August 02, 2021

Hello comrades,

This month we bring you news of Labour expulsions, a Q&A with the creators of a new Momentum podcast in Nottingham and we dissect the control-freakery on show at London Labour Conference. Enjoy. 

Booted out. What with the consistent poll deficit with the Tories, you’d think there would be more important things to focus on. But last week Starmer took the decision to expel members from Socialist Appeal, Labour Against the Witchhunt, Labour in Exile Network and Resist. Momentum’s position is clear: if individual members fall short of the anti-racist standards that we should set as a Party then they should be expelled. But being automatically expelled just for associating with one of these groups is highly undemocratic. Read our full statement here.

End the blockade. Cuba suffers shortages of basic goods leading to protests in Havana. Then, like clockwork, many in the press use it to try and prove socialism ‘doesn’t work’. But as Helen Yaffe points out in her piece for Novara Media, US sanctions have greatly hindered the Cuban government’s capacity to import ‘medical ventilators, spare parts, syringes, medicines and… raw materials, food and fuel.’ So the US state helps to directly create a situation which leads to unrest, and then blames the Cuban government for it. See how it works?

London Labour Conference. After a couple of days of policy motions – with most Corbynite-era policies such as free broadband being passed overwhelmingly – the regional executive elections culminating the weekend were less successful for the left. Thirteen out of 14 positions became 3 out of 16 – a large reversal but one that perhaps doesn’t give an accurate reflection of the level of support the left still has. First Past the Post is a winner takes all system, after all. Unsurprisingly, as has been the case in the Starmer era, the weekend was topped off by a bit of a bureaucratic control-freakery. For more on the what happened, read our report below.

• The Momentum Racial Justice Programme launched last Wednesday and is a political education initiative open to all Momentum members that will ensure we put anti-racism at the heart of our organising. Want to get involved in helping to organise the programme? Click here.
• Momentum is refounding – and we need you to play your part. We are setting up two assemblies that over the coming months will help decide the future of our organisation. For more information on how it will work, and how to volunteer to put your name forward, click here.
• We have now launched Momentum Community! An online space where you can chat and organise with fellow activists and activists-to-be. It’s built on top of the older volunteer Slack, so if you ever signed up to that during the General Election or since, you’re already a member – just log back in! Otherwise, you can sign up here.
• Did you read the first issue of the Educator? If not check your inbox and have a go! It’s our new monthly political education bulletin and was followed up by a great participatory call with TWT and the author of the piece Lewis Bassett. This is now a monthly offering covering a range of interesting topics.
• We have now completed the Future Councillors’ Programme for the second year running! Over 80 socialist activists from across the country took part in an 8 week programme covering councillor selection procedures, organising skills, and public speaking. We will be running the programme once again next year so watch this space.
• The Labour leadership is focused on factional control rather than taking on the Tories. That’s why we have to organise to defend member democracy at Conference this year. Our opponents have big money donors – but we have a movement. From Monday we’ll be launching a fundraising drive to raise £20k by Conference. Want to chip in? Donate 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.

The comrades in Notts Momentum have started the very first local group podcast. Hosted by Aron, Duncan, Sam and Sinan and produced by Adam, the podcast covers issues and stories that are being discussed by the online left.

Why did you start the podcast?

We’re keen to do things as a local group that engage our members. Recording podcasts has allowed a group of us to come together and create political content from our own perspective.

What was your favourite episode to record?

In May we spoke to Rory Maclean from the Momentum National Coordinating Group about drug policy reform. He spoke passionately about how the drugs policy of successive governments have failed people in this country and what should be done to improve things.

Any tips for other Momentum groups putting out their own media?

Don’t let a lack of prior experience of creating content hold you back from doing it. Many of the skills required for creating content can be learned as you go along.

Why are podcasts a good format?

Podcasts are easy to make and if you’ve already got a laptop, you can record a podcast with minimal expense. Podcasts are easy for people to access on their smartphones and they can engage with the content whilst doing other things like travelling to work or exercising.

Where can people listen to it?

Our podcast is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. Just search Notts Momentum and you’ll be able to find it.

This month we speak to Alice Bennet, a co-chair of Liverpool Momentum.

We talk about their activity over Covid, the Blairite fightback in local CLPs, and why Liverpool has its reputation as a radical city.

What has Liverpool Momentum been up to during Covid?

We always make sure that we’re well represented at the local picket line. So our last one was Friday with RMT for the cleaners on Mersey Rail, who are still being paid less than the minimum wage while the chief operating officer has just been offered a million pound bonus. We’ve attended similar pickets in recent months over worker struggles with DHL and British Gas, and we’ve been at pro-Palestine protests, NHS rallies and a big demo organised in solidarity with the LGBT+ community after a homophobic attack in the city.

I think it helps that our NCG reps, Alan Gibbons and Tracy Hylton always attend every picket line or protest in the city! We love going down to show our solidarity but also to catch up with comrades and friends. Our members are also active in the Grenfell remembrance which is the 14th of every month and has been going non-stop since the Grenfell tragedy four years ago.

How does Momentum fare in local CLPs?

Walton – which is Alan Gibbons’ constituency – is staunchly left-wing. But yes there has been a Labour right resurgence across the city. I’m in Garston, where we as an exec worked really hard to build bridges across the CLP. We are the most at-risk of losing to the Tories so it’s important we campaigned together. Maria Eagle was never a friend of Corbyn, but she can’t deny the fact that we’ve been out there doing lots of work and being really good foot soldiers. However, at our AGM I was voted back in but unfortunately some of our left exec members lost.

Why is Liverpool such a radical city?

it’s such an interesting question. If I knew the answer, that would be the formula wouldn’t it? The spirit of the people is really important to how we do politics. It’s a very vibrant, multicultural city. We’ve had the history of the 1981 uprising, what people call the Toxteth riots. So we’ve got a history of oppression, and of rising up and fighting for our rights and the rights of others.

That, coupled with Hillsborough, which is a really important political moment in Liverpool, and then with the Sun newspaper, doing what it did, and then the paper being pretty much banned from Merseyside. That has really helped to to diminish propaganda from the right wing press.

Control-freakery in the Capital
A report from London Labour Conference 2021

London Labour Conference was contentious before the weekend itself had even begun. The event had been due to take place in November which, Covid-permitting, would have meant an in-person Conference.

But Regional Office didn’t like the idea, forcing it through at the end of July instead, creating more work for Conference Arrangement volunteers and Party staff, and at a time that clashes with school holidays. Why?

As we have seen recently in CLPs in Bristol, video calls run by regional offices have offered bureaucrats a form of control over the proceedings of meetings that can’t be replicated at in-person events.

There are fewer opportunities for dissent when someone can be muted or ejected with the click of a button – and these functions were put to good use during the Sunday of the Conference.

By moving the Conference months earlier, and thus the election of the Regional Executive Committee (REC) – whose job it is to elect appeals panels – the Labour right wanted to ensure it can block left-wing candidates in upcoming councillor selections. Cynical, yes. Surprising? No.

Although the main event was the vote for the REC, most of the Conference was spent voting on policy motions.

The ‘Just Transition’ motion demanding Labour authorities develop an action plan to transition away from carbon-intensive practices and industries was passed despite Unite and GMB abstaining; the CWU’s motion which included a commitment to roll out high quality free broadband under public ownership was carried overwhelmingly and there was fierce opposition to Sadiq Khan’s Silvertown Tunnel with 74% of delegates voting against the proposed project.

As Michael Calderbank noted in his summary of the weekend for Labour Hub, ‘at the level of policy, it was remarkable how little opposition was offered to the general radical thrust of Corbyn-era thinking’.

The results of the REC elections were less successful for the left, however. From 13 out of 14 delegates last time the elections were held, to now 3 out of 16 positions (there are now two extra positions on the committee). It’s a bad loss, albeit perhaps not all that surprising considering this is the first REC election since the Party’s defeat in 2019.

Maintaining our dominance was always going to be difficult in those circumstances, but it’s important to remember that the votes were tightly contested.
Unfortunately, losing marginally, however small the deficit, doesn’t bring any rewards in a winner-takes-all First Past the Post system. But three out of 16 positions does not adequately reflect the power we have amongst the membership in the Party.

The best moment for those on the left came right at the end of the Conference with a rousing speech from Kathryn Johnson, the outgoing Conference Arrangements Chair. Up until that point the regional office had managed to skirt around the topic of the poor state of internal democracy in the Party.

“To see the Labour Party proscribing Labour groups, gagging its own members and Party units and preventing discussion on our own affairs leaves people – and not just members – astonished,” said Johnson. “If the Labour Party does not stand for freedom of expression there is no wonder people don’t know what we stand for.”

It was a welcome contribution – although one that was ironically terminated before she could finish as the regional office ended the call early, with Johnson’s last line being: ‘We can’t just despair, members can’t give up…’.

Earlier this week, I caught up with Johnson. Conference Arrangements Chair speeches are normally meant to be procedural. Why did she decide to make the speech?

“I had an opportunity and what is happening in the party is very important and very serious,” she said.

“I have concerns about party units being told they cannot talk about various elements of party business. I’m concerned that we are proscribing organisations when our membership is declining. We should be building the Party! We are a broad church – and these fundamentals of the labour movement are being undermined.”

There is something ‘deliciously ironic’ she says in being shut down like that during a speech about the lack of internal democracy in the Party.

“The fact that they muted me when I was talking about how the silencing of members has undermined Labour values is extraordinary!”

At the start of July, Labour won the Batley and Spen by-election by 323 votes. The victory by Kim Leadbeater, in a seat that Labour won twice under Corbyn, has been trumpeted as a win for Keir Starmer and for his strategy.

Yet the by-election, far from being a glorious triumph, was instead simply a case of narrowly averted disaster. Labour’s share of the vote in Batley and Spen – 35% – was the Party’s lowest ever vote share in the seat, even lower than in 2019 (43%), 2010 (42%) and 1983 (38%).

Far from being down to Starmer’s popularity, Leadbeater’s narrow victory was achieved in spite of a leader who is widely disliked in the constituency.

Polling by Survation showed that the Labour Leader has a net favourability rating of -32 in Batley and Spen. For comparison, the Labour Party’s net favourability in the seat is -17.

Finally, it should be pointed out that Batley and Spen is a seat that Labour would win even if it lost the next general election by 18 points.

Winning the seat is the bare minimum that Labour would need to achieve to even be close to matching the 2019 general election result, and in this instance there was a 2.9% swing to the Conservatives. If this swing was repeated across the country, Labour would win just 177 seats nationwide (-25).

In short, Labour owes its victory in Batley and Spen far more to Kim Leadbeater than it does to Keir Starmer – and even then, the victory was simply the bare minimum that we should expect. It most definitely doesn’t indicate that “Labour’s coming home”.

Ayn Rand
Author of ‘Atlas Shrugged’ and right-wing icon

Imagine the worst person you know. Now imagine if their behaviour was made into an entire philosophy. There you have the work of infamous promoter of selfishness Ayn Rand, and her philosophy ‘objectivism’.

Rand is perhaps most notable for writing some comically bad capitalist parables about heroic individualists fighting back against collectivist systems built to thwart their talents. As you can imagine these are tales beloved of right-wingers around the world who use it as a justification for their own profit-seeking behaviour. In the US, where individualism is akin to a religion, it is the second best-selling book of all time after the Bible.

But why is Ayn Rand this week’s Class Enemy? Well it turns out our new Health Secretary Sajid Javid is a fan. Senior Tories love to believe that their success is purely down to their own brilliance, and Javid’s recent comment that Britains should no longer “cower” from Covid-19 is exactly the sort of unhinged ‘every-man-for-himself’ individualism that you’d expect from a Randian. It’s also the last thing you want to hear from the person running a socialised, free-at-the-point-of-use healthcare system under threat from private healthcare companies.

Back to Ayn Rand’s work. As well as railing against collectivism all of her life, only to cultivate a cult-like collective of devoted followers; bemoaning poor people’s dependence on government social security only to ask for welfare assistance after losing her fortune; she also held deeply racist views towards America’s indigenous peoples who she described as “savages”. Imagine her being your idol?

So congratulations Ayn Rand on this week’s Class Enemy of the Week. You’re our first winner from beyond the grave, and boy do you deserve it!

During the pandemic, we’ve seen campaigners arguing for the “right to holiday”; now, as we finally begin to open up, we see the complications of permitting limited international travel as the pandemic continues to devastate other countries.

The aesthetics of holidays are bound by class; from the gentrification and dispossession that tourism and holiday home ownership can engender, to the extreme indulgences of luxury travel. All this gave us at TWT cause to reflect on the psychic and political framing of holidaying. Listen to our TWTFM podcast on holidays here.
Remember to subscribe so you get the next episode in your feed, and if you like it please share with comrades…

Transform your work

Understanding your workplace is a key step in the journey towards changing it. The Transform Your Work toolkit is a collection of approaches, step-by-step guides and historical examples of worker organising. You can use these tools to create knowledge about your own work, power hierarchies, class relations, and capitalism more broadly, all from your own perspective. The goal is not just to describe your working conditions, but ultimately to transform them.

Watch the session with TWT, Autonomy and Common Knowledge back here to find out more about workers’ enquiry 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.

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.

 

In solidarity,

 

Casper

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