co-chair Gaya Sriskanthan.
• Want to hear about how Ellen Morrison has been fighting for the interests of disabled members on the NEC? Join our NEC report back on Saturday with Ellen and Mish Rahman. (For a sneak peak of Mish’s report, read his thread here). To sign up to the Zoom, click here. There will be a British Sign Language interpretation throughout, and subtitles.
• The NEC Development Fund is a Labour Party scheme to give financial support for specific CLP projects. We encourage CLP officers to apply. If you have any questions on how to put a good bid in on behalf of your CLP – deadline 27 August – please contact Rachel.
• Some of our comrades in the trade union movement have launched the fantastic Strike Map. Join them and American author Robert Ovetz on 7 June to discuss Strike Threats – the book that inspired the project.
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 month we talk to Sheila Argument, 63, a Momentum member in Redcar and secretary of Redcar Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland Momentum.
She tells us about becoming a Labour member during the miners’ strike, what it was like being a woman in the Party in the 1980s, and how Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to the leadership provoked a backlash in her CLP.
What politicised you?
It was the miners’ strike. Before that I wasn’t political at all. It coincided with meeting my husband who’d been in unions and involved in the Campaign for Nuclear disarmament. If you remember the miners’ strike in Britain was at the same time as a miners’ strike in Poland; so there was Arthur Scargill leading the strike here and Lech Walesa in Poland.
All my husband did was say to me just listen to the news and how they’re describing things. And of course the Polish miners were depicted as freedom-fighting heroes who were looking for better conditions, while Arthur Scargill was supposedly trying to bring the country down. And actually they were the same thing. That’s when I had a lightbulb moment. I thought, “I’m being scammed here.”
How did you get active? What effect did it have on you personally?
I joined the Labour Party in 1984 and have been involved ever since. Those were the days when they came knocking on your door for your subs. But they were also the days when there weren’t as many women in the Party. This is absolutely no joke but my job was to put names and addresses on envelopes, because getting involved in writing posters or writing leaflets was what the men were trusted with (laughs).
Being involved gave me confidence in all facets of my life. Going into meetings and actually talking in meetings really boosted me. I was seeing things around me and thinking, “That is not equal, that’s not fair, that’s not right” – and the Party gave me an outlet to try and put it right.
It made me a better, broader person. I’m probably one of the only Labour activists you’ll find who will admit to have voted for Margaret Thatcher. But being involved in the Party made me actually care about other people rather than just selfishly carry on, in a well-I’m-alright-Jack kind of way.
What effect did Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader have on the politics of your local Labour Party?
When Corbyn became leader it absolutely brought an injection of hope for lots of us. But then for some others in our local Labour Party it absolutely twisted them. These are people, bear in mind, that we’d been friends with for 40 years, and they turned their backs on us. They just couldn’t see the policies for what they were and lots of us were ousted from our positions within our branches.
I’ve been at branch meetings in the past where people have nearly ripped each other’s throats out because of disagreements – debates over Clause IV being an example. But then we would all come out and go to the pub.
That doesn’t happen now. It can get really personal, nasty and vindictive. We had some situations where new members were fed things about people on the left of the CLP like myself, to the point where people have been introduced to me and said to my face on quite a few occasions, “Oh, you’re her!” There was an indoctrination of sorts against anybody that supported Jeremy Corbyn.
That culture still remains today but we’ve got to counteract that somehow. This is where being an old member and experienced activist comes in handy. You look for ways of getting around these things. Luckily we have our newly reactivated Redcar Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland Momentum where we can discuss how to fight back.
This month we speak to Imogen Tranchell of Hammersmith & Fulham/Kensington & Chelsea Momentum, a newly joined up group that combines two London constituencies.
We talk about how their group is finding the post-Corbyn era, the excitement of meeting Momentum comrades from across the country, and she gives tips on how to organise in your own Momentum group.
How has being in Momentum changed since the 2019 election defeat?
I think it is quite interesting because we’ve really had to refocus. Essentially we were about defending the Corbyn leadership, which was important in hostile CLPs like ours, where bizarrely they wouldn’t even mention Jeremy by name.
It was quite important that sort of thing but it was very defensive. It meant it was quite difficult to organise people because people on the left were so wounded by the hostility they came across. But we’re now in the position where we’re able to be proactive.
So, for example, in our group we’ve set up our Eviction Resistance action group which we’re building. We’ve done bits and pieces of actions against specific landlords, we’ve been educating ourselves on housing as an issue, and we’ve been applying political pressure in our CLPs to get councillors and the local MP to support renters rights.
As chair of my ward I bring it up with councillors all the time – and actually this morning had a really pleasing reply on the work they’ve been doing as a result of our pressure.
You are chair of your local Momentum group. How has it been attending meetings with other roleholders across the country?
I find them such a tonic. My goodness, it’s been brilliant. This year has just been so hard in terms of the pandemic, but also in terms of Starmer and the Labour Party. It’s just been relentlessly shit, isn’t it? To be honest it’s nice to have things that remind you what we’re fighting for, but also that there’s a lot of us.
Quite often when I’m in my ward meetings or my Momentum meetings I remind people that we haven’t just disappeared, just because Corbyn stepped down. The left of the Party still exist as human beings! The people who believe in social justice and socialism, they still exist in their hundreds of thousands, if not their millions!
That’s why I find it a tonic when we have people from Newcastle and Liverpoool and Wales in these roleholder calls and I can see all their faces and hear their stories. It gives me a lift and makes me feel like, ‘Yes, we are still here.” Now we have to make some noise!
What advice would you give to other Momentum groups?
I would say, look at what you’ve got, and play to your strengths. Don’t try and impose something that’s not there. It’s also important to make links. That’s been important in terms of how we’ve thought about the housing stuff as well.
We’ve had to bridge the gap generationally – because a lot of the people who were involved in the eviction resistance are very young and I’m quite old. And it’s really important to join up with the campaigning efforts of housing groups that have been doing it for decades rather than reinventing the wheel.
The only way that we have an effect is if we recognise our numbers. Being in little groups that don’t acknowledge other groups that share the same demands is ludicrous. It’s also really important that we link up with unions. We always make sure to remind our members to join a union!
‘Community organising: that’s how we did it’
How Worthing went red in the May elections
As results began to be totted up and announced at polling stations across the country, the scale of Labour’s defeat in May’s local and devolved elections began to take shape. The loss of over 300 council seats, Hartlepool gone to the Tories, Labour’s vote share in Scotland down by 1% – they did not make for pretty reading.
But there were also successes to point to. In Wales, Labour under Mark Drakeford increased its vote share by 5%, holding onto its 30 seats in the Senedd. Andy Burnham increased his vote share in the Greater Manchester mayoral race after promising to take the buses into public ownership, and in Preston and Salford, radical Labour councils bucked the nationwide trend to hold on and increase their number of councillors, respectively.
Perhaps more surprisingly, there were even gains for Labour in the south – what psephologists are calling the ‘Blue Wall’. Down in Cornwall, in the town of Falmouth, Labour now has a majority on the town council, with ten out of 16 town councillors coming from the Labour Party.
In Tunbridge Wells in Kent, Labour increased its vote share, adding five councillors and helping deprive the Tories of a majority. But perhaps the most interesting case is Worthing, where Labour won a whopping 15% vote share increase, and five extra councillors. Why are, albeit small, parts of the Tory heartlands turning to Labour?
Prior to 6 May, Margaret Howard – an ex-teacher who moved to the area from London in 2014 – was one of few Labour representatives on Worthing borough council. Elected in 2018, she joined the Party back in 2015 when Jeremy Corbyn became leader and quickly became heavily involved in local Momentum and Labour activism.
Howard is pretty clear on why Labour is doing well in Worthing: prospective councillors’ tireless community work. This was epitomised by the herculean mutual aid efforts during the lockdowns of the past year, which included taking over the running of two local food banks when volunteers were forced to quarantine.
Three of the biggest mutual aid groups were in Gaisford, Selden and her own ward of Broadwater – all three Labour gains, with two of them now completely red.
“I just put up a Facebook page to try and get together with people to help those who needed it, and then the other wards followed suit,” says Howard. “We then launched a campaign to try and get leaflets to everybody in Bridgewater and volunteers matched up with roads. We also did lots of prescriptions and shopping and it just got bigger and bigger.”
Their work didn’t go unnoticed – and Howard says there was one particular mix of kindness and good organisation that caught the imagination of the local community. “We put a callout for a woman who was moving from temporary accommodation into a council property,” she says. “We managed to arrange for various bits of furniture to be picked up from eight different locations for her to have by the time she moved in.”
Howard insists that the fact the mutual aid efforts weren’t seen as a “Labour thing” helped the groups blossom. But how did the mutual aid work contribute to their electoral success?
“We have been seen to be actively supporting and giving up all of our time to do this stuff,” says Howard. “All the while making sure not to make it about Labour and elections. It paid off.” Meanwhile, local Tories have been visiting food banks for a photo opportunity. “I could punch them!”, she says, laughing.
It would be remiss not to recognise that Howard and her comrades’ local activism extends back far beyond the pandemic. They’ve always been a community-minded team, outward facing and looking to use the Labour Party’s resources to reach local people and involve them in politics.
“We ran all sorts of community activities that weren’t ostensibly about Labour – talks, community teas, fundraisers – but it was all Labour people running it,” she says. “And then lots of other people came as well, because they wanted to join in the fun.”
The lesson from Worthing is that deep and sustained community organising as a strategy has proven electoral gains – and can further chip away at the ‘Blue Wall’. But is that the whole picture?
Part of the story of Labour’s fledgling success in places like Worthing is the changing demographics. Rising house prices in London and Brighton has led to younger voters moving to seaside towns such as Worthing and nearby Shoreham. This trend is likely to continue as the young are forced to move out to satellite towns outside of cities to be able to afford their own place.
But will younger Labour voters eking out into blue constituencies make up for the crumbling of the ‘Red Wall’? No, not at the current rate. Any smart Labour strategy means a message and an offer that appeals to the ex-industrial North, its current strongholds in major cities, as well as its emerging electoral base in the ‘Blue Wall’.
A socialist Labour Party with a transformative programme that appeals across this coalition – alongside the kinds of community organising work of Margaret Howard and her comrades in Worthing – is how we do it.
If we compare these results to Jeremy Corbyn’s first local elections (in 2016), we can see that Starmer performed massively worse than Corbyn in terms of seats lost, councils lost and votes won.
Starmer’s net approval with YouGov is now -48.
Looking back over the past twenty years, we can see that Labour’s vote share has declined steadily since 2000, with 2017-2019 an exception. Miliband and Starmer also had poll bounces upon becoming leader.
CEO of Elbit Systems
There are many horrors perpetrated by capitalist industry, none more so than the death profiteering carried out by the arms trade. This week we are awarding the Class Enemy Award to someone intimately connected to this horror – Bezahalel Machlis, President and CEO of Elbit Systems.
Elbit Systems is an arms company with nine locations spread across the UK – one of which, in Leicester, is currently being occupied by activists, halting production of arms bound for Israel following Israeli forces’ latest attack on Sheikh Jarrah and subsequent bombing of Gaza.
Amongst the products produced by Elbit is the chemical weapon white phosphorus, as well as the drones used to bomb Palestinians and to monitor migrants crossing the channel – a good reminder that our struggles are global and inexorably linked.
Solidarity to the courageous activists occupying Elbit’s factory and everyone involved in the fight for a free Palestine.
Spas, saunas and bathhouses may not seem to be the most obvious leisure spaces for the left to be fighting for. For many, they bear association with luxury and decadence. But this impression misses a rich and complex history of bathhouse culture, one that is imbued with a democratic and communal spirit. The TWT FM team explored this history in the latest episode in their ‘Leisure’ podcast series. You can listen here.
Remember to subscribe so you get the next episode in your feed, and if you like it please share with comrades…
**🎉 **#TWT21 is coming!🎉
The World Transformed has just announced that we are planning to be back in Brighton this September for their first in-person festival since 2019, for four days of panels, workshops, games, parties and more. This is not one to be missed! From COVID-19 to climate change, now more than ever our movement needs to come together to strategise and plan for the struggles and victories ahead.
Demand for this year’s festival will be high, and spaces limited, so TWT has launched a limited pre-sale which you can sign up to here, to ensure you’re first to get your tickets when they are released.
You can also register your interest in volunteering at the festival here – the team are particularly keen to hear from Brighton based comrades this year!
And finally, be sure to follow @theworldtransformed on Instagram for your daily dose of political education and updates on more of the team’s work.
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