GBL parts company
Regrettably, Marc Wadsworth and Deborah Hobson from Grassroots Black Left have decided to withdraw from the steering committee of Labour Against the Witchhunt.
This comes after LAW organised a lobby of Marc’s disciplinary hearing and a very successful #Justice4Marc speaking tour in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Chester, Bristol, Swansea and Sheffield to protest against his unjust expulsion from the Labour Party on April 27. There are a number of reports on our website: www.labouragainstthewitchhunt.org.
There had been political tensions and differences with the comrades for a number of months, but they had been contained within LAW. However, they came to a head at the last event in Sheffield on May 23. Marc arrived, objecting vocally to the locally agreed chair, Lee Rock (who runs Sheffield Left List, which organises the Labour left across all six Sheffield CLPs and had about 30 supporters at the meeting), and insisted on a particular black member of GBL and Momentum Sheffield chairing instead.
However, the local LAW organisers objected to her, as at the January AGM of Sheffield Momentum she had been one of the instigators of a motion to exclude all non-Labour members - including, explicitly, those who had been expelled from the Labour Party for unjust reasons. The AGM motion was carried by a very small margin and now affects about a dozen former members. They can attend some (not all) meetings of Sheffield Momentum, but are not allowed to vote or be elected to any positions - ie, they have no membership rights. That would now, of course, include Marc Wadsworth.
Huge credit to Jackie Walker, national chair of LAW, who pointed out very patiently how this local decision - which is almost unique among local Momentum groups - was in fact an integral part of the witch-hunt against the Labour left and that she would not accept any chair who had voted in favour of it. Lee Rock agreed to vacate his position and Jackie chaired the meeting instead. Marc, who still objected, decided at that point to leave the top table and made his contribution from the floor. As it turned out, it was a very successful meeting, with over 75 attending and excellent contributions from:
- Jewish author Paul Kelemen (who exposed the agenda of the pro-Israel lobby);
- Scott Shaw (who was expelled because of his association with Socialist Appeal);
- Martin Mayer (who shared fascinating stories from his time on the Labour Party national executive committee and the many “bogus” claims of anti-Semitism he witnessed first hand);
- Jackie Walker (who focused on the need to develop a comradely, but critical, attitude towards Jeremy Corbyn and the NEC for not standing up to the witch-hunt: “If our leadership does not lead, then we have to lead our leaders”).
A couple of days after the meeting, GBL sent the following statement to LAW:
“Grassroots Black Left has decided to withdraw its representatives from the Labour Against the Witchhunt steering committee. GBL will continue to work with individuals and organisations in the fight against unjust Labour Party suspensions and expulsions, as long as they respect the important principles of black self-organisation and self-determination.
“We will vigorously resist any attempts to make GBL subordinate to the will of individuals and groups who choose to misuse their power or positions. While recognising the good work LAW has done, particularly by its local activists who have helped GBL, Jewish Voice for Labour and the Labour Representation Committee make the #Justice4Marc national speaking tour a success, difficulties encountered on the LAW SC have made it impossible for us to stay on that body.
“A broad-based, non-sectarian, mass campaign against the purge is desperately needed by all those comrades affected by it. GBL notes many of the victims have been black people, Muslims and Jews. They must therefore be at the heart of the fightback. GBL is totally opposed to anti-black racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. But we deplore the cynical weaponisation of false accusations of anti-Semitism, which have undermined the genuine fight against racism and support for the Palestinians. When the targets have been black, including GBL member Marc Wadsworth, this has damaged much-needed unity between black people and Jewish people.
“We recognise the main objective of the right wing, who have been driving the purge, is to attack Jeremy Corbyn’s progressive leadership of the Labour Party. Appeasement and capitulation is not the best way to defeat them.
“GBL will continue to work with JVL, LRC, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Red Labour, supportive LAW groups and others committed to stopping the purge, getting Marc reinstated by Labour and the Shami Chakrabarti report recommendations on the party’s disciplinary procedures implemented.”
The LAW steering committee sent the following short reply:
“Dear GBL comrades, We regret that Grassroots Black Left has decided, in its May 27 statement, to withdraw its representatives, Marc Wadsworth and Deborah Hobson, from the steering committee of Labour Against the Witchhunt. We hope that GBL and LAW can cooperate fully in campaigning against all unjust suspensions and expulsions of Labour Party members, including for the reinstatement of Marc Wadsworth.”
It was signed by remaining SC members Tony Greenstein, Stan Keable, Steve Price, Jackie Walker and Tina Werkmann (SC members are elected as individuals, not as delegates, by voting at membership meetings).
The next LAW membership meeting on Saturday June 16 (1pm, Union Tavern, 52 Lloyd Baker Street, London WC1) will undoubtedly discuss this issue, as well as the other ongoing disciplinary cases. Also on the agenda: preparations for our intervention at Labour Party conference, other campaigning priorities and our own conference in the autumn. More details at www.labouragainstthewitchhunt.org.
LAW membership secretary
I wish to respond to points made by Carla Roberts concerning the Public and Commercial Services union annual delegate conference in Brighton (‘Another rotten fudge’, May 24) - I was there and my involvement in PCS goes back to the days of a predecessor union, the CPSA.
It came as a shock to many long-standing activists such as myself to hear that Janice Godrich - just elected PCS president for her 17th year - is challenging current incumbent Chris Baugh for the assistant general secretary position, when it comes up for election in 2019. They are both members of the Socialist Party in England and Wales and it is said Janice made no challenge or objection when SPEW decided to back Chris again for re-election. Both held well attended meetings during conference and it is said SPEW had invited Janice to have a joint public fringe meeting with Chris and to debate out her reasons for challenging Chris. She refused.
I cannot believe general secretary Mark Serwotka publicly backed Janice against a serving, elected full-time leftwing officer. Surely Chris may have a claim for constructive dismissal if he resigned his position. As Carla knows, it will be the Left Unity faction which will decide who to back and, although dominated by SPEW, it contains other sects, such as the Socialist Workers Party and Scottish Socialist Party. Janice may well be expelled by SPEW, but fully expects to be backed by Left Unity - Chris Baugh has already stated he will drop out if that happens.
Chris was a main player in creating Left Unity, helping defeat the right which previously controlled the union and creating the democratic culture in PCS that is far better than most unions. However, his job - having to concentrate on financial matters - does not give him anything like the high profile enjoyed by Mark and Janice in union publications and at annual conferences.
Carla thinks there is a political reason for Janice challenging Chris, but some say it is Mark Serwotka’s succession planning for when he secures a Labour MP seat in due course. Janice would not have much political influence as DGS, but would considerably enhance her pay and pension in her final years - a charge of self-interest she condemns, but I cannot see a political justification for her taking on such a different role and risking expulsion from SPEW.
At conference the Democracy Alliance (mainly Left Unity) won, as expected, the NEC, president and four vice-president positions with, once again, just one (Alliance for Workers’ Liberty-backed) Independent Left candidate scraping onto the NEC. But the turnout was just 7.5% - a union led by the left for 17 years that polls ever lower turnouts is nothing to be so triumphal about.
Whilst Carla correctly questions the way the question of PCS affiliating to Labour was phrased in the NEC consultation with branches, it is right to conclude that two-thirds did not want affiliation. Most Weekly Worker advocates of affiliation just do not get the formidable barrier our political neutrality is - observers forget that the government is our employer; we’ve had Labour in government before and they did us no favours. Carla can say Mark Serwotka is on record as saying he’d like PCS to affiliate to Labour, but at this year’s conference he explicitly ruled that out, whilst moving the NEC motion calling for a consultation with branches on how they can deliver votes for a Corbyn/McDonnell-led Labour government. PCS support for Labour will only be with those two in the leadership and on their current platform. There is no mood to join Labour, no matter who is leader. That is well-thought-through, advanced thinking, not backwardness, as Peter Manson likes to declare.
Not one branch decided to submit a motion calling on PCS to affiliate and that is highly significant, given that a good number of members are Labour activists. We know PCS would not be a major influence in the Labour Party, as I’ve said before - if the superunions and their millions of pounds in donations, if the hundreds of thousands of new members have not transformed Labour into a socialist party, how can PCS hope to?
Carla is right that the Greater Manchester ministry of justice branch was mine, but wrong to report it was only against affiliation to Labour and that it was buried down the agenda - I succeeded in my ‘reference back’ to getting it listed immediately following the NEC’s motion. The motion opposed supporting Labour candidates who have/will vote for cuts in services, was in favour of supporting Labour candidates who stand against cuts and other candidates of other parties (or independents) who stand on policies similar to those of PCS. Revealingly I was not called - I would have contrasted PCS’s campaigning on our ‘There is an alternative to austerity’ policy (taken up by Corbyn/McDonnell) to the NEC’s now contradictory motion A41 of only supporting Labour candidates, including those who vote for cuts! There was some opposition from a Scottish delegate, who cited good working relationships and support from anti-austerity Scottish National Party MSPs, who are now apparently to be abandoned.
The Independent Left may well have a moribund web page, as Carla stated, but they did issue daily bulletins. But there is no right grouping in PCS now.
On industrial action, my branch motion was ranged against the NEC’s, but it was superseded by an emergency motion. The differences remained the same - my branch members want united public-sector action, as agreed at the TUC congress last September.
I had tried a reference-back to ensure my motion was listed as a ‘general debate’, so we’d both get five-minute moving speeches and the right of reply, but conference voted against having a fair debate. I therefore had just three minutes to oppose Mark Serwotka’s always powerful and carefully pitched speech, whilst trying to also argue for my motion with no right of reply. Mark smirked, knowing his high standing with delegates would be enough to easily win his position - he was able to say that united action is not there despite PCS efforts to get it (true enough). He concentrated on emphasising the need to get the turnout necessary to meet the new Tory higher thresholds for strike ballots. In a consultative ballot, where members could post, email or phone in their vote, the turnout was 48.9%. Close, but not good enough.
I said to conference that, while my branch delivered a 52.2% turnout, my members do not believe PCS can win alone. There is a lower membership caused by the Tories’ check-off attack (members having to switch to paying their subs by direct debit and 15% choosing to leave PCS), plus an army of agency staff and members fed up with previous ‘day here, day there’ action that just petered out, with no victory or announcement the action was over.
Not one delegate or Mark suggested what our winning strategy should be. Mark said that if negotiations fail “members will take action sufficient to win”. This was not explained. But I was easily defeated - delegates near unanimously voted to back Mark to ‘do something’ over pay.
On other subjects, I opposed motions for reserved seats for LGBT, disabled, BAME and young members on the grounds our current NEC already has LGBT, disabled, BAME members and possibly even a young member, so we have never needed reserved seats. In any event the only members of these categories that will get on the NEC will be those who are in the ‘Democracy Alliance pact’. Despite knowing laughter from delegates, they overwhelmingly voted for reserved seats. Hypocritically the NEC then pushed their motion A44 to have a branch consultation on whether to have 50% of NEC seats reserved for women in a union where women are 59% of the membership! I got up again to expose this hypocrisy and pointed out the Democracy Alliance could only find 11 women for the NEC this year and would have to find 15 to meet 50%. I pointed out, to some amusement, that if the NEC really want more women they could have left spaces open for the three Independent Left women that stood this year and any independents - or were they the ‘wrong women’? Delegates again laughed at my observations, but voted to be hypocrites.
Finally and most controversially came motion A19 on proposed changes in line with the Gender Recognition Act - it wanted to push these through without delay. I asked conference how many delegates present had actually made their members aware of this motion before their pre-conference mandating meeting? Only three hands and mine went up. I mentioned that several delegates had warned the women’s TUC conference earlier this year to be very careful, as changing one part of equalities legislation can have an adverse impact on other equality rights. I mentioned Linda Bellos’s comment about whether black people present would accept white people self-defining as black and therefore being able to stand for PCS’s BAME reserved seats. I saw a number of black delegates shaking their heads - they would not accept such self-definition. Despite this not one woman, or black delegate, or male (or trans) argued against A19 or expressed any reservations at all. Predictably I was accused of transphobic hate speech. Once again, no-one from SPEW or the SSP got up to oppose, whereas the SWP supports self-definition. One delegate did get up to object to the way I was treated for representing my members - to some applause.
Some delegates afterwards told me how much they’d enjoyed my lone brave stances, but admitted they were too scared of being similarly insulted to get up and speak. But this was my last conference as a delegate, as I will be 60 in July and aiming to retire in November. As I said in one of my six speeches, identity politics was dominating class this year.
James Linney’s article, ‘Legalise them all’ (May 24), was spot on. Legalisation of drugs would at a stroke end untold misery for millions all over the world, including, as he says, in the United States and Mexico. However, while he refers at the end of the piece to “one of capitalism’s own addictions” - to “punishment and more specifically to imprisonment” - there is more to say about the ruling class use of drug laws.
It was put most explicitly perhaps by Richard Nixon’s henchman, John Ehrlichman, in an interview in 1994: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the anti-war left and black people ... We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalising both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Illegality has always been about politics and control. The banning of opium in the US in the early years of the 20th century was part of the drive to get the Chinese out of the country, once they’d finished building the railways (the British had, of course, made it more or less compulsory for the Chinese to use opium in the 19th century wars of that name). There was a fresh attack on African-Americans with Reagan’s war on crack cocaine in the 80s.
The results? A heavily militarised police force in the US and a massive incarceration rate, especially of the black and poor. One of the best recent books on this is Michelle Alexander’s The new Jim Crow: mass incarceration in the age of colour-blindness. The new opioid crisis seems to affect mainly white people - but they’re still poor.
Around the rest of the world the ‘war on drugs’ has provided excellent cover for killing trades unionists, land rights campaigners and any other people that our rulers find to be a nuisance. So, yes, as James says, “It has never been more urgent for the left to raise what is a basic demand for any self-respecting socialist: the legalisation of all drugs.”