Amendments galore, seats decided
Yassamine Mather reports on the February 28 meeting of the national council.
The last meeting of the 2014-15 national council of Left Unity was efficient and useful despite the usual hugely crammed agenda. On the general election alone, the NC had to finalise the manifesto, taking into account 38 proposed amendments, and discuss and approve nominations for Left Unity candidates, including those standing jointly with the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.
Effective chairing and the fact that most (not all) of around 35 NC comrades present had done their work, reading the motions, reports and papers sent beforehand, meant the meeting had sufficient time to discuss feedback from Left Unity members and branches regarding the party’s manifesto and cover the rest of the agenda. A historic first for Left Unity!
On the manifesto, an amendment was moved to that part of the introduction which read: “Radical measures are necessary to ensure a transformation in the economic structure and a reversal of this damage. We believe that there is no longer any prospect of the Labour Party being prepared to do this, as it has embraced neoliberalism and austerity.”
Barnet branch had proposed the following addition: “Left Unity is the only broad socialist party to the left of Labour - the Greens do not say they are for an end to capitalism and for socialism.” This amendment was lost by a single vote - a shame, as many comrades share the Barnet branch’s concerns about the officers’ proposed anti-austerity alliance with the Green Party. If Left Unity is to be trusted as a serious alternative to existing political parties, it should not be swayed by spikes in polls or media publicity. Such poll ratings are often immediate reactions to press and TV coverage of a party or party leader. How can we be taken seriously if we appear to be so vulnerable to fluctuations in the way the bourgeois mass media presents its coverage?
A number of proposals by Lambeth branch were accepted by the meeting, with a varying number of votes. For example, there was a proposal to change the sentence which read: “We will never vote for cuts or compromise our principles by participating in coalitions with capitalist parties.” The amendment replaced “never” with “not” and unfortunately the meeting voted to adopt the new formulation, although a number of comrades voted against and others abstained. The use of the world “never” is important because most voters are disillusioned by political parties of the left changing their stance on basic issues, such as cuts and austerity, as soon as they come to power. Coalitions with capitalist parties have heralded disaster for many European left parties and by changing the wording Left Unity has taken the first steps towards such a compromise.
A proposal to add the following sentences to the section on public ownership was defeated: “We would legislate to create in every large company a supervisory board on which directors elected by the workforce and the community would have a majority. This board would appoint and control the managers and all company policy.”
The meeting also voted against inserting the following sentence to the section on tax and corporations: “Most government debt has been repaid many times over in interest payments from our taxes. We would over a period of five years cancel all such debt and stop interest payments except for those government bonds held by workers’ pension funds.”
The housing section was already quite long and lengthy amendments would have made it even longer. But the meeting was glad to vote for a composite formulated by Tom Walker, which added a pithy sentence based on Lambeth’s proposal. Some shorter, more imprecise proposals were accepted unanimously, including an amendment calling for May 1 to be declared a public holiday. Others were rejected almost unanimously.
There was a proposal to delete “Immigration controls divide and weaken the working class and are therefore against the interests of all workers”; and replace it with: “Immigration controls divide and weaken us and are therefore against the interests of us all.” This was rejected, as well as another attempt to remove the term “working class” from the sentence: “Working class people, of whatever background, have a shared interest in defeating the racists.”
Clearly there is a need for some general education here. Karl Marx defined the working class as being made up of individuals who sell their labour-power for wages and who do not own the means of production. Irrespective of whether they are blue-collar or white-collar, working in the service sector or in education or hospitals, they are all working class. In fact the majority of the people often referred to by the media as ‘middle income’ or ‘middle class’ are in fact working class.
None of this has anything to do with a person’s origins. Someone born into a working class family who subsequently becomes a capitalist living off the surplus value of his/her employees is not working class. Clearly some members of Left Unity have swallowed capitalist propaganda about who is and who is not working class and their non-Marxist views regarding class allegiance and class origin must be addressed. Thankfully, however, the overwhelming majority of the NC voted for keeping the term “working class” in the manifesto.
Another Lambeth proposal was accepted. It read: “Close down all immigration detention centres like Yarl’s Wood and Harmondsworth. We are for the prosecution of all immigration or security officers involved in physical and sexual assaults on those detained or the murder of deportees.”
The same was true of the following addition to the section on ‘End the war on terror at home’. Given the current political situation in the Middle East and calls for increased police surveillance, it was a good idea to strengthen LU’s opposition to the ‘war on terror’: This section now reads:
The war on terror is being used to create scapegoats and persecute communities and has become a ‘catch-all’ law with a chilling effect on political dissent. It is bound up with racism and imperialism.
We are in favour of repealing all anti-terror legislation, ending all collaboration with foreign governments fighting the so-called war on terror and for the arrest of anyone involved in torture, rendition or other crimes against humanity. There must be no more detentions without trial or secret trials.
A combined proposal from Dorset, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Lambeth clarified support for Palestine - a position that hopefully will deter soft Zionists and social-imperialists from joining Left Unity:
“Left Unity stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle against oppression and dispossession. To this end, Left Unity supports the call by scores of Palestinian organisations (including all Palestinian trade unions) for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with its obligations under international law.”
Conference has not yet discussed the UK constitution, but the previous NC meeting had spent some time formulating this section of the manifesto. Reading branch had proposed an amendment which read: “Delete all references to abolishing the monarchy.” You will be pleased to hear that this was heavily defeated.
Comrade Walker’s composite of various additional amendments in this section was accepted. It read:
The royal family’s enormous wealth, land and palaces should be put to social use. The same applies to the aristocracy and their mansions. The Church of England must be disestablished, its privileges ended and its wealth confiscated.
The first-past-the-post, single constituency system must be replaced with proportional representation. We support the right of prisoners to vote. Local democracy should be restored, with powers returned to councils and democratic control of schools, hospitals and housing.
In the afternoon session the meeting discussed the rest of the agenda and a number of new motions/proposals were deferred to the scheduled April 18 meeting of the new NC.
Amongst them was a proposal from Felicity Dowling on ‘safe spaces’. I will discuss this issue more fully in a separate article, but for now let me say that comrade Dowling is incorrect when she states: “Safe spaces policy was discussed at two conferences without clear outcome.”
The November conference defeated the proposed ‘safe spaces’ policy, and the alternative code of conduct proposed by the Communist Platform received more votes (65, as against 61, with 36 comrades failing to support either alternative). However, conference then voted against ratifying the code of conduct by 79 votes to 68. Surely then it is more accurate to describe the ‘safe spaces’ policy than the code of conduct as the ‘minority view’. The “clear outcome” was that ‘safe spaces’ was defeated. At times it seems as though some comrades inhabit a parallel universe.
The draft proposal from Steve Freeman’s constitution commission was also rejected. The document contains some interesting statements, including sections adopted from Tony Benn’s 1991 Commonwealth of Britain Bill. However, as comrade Simon Hardy argued, it is a proposal for an English constitution, with no reference to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I pointed out that comrade Freeman as convenor had not consulted other members of the commission since the November conference. The NC decided that the commission would benefit from more consultation and the appointment of a co-convenor alongside comrade Freeman.
The social security commission’s proposal were also debated. Quite a lot of work had gone into this report and the meeting decided to add members to the commission in preparation for a workshop/conference on this subject.
The final part of the meeting was taken up with a discussion of our candidates for the general election. An emergency motion submitted by Waltham Forest regarding Bristol West, where the local LU branch is standing in a Green Party-targeted seat, was defeated. The meeting confirmed a decision made at the last NC to accept Bristol’s decision to stand in this constituency, The vote to support Bristol was a clear indication that the call for an anti-austerity alliance with the Greens has little support on the NC.
However, the discussion on general election candidates raised the issue of central versus local decisions - an important subject that needs to be addressed, hopefully by the April NC. Having said that, we approved all nine LU or LU/Tusc candidates who had been locally adopted - though the number may change before the general election nomination deadline.
I have a lot of sympathy with NC members who expressed concern about comrades who are more Tusc than Left Unity. The sudden reappearance at their local branch by some candidates, who had already been nominated by Tusc, is not ideal. Left Unity has principled positions on a number of issues and, unlike Tusc, it is not a Eurosceptic formation. Also unlike Tusc, it has very clear policies against immigration controls. It is up to these joint LU-Tusc comrades to convince us where their prime loyalty lies.