Youth and students get organised

Callum Williamson reports on the successful founding conference of the new caucus

The meeting to formally establish the Left Unity youth and students caucus on Sunday March 29 was characterised by a comradely atmosphere and the determination of all to build the youth organisation of the party.

A decision was made by the meeting of 18 LU members to delay the motions on the political platform and constitution of the caucus, and begin with the motions submitted by Ed Bauer. The first of these called for the caucus to organise, fundraise for and fill a coach to the international climate demonstration at the Conference of Parties in Paris and stressed the importance of “working class political action on the environment”. A strength of the motion is its sober recognition of some of the limitations of the “summit-hopping anti-globalisation movement” and its “media stunts”, in response to calls for a “climate Seattle”.

The next motion proposed that the caucus organise a summer school, that would include sessions on theory, organisation, direct action and other activities, and it was decided that the leadership would delegate this task to a working group.

Then came the motion calling for the LU youth and students caucus to affiliate to the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, which also partly addressed the manner in which the caucus should relate to the rest of the student movement more generally. Comrade Bauer argued that Left Unity’s students should operate as a Marxist faction within the student movement that should bring the party’s politics into NCAFC, whilst making “an active contribution to the campaign” - helping to organise demonstrations, occupations and its interventions in the National Union of Students. He pointed out the flawed, syndicalist approach NCAFC has taken in recent years, but stressed that it is “the only democratic campaigning body students have”.

Some comrades expressed concern that carrying a common line into the student movement could undermine the internal plurality of the LU caucus and there were negative references to ‘democratic centralism’, which seemed to be alluding to the organisational style of groups such as the Socialist Workers Party (best referred to as bureaucratic centralism). The Communist Platform’s Robert Eagleton argued that we ought not to be afraid of taking collective positions in our student work and that it would not mean forfeiting the right of minorities to publicly disagree with the majority. All of comrade Bauer’s motions were passed unanimously.

Tom Morley, also of the CP, moved a motion for the caucus to establish its own publication and website, subject to the editorial overview of the caucus’s executive committee, within which all members should have a chance to put across their views. This was the subject of a longer debate than expected, but one conducted in a friendly manner, typical of the day’s discussions. Firstly there were concerns that producing a physical publication might be beyond the capability of the caucus at the present time. Comrade Morley and others insisted that such a production, on at least a termly basis, was well within our capacity and was probably less ambitious than tasks we had already set ourselves in passing the previous motions.

Then Sam Doherty pointed to a clause in the proposed constitution that stated minorities would have the right to publish critical viewpoints in the caucus’s publications. Comrade Doherty was worried that this may be off-putting to newcomers and that publications for distribution on campuses are perhaps not the appropriate forum for carrying out internal debates. Comrade Morley responded that he had found the lack of debate in the publications of leftwing organisations off-putting when entering politics, and pointed to the example of the SWP and the farcical silence in its newspaper in relation to its internal crisis. This, whilst even mainstream bourgeois newspapers were covering its internal situation, made the organisation look not simply dishonest, but out of touch with reality. Left Unity and its Youth Caucus should avoid such an approach.

Chames Zaimeche and comrade Bauer made the point that the leadership could be trusted to sensibly edit the content of the caucus publication, including important and engaging debates in its pages, rather than allowing a platform for petty individual feuds. Mike Copestake (CP) added that featuring debates in the caucus’s publications would make it clear to new and potential comrades that the ideas of the organisation are constantly evolving and members are not expected to subscribe to political positions which are set in stone. The motion calling for a publication was then passed unanimously.

Comrade Eagleton moved a motion that looked to give the caucus a firm political basis and those present were happy with it. Unfortunately Kady Tait, who had proposed a number of amendments to this political platform and to the proposed constitution, was unable to attend the meeting on the day. However, there were comrades willing to move his amendments. Comrade Tait had proposed a number of new demands and an additional paragraph that stated the caucus would fight for “a revolutionary transition to a new kind of society - socialism”. Comrade Ian Llewellyn proposed an amendment for the removal of the word “revolutionary”, since he saw one of the strengths of Left Unity as its ambiguity on this question and its ability to incorporate revolutionary and reformist trends. Comrade Copestake asked why, if we all subscribed to revolutionary politics, we would misrepresent ourselves by concealing this in our political platform? There was also a general consensus that, as a caucus, we should not be worried about putting forward politics that do not match those of the party leadership, as it is the point of the caucus to seek to influence the rest of the party with different ideas. This amendment to comrade Tait’s amendment fell after receiving two votes in favour.

Additional demands that were passed by the meeting included a call for the abolition of prison sentences for under-18s convicted of non-violent offences; a demand for full childcare for young parents in work or study; compulsory education up to 16 and a minimum living wage of £10 for all workers. An amendment to replace the original clause calling for “No state funding, charitable status or tax breaks for religious and private schools and colleges” with “Abolish religious, private, free and academy schools - one comprehensive system for all” was moved with the support of one comrade who argued that inequalities in the quality of education received by children brought about by private schools must be immediately ended and that religious institutions could not be trusted to run schools.

James Turley of the CP argued that we should be for the creation of schools by workers’ organisations, such as trade unions, and that problems of education within class society cannot be solved through the state controlling all educational institutions. Comrades Turley and Eagleton stressed that we would not want a socialist state to be unnecessarily heavy-handed with civil society organisations, and that the overthrow of capitalism would prevent private schools performing their function of reproducing the capitalist ruling class anyway. The amendment on education was defeated and the updated political platform was passed with one abstention.

Next came the motion on the constitution, which I moved. I argued that its brevity and simplicity would make it all the more effective a tool in the hands of the membership for holding the leadership to account. I argued that the organisation ought to have a life of its own and not simply exist in the form of an executive committee between national meetings. Most of comrade Tait’s amendments were not moved, but the meeting agreed to add a sentence stating that members should work within normal party branches. Sam Doherty proposed that one of the two caucus representatives we wished to send to LU’s national council should not be a full-time student. This was to prevent the caucus (which may well be largely based on campuses initially) from being too student-focused. This amendment passed by nine votes to eight, and the amended constitution was passed unanimously.

Comrade Doherty’s amendment to the constitution meant that there were now two candidates - myself and Ian Llewellyn - standing for youth representative and three candidates for student representative: comrades Eagleton and Zaimeche, plus Rob Selby. Comrade Llewellyn won the election for the youth post by nine votes to six and comrade Zaimeche won the election for the student post, receiving nine votes, whilst comrade Eagleton received seven, after comrade Selby was eliminated in the first round of voting.

A motion was then passed that accepted all five comrades who stood for election to the caucus leadership, including comrade Eagleton and myself. This has left us with a leadership of seven, including the elected youth and student representatives to the NC, who it was decided would have an automatic place.

Other motions passed included a call to support a financial appeal on behalf of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the campaign to decriminalise the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the UK. There was also an agreement that the caucus would offer to help Simon Hardy’s election campaign as a Left Unity parliamentary candidate in Vauxhall.

The Left Unity Youth and Students Caucus is now awaiting the approval of its constitution by the party’s national council, after a positive meeting that has created good foundations for building the youth and student section.