LEFT UNITY HAS BEEN CREATED! Yes, this is the new political party, not necessarily the reality of “Left Unity” itself. Like all births, it is never easy. But it has the possibility of actually changing electoral politics in Britain. And like all births, it should be recorded.
Tonight’s piece covers a piece of news, some coverage of the student occupations in Britain including two petitions in response to the actions of the universities to these occupations, and a short homage to Nelson Mandela and the endless hypocrisy of our mainstream politicians.
While, of course, the justifications for permanent austerity under the Tories and the pensionable age being shifted to 70 and tax breaks for married people whose earnings were over a certain level, while somehow continuing impoverishment of the majority were sort of glossed over (really if impoverishment of the majority is required for your system, wouldn’t you start to raise the obvious point that the system is NOT worth it?) were found all over the BBC following the Autumn Statement of Minister of the Exchequer, George Osborne, many things that should have been said never quite made it to the news of the BBC. Given that they have a 24-7 news channel; surely a few moments could have been spared from their extensive scheduling.
I. The Founding Conference of Left Unity
You would not have known it if you did not listen to Radio 4 (beginning at 34:37) which was the only British mainstream news that covered the conference (there was a lot of coverage on Left sites and in Left-wing newspapers). Interestingly, the Russian channel RT did cover it … given I pay taxes in Britain for the BBC and not in Russia (thankfully), the lack of coverage was rather disconcerting; I also find that it surreal that such a reactionary country can cover it (it is not as though Russia is in anyway opposed to neoliberal capitalism), one wonders if it was too difficult for the BBC to actually come to the centre of London.
Had they been bothered to come they could have viewed an attempt to create a party to the left of Labour; yes, given how far to the right Labour is, I guess that is not really news that people may actually reject the neoliberalism and pro-austerity arguments of all 3 main parties and our special brand of British xenophobia in UKIP. Since the conference was not covered by the BBC and even in my wildest fantasies would never be covered in the US, here is a report of the founding conference of Left Unity!
Yes, we had our conference on November 30th. Our party name is Left Unity (yes, there was a vote on 4 different names: Left Unity, the Left Party, Left Unity Party, and Democratic Voice) as chosen by the majority of those present at the conference .
If you want to watch the live streaming of the whole conference, here is the link (I will be sharing some videos in the piece).
Participation at the Conference
Attendance on the day was 495, which is not bad for a group just starting out. There are over 1,200 registered as founding members of Left Unity (more have probably signed up since the conference; this was the figure at the start).
So, we have a campaigning party of the left to fight austerity and neoliberalism. It has a broad left, feminist, environmentalist, socialist and working class orientation with an internationalist perspective. There was strong representation of people with disabilities, women and not everyone was white, male and over a certain age; so this is a step forward. However, and this is a big however, participation of people of colour is insufficient, the numbers of women at the conference was still small, and we need more young people participating. It will participate in the electoral process; but it is not limited to this … much of its work will be to link up with the movement and campaign around political issues raised by the movement.
This conference was an attempt to build a campaigning party from the bottom up, not the top down. This has been successful (motions, platforms, constitution) were drafted by branches and large numbers of people and serious discussion and this was enshrined in the constitution of the new party. There was broad discussion in the branches on the various proposals, motions, and platforms; these were available to people well in advance of the conference enabling discussion and debate. The atmosphere of the conference itself was for the most extremely friendly and comradely; this is impressive given the differences of opinion expressed and the strength of people’s convictions on what they were arguing.
Given that the conference was creating a new campaigning political party, it was inevitable that it would be spent in discussing the aims, platforms, constitution and various motions and proposals from the various branches. That meant that much of the discussion was not directly linked to political discussions, but those political discussions were underlying much of the debate that occurred at the conference. I must say that I am extremely proud of what we achieved, but there were things with which I am less happy and I will discuss those below.
The Issue of Ensuring Accessibility
Importantly, accessibility issues from a social (not physical) context were strongly recognised and various attempts to address the specific needs relating to accessibility were planned (there were no steps into the conference, seats were saved for those with disabilities, a T-loop was arranged (this enables people with hearing aids to link directly into the microphone), large sized type in sans serif conference bulletins were provided, there was disabled registration, a disabled toilet (alas only 1) and a lift to those toilets. The conference was live-streamed for those that were not able to be there.
However, the best laid plans and all that … not all that was planned worked, unfortunately: for example, the seats saved for people with disabilities were taken by those that did not need to be in the first few rows, the T-loop for those with hearing aids did not extend after the first few rows (and neither of these were flagged by the stewards at the conference in the beginning to try and shift people who probably did not know these things when they sat down or assumed the name-tags on the seats were for the great and good rather than those with special access needs), people with neurological conditions and arthritis could not hold voting cards over their heads, there was insufficient space between seats and aisle seats were often taken by those that didn’t really need them.
The worst thing was the insufficient breaks in the conferences, specifically the lack of a break in the afternoon session. This does not only affect people with disabilities, people in general have difficulty concentrating for more than 30 minutes; by the end of the conference, it was clear that people were exhausted and unable to concentrate. For people with disabilities who need more time to use the toilet, who need breaks to shift positions, who may need to eat and take medicine at intervals, it was extremely unpleasant. In my case, I could not get a seat in the first few rows so the fact that there was a T-loop did not have an impact on my hearing comments from the floor; I also spent most of the conference standing as I could not climb over someone to get a seat inside the row.
Here is Bob Williams Findlay, a long-term disability rights activist, discussing problems that people with disabilities had at the conference (starting from 1.34):
There is a disability caucus and we will be meeting to discuss accessibility and to provide some guidelines … it is ok to make errors, but we need to learn from them and to avoid making the same mistakes.
Ensuring accessibility not only ensures the participation of people with disabilities, it applies to all those that need special assistance to be capable of full participation in our movement. It is essential and it is up to all of us to ensure that this is possible. We also need to recognise the obvious point that accessibility does not only relate to people with disabilities; we need to provide for childcare (there was not a crèche at the conference, but funds for private childcare were provided) and there was a subsidy for those that could not afford to attend the conference (to cover travel and costs). In spite of good intentions, things can be improved.
The Safe Spaces policy was remitted back to conveners to amend, but it was accepted that it would be part of the constitution. This is the call to move the Safe Spaces policy to the conference:
Caucuses were set up for women, people of colour, LGBT caucus, people with disabilities and youth. The latter 3 were guaranteed 2 people representing each caucus on the national organising body (the issue of women’s representation will be discussed below in detail).
The aims of the party were agreed to be voted upon separately from the platform debate. Ken Loach’s proposal to not have a vote on aims and platforms was defeated. There were 5 platforms and a motion submitted for vote (Left party platform, socialist platform, class struggle platform, communist platform, platform 9 and ¾ and the republican socialist platform. Since the aims were separated from the platform that meant that people could vote for more than one platform.
For voting information purposes only (this is not an endorsement of this group’s position):
“When it came to the vote, the IDC aims were declared clearly carried on a show of hands, while the Hackney and Tower Hamlets statement was agreed by 173 votes to 121, with 46 abstentions. The LPP received a huge total of 295 votes, with 101 people opposing and 12 abstaining, while the SP picked up 122 votes, with 216 against and 28 abstentions. The Republican and ‘9¾’ platforms were withdrawn, while those of the CP and Class Struggle were declared clearly defeated on a show of hands (http://www.cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/989/left-unity-making-a-safe-space-for-left-ideas).”
So, the Left Party Platform as amended by the Camden branch was accepted by the party (I will return to these below) by a 3:1 vote, along with the Hackney/Tower Hamlets branches statement.
There was a decision to support 50+% of women on all national and regional bodies of the conference and as speakers for the party (more on this below).
It was agreed that LU would not organise directly in Northern Ireland.
One member-one vote was reiterated, but it was recognised that there would be permanent political factions, but that they could not campaign against the party itself. This, I am certain will come back to bite us on the arse in the future!
Socialism and Feminism
While there were substantial victories, there were also discussions and statements that made me realise that we have a long way to go to address sexism in the left. One problem that I have is that there seems to be (on the part of some members of the hard left) the opinion of an inconsistency between feminism and socialism. While overwhelmingly they recognise gender oppression under capitalism, they seem to believe that somehow advocating a socialist feminism argument threatens a class analysis. So while they will argue that women are oppressed under capitalism and argue that only socialism can eliminate women’s oppression, they seem to oppose any cross-class movements along a feminist perspective and in that sense they refuse to argue for reforms in the context of capitalism, arguing that the existence of socialism is necessary to eliminate women’s oppression.
While I agree that socialism is necessary to eliminate women’s oppression completely as it is tied into property and class; it is not sufficient. I strongly believe that we can struggle for reform even in the context of a cross-class movement. What is essential is that the movement not be led by the upper classes so that the interests of working class women and women of colour are heard. Inability to struggle against patriarchy now, implies that reforms cannot be undertaken. Patriarchal ideology is transhistorical from the beginnings of private property and class societies and it is deeply embedded in what are viewed as normal social interactions now, they will not simply disappear with the elimination of private property and class societies. We need education and reform now or we will be maintaining women’s oppression if socialism is ever achieved. Given sexism (and downright misogyny) among the hard left (it is no more immune to this than anything or anyone else as it exists in a sexist and misogynist society even though it is trying to change it), it is essential that not only do we recognise this, educate ourselves and begin the fight now or this will be carried over into any future systems that we create.
The day started for me in a worrying manner; the so-called “infamous” safe spaces policy (on page 8) was remitted (it was unable to be rejected — it could only be accepted or sent back to the convenors).
Soon after, the amendments to the Left Party Platform (LPP) from the Camden branch (all but 3 of these were already accepted by the LPP, see section 4.4 for LPP and Camden Amendments) were accepted by conference. There are specifically two major amendments that concerned me and the fact that they were justified on the basis of making the LPP more socialist is deeply concerning to me.
Paragraph 4 deletion:
Adopted by the conference:
4. “We are feminist because our vision of society is one without the gender oppression and exploitation which blights the lives of women and girls and makes full human emancipation impossible. We specify our feminism because historical experience shows that the full liberation of women does not automatically follow the nationalisation of productive forces or the reordering of the economy.”
What was deleted was the following, which was the last part of paragraph 4:
“We fight to advance this goal in the current political context, against the increasing divergence between men’s and women’s incomes, against the increasing poverty among women, against the “double burden” of waged work and unshared domestic labour, and against the increasing violence against women in society and in personal relationships, which is exacerbated by the economic crisis.”
Essentially what was deleted was a definition of women’s oppression from a socialist feminist perspective and I would love to know how this is inconsistent with socialism and why something that is easily factually demonstrated was deemed problematic.
Paragraph 8 deletion:
Adopted at the Conference:
8. Our political practice is democratic, diverse and inclusive, organizing amongst working class communities with no interests apart from theirs, committed to open dialogue and new ways of working. We will campaign, mobilise and support struggles on a day to day basis, recognising the need for self-organisation in working class communities. We recognise that support for our party and its electoral success will only advance to the extent that it is genuinely representative of working class communities, has no interests separate from theirs, and is an organic part of the campaigns and movements which they generate and support. We will engage in elections, offering voters a left alternative – where any elected representatives will take an average wage and be accountable to the party membership – while understanding that elections are not the only arena or even the most important arena in which political struggles are fought.
The original paragraph 8 in the Left Party Platform:
8. Our political practice is democratic, diverse and inclusive, organising amongst working class communities with no interests apart from theirs, committed to open dialogue and new ways of working; to the mutual respect and tolerance of differences of analysis; to the rejection of the corruption of conventional political structures and their reproduction of the gender domination of capitalist society. We recognise that economic transformation does not automatically bring an end to discrimination and injustice and that these sites of struggle must be developed and won, openly and together.
What was deleted was:
“To the mutual respect and tolerance for different s of analysis; to the rejection of the corruption of conventional political structures and their reproduction of the gender domination of capitalist society. We recognise that economic transformation does not automatically bring an end discrimination and injustice and these sites of struggle must be developed and won openly and together”
The vote for accepting the amendments to the Left Party Platform were 134 against, 137 in favour and 74 abstentions. So, that made two defeats essentially for women in the political platform of the party. And that followed after the remittance of the Safe Spaces policy.
The next discussion was far more successful from the point of view of gender representation. However, what was extremely disturbing was what was said in opposition to the demand on the part of both those presenting alternative motions and those speaking in opposition.
Here is the debate on the 50+% women on national and regional bodies. There were two other proposals which were defeated, one which called for 40-40% men and women and one which rejected quotas completely:
From 4.50 onward, here is the explanation of the 3 proposals and the stated motivations of those that moved them:
Here are the statements and comments in response to the proposals on gender representation. The link begins with a call for amendment of the constitution to allow for a women’s caucus (it already contained provision for a caucus for people of colour, people with disabilities and a youth caucus) by Kate Hudson. Following that come the statements:
I don’t know about you, but I am really quite tired of fighting the same battles over and over again!
So the state of things after the conference is that of a formalistic acceptance of 50+%, but the explanation of women’s oppression under capitalism was eliminated.
Quite happy about the quota, rather unhappy indeed in the manner in which opposition to it was expressed. Needless to say, it is evident that we have a lot of work to do.
So, yes, I am not perfectly happy, we still have a lot of work to do. But I am thrilled that we managed to get as far as we did. This was a major achievement, we managed to get a party established based on the notion of a broad Left party to the left of Labour. It is a one member-one vote (there are no organisational affiliations) and we actually successfully put in place guaranteed representation for oppressed minorities and women (we are not a minority, but we are not only exploited as workers, but we are oppressed in terms of our primary responsibility for social reproduction which is based on our unpaid labour). There is a policy commission conference coming up in the New Year and I know that both the disabled and women’s caucuses are up and moving.
This is the birth of a broad party of the left … let’s welcome it into the world, we have a lot of work to do to enable it to live up to its potential!
II. Student’s occupation of several universities and police brutality in Bloomsbury
There have been a couple of occupations by University students this week in Britain. Students initially went out in strike support for the lecturers and university staff, but there was also another issue that has been raised several times and that has to do with the outsourcing of campus services. In the case of the University of London Union the union run by and for students was actually abolished to be replaced with management run services. So, at the moment 5 students have been suspended by Sussex University, students were assaulted and arrested at the University of London. 39 people are under arrest and the university of London has banned protests .
While this has been covered in several newspapers here, I was not certain that it was covered in the US, so I decided to share some information. For further clarification and discussion please see the report on the student occupations and the reaction from the powers that be from the Guardian by John Harris and another piece by Aaron Bastani ; Also from the International Socialist Network, and an excellent piece by Richard Seymour.
We actually have a political party now that defends students and activists and calls out the police:
Left Unity Press Statement defends student protesters
Left Unity – the recently-founded new party of the left – has condemned the growing crackdown on student protest, including police evictions of student occupations.
More than 100 police officers stormed a peaceful sit-in protest at the University of London yesterday, with videos and reports in today’s Guardian, Independent and Evening Standard of officers punching and dragging students. There are reports of further police provocations today.
Five students have also been suspended from the University of Sussex for their role in student protests there.
Andrew Burgin from Left Unity said: “The right to protest is a fundamental freedom, whether it is on the streets or on university campuses.
“Students should never face police evictions, arrest or disciplinary action from their universities for protesting against cuts to education.”
In a statement, the elected student officers of the University of London Union said: “Hundreds of police descended on the occupation at around 8.30pm and broke into the occupation. We are still investigating what happened inside, but initial reports indicate that protesters were assaulted by both police and security: thrown to the ground, kicked and punched, and dragged to the ground by their hair.”
There are several petitions supporting the students and the right to protest:
University of London
III. The Crocodile Tears of David Cameron on hearing of Nelson Mandela’s death
Like the Queen, Cameron spoke of Nelson Mandela as a man of forgiveness, perhaps given the British government’s complicity with the Apartheid regime, Margaret Thatcher’s description of him and the ANC as terrorist and the poster of the Federation of Conservative students in the 1980s (of which Cameron was a leading member and his free pro-apartheid fact finding mission to South Africa) forgiveness was the quality that he desperately felt he needed from Nelson Mandela. Just so that you do not have the impression that all the Tories are hypocrites, here is Norman Tebbit arguing “Nelson Mandela was the leader of a movement that resorted to terrorism and the Tories were right to shun sanctions against South Africa at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle.”
I want to end this piece by sharing the following on Nelson Mandela, addressing his legacy, and the struggle which still remains in South Africa and the rest of the world.
La Lucha Continua!
For videos that won’t post, see http://www.dailykos.com/blog/Anti%20Capitalist%20Meetup%20Group