Leadership meets at last
Yassamine Mather reports on the first meeting of the LU national council
The first meeting of Left Unity’s national council, to which I was elected in March, was held on Saturday June 7 and Sunday June 8.
According to the constitution passed in November 2013, this council should meet at least four times a year to lead and manage the organisational and financial affairs of the party between national conferences. The same constitution stipulates that this council should consist of 66 elected members: 50 regional representatives, the four nationally elected principal speakers and 15 nationally elected council members, the six elected office-holders, and one representative from each of the following sections: youth/students, LGBT, Black and Minority Ethnic, disabled members and women.
It is difficult to imagine how the comrades who drafted the constitution expected a committee of 66 members to lead and manage organisational and financial affairs once every three months, and inevitably a number of key decisions have to be made by sub-committees. There will also be an executive committee, made up of the office-holders and 10 regional representatives, which will be responsible for taking decisions in the three months between NC meetings. Nationally elected council members decided to opt for a rota to fill the EC posts - a mistake in my opinion, as it will lead to a lack of continuity.
My overall impression of the two-day meeting was that council members take their task seriously. Inevitably they are a mixed bag, but good points were raised and the politics expressed was better than I had expected - although a big problem is that, while many comrades are very good at campaigning, they shy away from proposing a socialist alternative to capitalism. However, the atmosphere was friendly and there was no attempt to stop anyone speaking. I was called to speak every time I raised my hand.
The meeting started with some confusion about standing orders. Can the meeting accept emergency motions? How many signatures are necessary for such motions? It was decided to take only those motions that were already on the agenda, but standing orders would be drawn up for future NC meetings.
One of the first items to be discussed was a motion by South Glasgow branch, which complained about a “Scottish aggregate” of LU members that took place on May 24 in Edinburgh. The motion claimed that the meeting had been improperly convened at short notice, yet had taken a decision to change LU’s policy on the forthcoming referendum on independence from neutrality to support for ‘yes’. It stated that the meeting was therefore “illegitimate”, was “essentially a factional manoeuvre”, and called on the NC to “convene a meeting of members in Scotland to elect a regional executive” and presumably revisit the referendum stance.
The meeting’s first vote was to decide whether to discuss this motion or to leave it to the disputes committee. Comrade Matthew Jones, who favours a ‘no’ in the referendum, spoke in defence of the motion, but the meeting voted to ask the disputes committee to examine the complaint. This is a complicated issue that required more details and more investigation and, despite some sympathy with the position of Glasgow South, I abstained in this vote.
National secretary Kate Hudson introduced the session on the European elections, in which she dealt with the rise of the far right and also the gains made by the radical left in some countries. She commented that the votes reflected hostility to austerity and also mentioned that LU has invited a speaker from Podemos in Spain to tour the UK.
In the discussion of this session I made a short contribution, reminding comrades that the economic crisis is being offloaded onto southern European states and this explains the north-south divide in terms of electoral results. I also reminded everyone that Syriza in Greece did not get where it is today overnight and pointed out that the victory of Podemos resulted from the severity of the economic crisis in Spain. A number of contributors talked of open borders and defended the progressive stance taken by LU on the right to free movement.
The meeting then heard a summary of UK election results. LU treasurer Andrew Burgin, who gave the report, commented that the left is wrong to say the UK Independence Party is just a media creation: support for Ukip is based on dissatisfaction with the current situation, but unfortunately we are witnessing a shift to the right.
In the discussion it was pointed out that Labour’s vote had held up and even increased in some areas and that it was a class-based vote. A number of comrades talked of the importance of long-term local work and warned against “parachuting in” candidates. In Exeter LU had stood in the local elections against the Greens, but had agreed an electoral pact with the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (by contrast, in the North West Euro constituency LU had called for a vote for the Greens to ‘keep out the British National Party’).
Most people agreed that LU should not stand against other leftwing groups and this was a condition set by the elections officer for the May elections. There was a proposal to hold a conference with other left groups to discuss plans for the 2015 elections.
The meeting heard a short report about the current economic situation, where everyone agreed on the disgraceful nature of the coalition government. The Tories’ recovery will only be “a recovery for the rich”. They will talk of a fall in unemployment, but they will not mention how they have tried to bring it about: through zero-hour contracts, low pay, self employment. While the cuts programme has been eased for election year, it will pick up again after 2015.
I made a short contribution about overaccumulation, underconsumption and the nature of the crisis, in the light of recent studies by non-Marxists such as Thomas Piketty.
The discussion on “strategy”, in terms of both campaigning and elections, has now been deferred to the manifesto sub-committee - although around 30 comrades spoke on this on the Sunday. Because time was so short they only had around two minutes each and they mainly focused on various campaigns. In my opinion the discussion was more about tactics rather than strategy.
Some comrades thought that LU should not be an “electoral party” like Tusc: it should be a “campaigning party”. Many emphasised the need to go beyond “local campaigns” and get involved in existing national campaigns, such as those against the bedroom tax, or initiate new ones - although a number warned against creating rival, “party-based” campaigns against austerity. We should join and strengthen existing national campaigns rather than competing with them.
There was talk of the commitment to anti-war work - Nato heads of state are meeting in Newport in September and protests as well as a “counter-summit” are proposed. But some comrades were concerned about getting involved in too much and suggested LU should concentrate on one main national campaign - maybe zero-hour contracts, anti-fracking or housing, depending on taste. The delegate from the disabled caucus pointed out that disabled people are suffering more than others from cuts and austerity, while others stated that women will be the main victims - the burden of public service cuts falls on them.
Amongst all these well-intentioned proposals, no-one seemed to question the defensive nature of what was being suggested. I do not think it is our job to aim for a return to the 1970s, before privatisation and austerity. However, dealing with this question was rather difficult in a two-minute intervention. The reality is that the general trend towards privatisation and austerity is an inevitable consequence of the current state of global capitalism and neither LU nor indeed any other organisation can change this trend in any significant way. We can and should fight against austerity, privatisation and all the other attacks, but unless we propose at the same time the vision of an alternative economic system, we will not be any different from left Labour, Tusc or anyone else. However, this is a much longer debate.
The NC also took some decisions regarding practical, but important, issues such as membership organisation, finance, publicity and our online presence.