Category Archives: unions

The Gerard Coyne danger

Stan Keable reports on debates on the Unite election, the Chatham House left and our criticisms of the LPM fraction

As readers will know, union branch nominations for the post of Unite general secretary closed on June 7, and voting will take place from July 5 to August 23.1

Four candidates – one rightwinger and three on the left – achieved the 174 nominations from more than two regions required to get a place on the ballot paper – that minimum equals 5% of Unite’s 3,474 branches. For a while, only the three left candidates had reached the threshold, but hopes of a left-only contest were dashed when rightwinger Gerard Coyne scraped through with 196 nominations. For the left, this changed the question from ‘which candidate do you prefer’ to ‘which two should stand down’, so as not to repeat the Unison debacle, where Dave Prentis’s continuity candidate, Christina McAnea, held the top post on a minority vote against a divided left.

The number of nominations becomes a secondary question once the threshold has been crossed. Coyne will be backed to the hilt by the press, the BBC and the Labour right. Back in 2017 Len McCluskey seemed to be way in front, with 1,185 branch nominations to Coyne’s mere 187. But Coyne gained 41.5% of the vote and was only narrowly defeated by McCluskey (45.4%) on a 12.2% turnout, although third-placed leftwinger Ian Allinson took 13.1% of the vote, so the total left vote amounted to 58.5%. So this time, if there were a single left candidate, Coyne would have an uphill struggle … but could still win.

The forces that support Coyne have already chosen Howard Beckett as their favourite demon. At the June 12 Labour Left Alliance organising group meeting the Labour Party Marxists successful motion – accepted by the LLA OG with just two votes against – calls on Unite members to vote for Beckett “as the best, or least worst, of the three ‘left’ candidates on offer”. It notes “the targeting of Howard Beckett by the BBC, the Murdoch press and the Labour right, including Tom Watson and Margaret Hodge, and his suspension from Labour Party membership for speaking out against Tory government deportations”.

In the LLA-organised hustings, Beckett pledged “to call out the witch-hunt against the Labour left and to support those who have been unjustly suspended and expelled from the Labour Party”. Good – but don’t hold your breath. “On the negative side,” the motion continues, “we note that he rejects the socialist principle of ‘a worker’s representative on a worker’s wage’ – that socialist trade union officials – and MPs – should live on a skilled worker’s wage … Howard Beckett is a product of the trade union bureaucracy, a well-paid, careerist, left bureaucrat.”

As for the other candidates, former Militant member Steve Turner has made clear his departure from left politics, while Sharon Graham’s key campaign slogan, “to take our union back to the workplace”, is probably code for downgrading Unite’s involvement in internal Labour Party struggles (enough to get her the SWP’s backing – textbook economism).

Speaking of former Militant members, the Socialist Party in England and Wales is giving a master class in tailism, when it comes to the election. SPEW’s preference for both Beckett and Sharon Graham and its gentle criticisms of Turner appear to be governed by diplomacy – by which left bureaucrat members and supporters have been working with. SPEW’s June 9 statement, after nominations closed, calls Coyne “a direct representative of big business and the Starmerites”, and notes Steve Turner’s “compliant approach both industrially and politically, reflected in him clearly not being prepared to challenge Starmer as Labour leader.” Consequently, “… we believe it is Steve who should step down as a candidate in favour of Sharon or Howard to carry the battle against Coyne.”

Daniel Platts

At the June 12 LLA OG meeting, 16 delegates from affiliated local groups and political organisations attended, to decide LLA’s position. Two motions in support of Howard Beckett were on the table. The LLA trade union group motion offered only uncritical support, which was why LPM submitted an alternative motion setting out a principled approach, which I am pleased to say is now LLA policy:

Trade unions limit competition between workers, thus securing a better price for labour-power. They represent a tremendous gain for the working class, drawing millions of workers into collective activity against employers.

Of course, left to itself, trade union consciousness is characterised by sectionalism. At best trade union consciousness attempts to constantly improve the lot of workers within capitalism. At worst trade union consciousness degenerates into business unionism and sacrificing the interests of workers for the sake of capitalist competitiveness and profitability.

We openly seek to make trade unions into schools for communism. We do this by always putting forward the general interest of the working class, by fighting for workers’ unity and by fully involving the rank and file in decision-making.

Bargaining is a specialist activity. Consequently the trade unions need a layer of functionaries. However, due to lack of democratic control and accountability these functionaries have consolidated themselves into a conservative caste.

The trade union bureaucracy is more concerned with amicable deals and preserving union funds than with the class struggle. Operating as an intermediary between labour and capital, it has a real, material interest in the continued existence of the wage system.

Within the trade unions we fight against bureaucracy by demanding:

  • Trade unions must be free of any interference or control by the state or employer.
  • No trade union official to be paid above the average wage of a worker in that particular union.
  • All full-time trade union officials must be elected, accountable and instantly recallable.
  • All-embracing workplace committees. Organise all workers, whatever their trade, whether or not they are in trade unions. Workplace committees should fight to exercise control over hiring and firing, production and investment.
  • One industry, one union. Industrial unions are rational and enhance the ability of workers to struggle. Given the international nature of the capitalist system and the existence of giant transnational companies, trade unions also need to organise internationally.

Daniel Platts of the steering committee proposed an amendment (which, thankfully was defeated, but gained four votes), replacing our description of the limits of “trade union consciousness”, with Daniel’s view of the limits of trade unions. He evidently overlooked, or did not understand, the well known Marxist formulation in the very next sentence: “We openly seek to make trade unions into schools for communism.” Here is his text:

At best trade unions can illustrate the power of the working class within society, by stopping the means of production against the wishes of the capitalist class. But rarely does this happen on any considerable scale, and usually the best they offer are merely attempts to improve the lot of workers within capitalism.

I can only recommend a visit to marxists.org and reading again – or perhaps for the first time – Lenin’s What is to be done?

Chatham House left

The LLA meeting started with a political opening by Roger Silverman on behalf of the steering committee. Comrade Roger reminded us that the right would “never repeat their mistake” of allowing a left leader of the Labour Party to be elected, and noted “calls for a new party” as a result – but warned of the long list of failed left splits from Labour. However, he spoke of a “huge explosion” of discontent building up around the world: “The counterattack is coming. That will be the basis for a left split.”

In the discussion, I argued against aiming for a left split, saying we need serious Marxist organisation now, to fight inside and outside Labour. Whether or not the left is forced out of the party, the need for a socialist programme and serious organisation stands.

LPM is, of course, an opposition faction within the LLA, whose conferences have twice rejected the aim of replacing capitalism with socialism and the aim of a classless, moneyless, stateless world. So I was truly (and pleasantly) surprised to hear Daniel Platts’s confession on behalf of the LLA SC: “Most of us realised pretty quickly [after the LLA conference] that we had made a massive oversight in not putting ‘socialism’ into the LLA’s aims.” Then Tina Werkmann interjected, quite rightly: “And a membership structure!”

Yes, an individual membership structure – an essential requirement for the effective democratic organisation of socialists – has also been rejected twice. Without either a Marxist political programme or a serious organisation, we believe the LLA will remain part of the failed official Labour left, which it was set up to replace. So we should look for opportunities to draw out and emphasise sharp lines of demarcation between principled positions which consciously uphold the long-term general interests of the working class as a whole, and unprincipled compromises which accommodate to short-term sectional interests – the career interests of the latest official left bureaucrat or MP on offer, for example.

This brings me to the second main item: the – secret – left unity talks between 25 or so groups under the title, ‘Future of the Labour left’, hosted by Don’t Leave, Organise. In respect of this, LPM had submitted a motion titled ‘Accountability’. The motion reaffirmed that, according to the LLA constitution, “the LLA officers and steering committee are accountable to the OG”, and complained that the SC minutes provided to the OG suggest that “full reporting of this activity was not happening”. The OG therefore requires SC representatives attending the talks to “produce a full work report for scrutiny at each meeting of the organising group”.

The two LLA representatives in the talks, at the three meetings which have taken place so far, were Tina Werkmann and Tasib Mughal. While the SC majority were clearly uncomfortable with the Chatham House rule – the ban on reporting – they supported comrade Tina’s view that it was better to have a voice inside, so as to know what was being decided and to influence the discussions, than to be kicked out for disobeying the gagging order. Comrade Tina’s seemingly innocuous amendment, replacing a “full” report by a “verbal or written” one, actually meant ‘verbal only’. She gave the reason for this explicitly: anything written “will end up in the Weekly Worker”, and – she believes – would be met by the LLA’s immediate exclusion from the talks.

For LPM, openness is a principle which the working class needs if it is to become the ruling class. So there should be no place for the Chatham House rule in the workers’ movement.

Criticism

Following the LLA OG meeting, the LPM steering committee has been critical of the position taken by the LPM fraction for not contesting unprincipled elements in the motions and amendments that were voted through.

For example, we should have insisted that the principled LPM motion for critical support for Howard Beckett was a replacement for the motion of uncritical support. The motions were not complementary, so we should have voted against the uncritical motion. The fraction should also have rejected the uncritical sentence praising Howard Beckett, in that he is “by far the best of the three left candidates to be our standard bearer”.

We should also have rejected outright the amendment from Tina Werkmann to LPM’s ‘Accountability’ motion, replacing the requirement for a “full” report by a “verbal or written” report. Finally, as well as requiring LLA SC representatives in the talks to report fully to the OG, the LPM motion should have gone further, and required them to publish a full report of each meeting.


  1. Official info is available at unitetheunion.org/who-we-are/structure/unite-2021-general-secretary-election; and secure.cesvotes.com/V3-1-0/unitegensec21/en/home.↩︎

Taking the witch-hunt into the workplace

Hammersmith and Fulham council is appealing against the employment tribunal’s decision that its dismissal of Stan Keable was ‘unfair’. Ed Kirby reports

Stan Keable – LPM secretary – was sacked by Hammersmith and Fulham borough council for making critical remarks about Zionism. This happened in the course of a notably civilized exchange at the ‘Enough is Enough’ demonstration and Jewish Voice for Labour counterdemonstration in Parliament Square on March 2018.

He was, though, fully exonerated by an employment tribunal. However, now council officers have decided to appeal. If that appeal is allowed to go ahead, not only will more precious public funds be wasted on lawyers’ fees, the council’s reputation will be further tarnished.

The appeal is, of course, politically motivated. Stephen Cowan, Labour leader of the council, wants to uphold the British establishment’s ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ false narrative. In this Stan Keable is not the real target. That is Jeremy Corbyn – and the entire Labour left. In the attempt to see the back of Corbyn, the Labour right is quite prepared to extend the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt from the Labour Party into the workplace.

The council’s failure at the five-day tribunal hearing in May – a full year after Stan Keable’s dismissal – was humiliating. Judge Jill Brown found that the dismissal, for “serious misconduct”, was “both procedurally and substantively unfair” and “well beyond the range of reasonable responses of a reasonable employer”.

Stan Keable has asked for reinstatement, and his work colleagues are looking forward to welcoming him back into the housing team. Departmental director Nicholas Austin – the man who formally sacked him – told the tribunal that he had “an entirely clean disciplinary record”, was “good at his job” and described him as “good, thorough, dogged in pursuit of landlords in trying to improve housing conditions”.

The issue of reinstatement was due to be resolved, along with appropriate compensation, at an October 2 “remedy hearing” – which may now be postponed, extending Stan Keable’s time in limbo even further. Hopefully, the tribunal will refuse permission to appeal. Criticism of Zionism and Israel should be calmly debated, not be a sacking offence.

On March 27 2018 – the morning after the ‘Enough is Enough’ demonstration, ostensibly against Jeremy Corbyn’s supposed anti-Jewish racism – Stephen Cowan forwarded a 105-second long video to the council’s chief executive officer. This video had already been publicly tweeted by Chelsea and Fulham Tory MP Greg Hands. It showed a brief moment taken from a longish political conversation in Parliament Square between Stan Keable and an unknown man,

Cowan’s email stated:

LBHF [London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham] employee Stan Keeble [sic] making anti-Semitic comments. I’ll let Mr Keeble’s words speak for themselves. I believe he has brought the good name of LBHF into disrepute and committed gross misconduct. Please have this looked at immediately and act accordingly and with expediency … Please advise me at your earliest opportunity what action you have taken.

Hands’ tweet, tagged to Cowan and Hammersmith Labour MP Andy Slaughter, was not a complaint to the council, but a public attack on the Labour Party, smearing the party as a home for anti-Semites. Stan Keable’s employment at LBHF was unknown to Hands, but well known to Cowan, who seized the opportunity to extend the scope of the anti-Corbyn witch-hunt to the workplace. Cowan was, at this stage, the only complainant – joined later only by Greg Hands himself. His twitter campaign to drum up a storm of protest – and of BBC Newsnight journalist David Grossman, who was actually responsible for the video – produced zero results. Tens of thousands viewed the video, Stan Keable’s comments were reproduced in the Evening Standard and Mail Online – surrounded, as usual, by reports of unsubstantiated allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. But no-one complained to H&F council. Hands and Cowan were alone.

By labelling Stan Keable’s comments “anti-Semitic” and saying “gross misconduct”, Cowan effectively instructed council officers to suspend and dismiss him. Judge Brown found that they were “clearly put under very considerable pressure by Mr Hands MP and by councillor Cowan to dismiss the claimant”.

Four hours after Cowan’s email, Stan Keable was unceremoniously suspended from work – on charges which did not include anti-Semitism. One presumes that the council’s lawyers had pointed out that telling well documented, historical truths about the Zionist movement did not constitute racism. That would have been a good moment to tell Cowan that he was wrong and advise him to drop the matter. But an instruction is an instruction. Omitting the leader’s unsustainable “anti-Semitism” complaint, the suspension letter described the comments as “inappropriate”, “insensitive”, “likely to be considered offensive” and having “the potential to bring the council into disrepute”.

The tribunal, however, took a different view. Judge Brown “found that the claimant’s demeanour throughout the video clip was calm, reasonable, non-threatening and conversational”.

Stan Keable was not told that the complainant was the council leader, nor the substance of the complaint – that it was explicitly about “anti-Semitism.” Those embarrassing facts were only revealed a year later, shortly before the tribunal hearing. Nor did the suspension letter specify which comments were considered “offensive”. The original complainant (Cowan) had not done so.

Two “offensive” comments were eventually selected by the investigating officer, Peter Smith: (1) “The Zionist movement at the time collaborated with them” (ie, the Nazi regime), and (2) “The Zionist movement from the beginning was saying that they accepted that Jews are not acceptable here” (ie, in the countries where they currently live).

Stan Keable’s Jewish former wife, Hilary Russell, had already helpfully emailed the council: “I can say absolutely confidently that he is no anti-Semite … it is not anti-Semitic to be opposed to Zionism, as many Jews are, or to criticise the government of Israel.”

Keep digging

Smith should have dropped the case. But he chose to keep digging, adding the Equality Act 2010 to the allegations. If anti-Semitism won’t stick, let’s try anti-Zionism.

He wrote:

If Zionism constitutes a belief under the terms of the Equality Act, then the statements made by the claimant that the Zionist movement collaborated with the Nazis and that it accepted that “Jews are not acceptable here” might be deemed to have breached the Equality Act … [and] do not promote inclusion nor treat everyone with dignity and respect and … have breached the council’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy.

Subsequently, whether a belief in Zionist ideology should be considered a protected characteristic under the Equality Act was neither claimed by the council nor determined by the tribunal. In any case, the act does not forbid criticism of a protected “religion or belief”: it outlaws harassment, discrimination and victimisation of believers. But the council “did not find that the claimant had made anti-Semitic or racist or discriminatory remarks”, so this seed fell on stony ground.

In his zealous search for a case to answer, Smith concluded his investigation report by adding a truly Orwellian allegation to the charge sheet, effectively saying that council employees must not attend demonstrations:

That, in attending a counter-demonstration outside the houses of parliament on March 26 2018, Stan Keable knowingly increased the possibility of being challenged about his views and subsequently proceeded to express views that were in breach of the council’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy and the council’s Code of Conduct …

Unsurprisingly, the tribunal upheld the right to demonstrate. The judge concluded that Stan Keable’s comments were “an expression of his views and beliefs. The claimant, as other employees, had the right to freedom of expression and assembly, which would normally include attending rallies and expressing their views there”

As Justice Michael Briggs commented in the High Court (Smith v Trafford Housing Trust [2013] IRLR 86, HC):

The encouragement of diversity in the recruitment of employees inevitably involves employing persons with widely different religious and political beliefs and views, some of which, however moderately expressed, may cause distress among the holders of deeply felt opposite views. The frank but lawful expression of religious or political views may frequently cause a degree of upset, and even offence, to those with deeply held contrary views, even where none is intended by the speaker. This is a necessary price to be paid for freedom of speech.

Quite so.

Unable to dismiss Stan for anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism, the council then attempted to establish “misconduct” for being “offensive” – but this failed at the tribunal too. The judge “took into account the line of case law which says that for a single act of misconduct to justify dismissal it must be serious, wilful and obvious”:

The misconduct must be obvious; it must be such that the employee would plainly recognise it as conduct which would merit summary dismissal if discovered by his employers. Such recognition might be either because the employers had expressly made known to their staff that a particular type of misconduct would be treated as a dismissible offence or because the employee, judging the matter for himself according to the ordinarily accepted standard of morality of the time, would recognise dismissal as the predictable consequence of such misconduct (Bishop v Graham Group plc EAT 800/98).

The basis of the decision to dismiss Stan Keable was departmental director Nicholas Austin’s personal view that “the average person would interpret the claimant’s comments as suggesting that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis in the holocaust and that that was highly likely to cause offence”. However, the judge disagreed: “Mr Smith had not interpreted the claimant’s comments in that way, nor had Mr Hands in his tweet or letter … and nor had the other evidence which Mr Smith had relied on from the Mail Online or the Evening Standard.”

Why is a Labour council pursuing this pathetic case – wasting public money in order to restrict our hard-won rights of freedom of speech and assembly? These rights are the products of, above all, the class struggle of the workers’ movement, from the Chartists onwards. This case illustrates the fact that the class struggle is taking place at present in a sharp form within the Labour Party – councillor Cowan has placed himself firmly on the side of the ruling class.

One can only assume the council is counting on the legal strategy of “deep pockets wins”. Stan Keable’s legal costs, if the appeal is permitted, are likely to rise above £10,000.

Please help out, go to: http://www.gofundme.com/ReinstateStanKeable.

 

Union votes vs CLP votes: Democratise the unions!

One thing has become pretty clear at this year’s conference: the huge increase in membership and consequent radicalisation sparked by the election of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 has not found much reflection within the trade unions.

This is hardly surprising, of course. Corbyn’s election had little effect on the bureaucracies’ control over their unions and this is exemplified by the way they vote at conference. On matters that have not been decided in advance, all union delegations are simply instructed on how they should cast the vote of their hundreds of thousands of members.

That was the case on Saturday in a series of card votes over proposed rule changes, and two in particular stand out. First, there was the vote on the NEC’s proposal to “fast-track” expulsions of party members whose behaviour is judged to be irredeemably unacceptable – without the need for any hearing, for example. Understandably, most individual delegates were less than convinced by this proposal and CLP representatives voted narrowly to reject it (52%-48%). By contrast, the vote of affiliates (ie, overwhelmingly the unions) was 97% in favour! The CLPs and affiliates have equal weight, of course, both accounting for 50% of the total vote.

Then there was the card vote on ditching the 1995 Blairite version of clause four in favour of the original (Fabian) version. We have made clear our criticisms of the 1918 wording, but it is self-evident that its reinstatement would have marked a substantial advance. CLP delegates voted 56% in favour. But over 99% of the affiliated unions and socialist societies voted against!

On Sunday a series of national policy forum documents were put before conference. As delegates cannot amend these documents, the only option they have is to propose a ‘referencing back’ of particular sections of these for the NPF to reconsider (clearly, the whole undemocratic NPF should be abolished). In relation to the NPF document on education there were several such proposals, one of which specified that it should be reconsidered on the grounds that it did not contain a clear commitment to abolish grammar schools.

Incredibly, none of these reference-back proposals are put before conference in writing – delegates have to listen really carefully about what is being proposed. Perhaps even more incredibly, it was a full three hours later when the chair, Andi Fox, put them to a vote – without even a reminder as to their contents. Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of confusion in the hall. And when the unions overwhelmingly rejected every single reference back, this caused a huge ruckus and eventually Andi Fox agreed that the votes would be revisited.

Sitting at the back of the hall, it did indeed look incredibly undemocratic: in vote after vote, a clear majority of people voted in favour of a particular reference back – but then the chair ruled that the vote was, in fact, lost. Why? Because in the areas where the union delegates sit, most had voted against. The chair explained that as she knew “certain stakeholders” hold more votes than the CLP delegates, she had taken that into consideration to make her decision.

Numerous delegates got up to express their dismay at these rulings – should the chair not actually be counting all the hands? “What is the point of me being here?”, one delegate asked? “Everything us CLP delegates are trying to get through is opposed by the unions over there!” Encouragingly, there was also discontent within the union delegations and members were seen arguing amongst themselves over the wisdom of voting against the abolition of grammar schools, for example.

So what is the solution? Certainly Labour should remain a federal party – indeed in our view it should encourage the affiliation of all working class organisations, including left groups, and grant them the right to participate in its decision-making process. But, when it comes to trade unions in particular, we are talking about mass organisations with less than vibrant forms of democracy and accountability. All too often the bureaucracy is given a free ride.

That bureaucracy knows which side its bread is buttered. Its role as the intermediary between the employers and their workers requires that it must appear ‘reasonable and acceptable’ to both sides. In reality, left to itself, it acts as a stalwart of the current capitalist order. And it follows from that that the union bureaucracy tends to side with the ‘moderate’ wing of the Labour Party – in other words, the right.

The solution therefore must lie in the ability of the union membership to control and hold to account their leaders. We need the great mass of that membership to get actively involved – in the Labour Party as well as in the unions – to demand that their interests really are represented and that the bureaucracy upholds democratic principles. And such mass participation would make it less likely that the bureaucracy continually votes with the right at Labour conference.

All-members-meetings or General Committees?

Labour First, the LRC and the CLPD all vigorously oppose all-members meetings, while Momentum is in favour. But it really is a question of tactics, argues Carla Roberts 

A rule change snuck through at last year’s Labour conference has led to some rather heated debates. It allows Constituency Labour Parties to switch easily from a delegate-based general committee (GC) to an all-members meeting format (AMM) – and vice versa. A number of CLPs have recently used the rule to abandon their GC and establish meetings where every single member can show up and vote. Many more CLPs are in line to follow soon, as it is immensely popular, seen by many as a measure to support the Corbyn leadership.

Critics warn, however, that the AMM structure “undermines the rules of trade unions, abandons the spirit of collectivism and breaks the principle of representative democracy that Labour has held dear for a century”. This could have been written by the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) or the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD), which both oppose the rule. But it is actually part of an article by Matt Pound, organiser of Labour’s most rightwing faction, Labour First. Something that unites the extreme right of the Labour Party with traditional Labour left organisations certainly deserves a closer examination.

At the 2018 conference, few people paid much attention to this rule change. That was mainly down to the fact that delegates and visitors had little time to study in full detail the proposals contained within the Democracy Review: the party’s national executive committee, meeting a week before conference, had gutted the document of most of the constitutional changes originally proposed by Katy Clark (ie, Jeremy Corbyn and his allies). The first that delegates saw of the proposed rule change was on the morning of the first full day of conference: it was one of the 57 such proposals presented over 35 pages in the report of the conference arrangements committee (CAC). A travesty of the kind of democracy we need in the workers’ movement.

The focus at conference was very much on the proposals to reduce the nominations needed to stand in any leadership election and, crucially, the question of how parliamentary candidates are selected. While the vast majority of delegates were clearly in favour of the reintroduction of a system of mandatory reselection of all candidates (aka open selection), the NEC pushed for a far less democratic reform of the trigger ballot instead.

Now even this reform seems too radical for the NEC to actually implement. In January, Jennie Formby was commissioned to produce guidelines and a timetable, without which no such ballots can take place. But then Chuka Umunna and co split from the party and the leadership got cold feet. Despite the fact that the departure of Umunna et al can hardly be described as unfortunate, the mere possibility of further splits, perhaps led by Tom Watson, is regarded as a threat by Corbyn. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, he still seems to believe that he can win over the right.

In our view, the sooner those saboteurs in the Parliamentary Labour Party are gone, the better. As long as they dominate the PLP, Corbyn has very little chance of doing anything. More importantly, we need to get rid of the right if we actually want to be able to make some of the radical and democratic changes that are so desperately needed to transform the party into a powerful weapon of the working class.

However, it seems that this is not the only one of its own rule changes that the NEC has had second thoughts about.

For decades, CLPs were organised exclusively on the basis of the general committee, which is still how about half of them operate today (we are guessing here, as there are no official figures on this): local Labour branches elect delegates according to their membership figures, while trade unions and socialist societies can send one delegate for each of the branches that is affiliated locally. Trade unions have made full use of this rule, affiliating several of their branches, even if they do not actually meet or do anything – it seems that sometimes such branches have been set up explicitly for this sole purpose.

For example, since Corbyn’s election, the GMB has made huge efforts to affiliate at least one of its branches to every single Labour branch in the country, while the Jewish Labour Movement is trying to affiliate to every CLP. The purpose is clear: to oppose the left at every opportunity and support those MPs and local politicians who support the affiliate’s particular political agenda. The GC structure gives affiliates a good deal of power.

This started to change under Tony Blair in the late 1990s. Proposals to introduce all-members meetings were presented as a way to “empower the members”, when in reality they were part of the efforts to curtail the power of the unions throughout the party. Understandably, the unions strongly opposed the proposals – in this they were supported by Tony Benn and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD).

In 2012, Ed Miliband introduced reforms that allowed a CLP to switch between CG and AMM at its annual general meeting, where the change to the local constitution was subject to a two-thirds majority vote. This was mainly down to the fact that under Tony Blair the Labour Party not only lost tens of thousands of members; but many of those who had retained their membership did not bother showing up at meetings any more. Most CLP meetings were poorly attended, boring and utterly uninviting (yes, they were even worse than today’s).

The survey carried out by Katy Clark at the beginning of the Democracy Review in 2018 showed that, out of the 208 CLPs who participated, 141 already had an all-members structure, while 67 were based on a general committee. She reported that, “In general, in most cities” CLPs tend to have a GC structure, while “in some areas where there are AMM structures” no local branches exist.1)http://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Democracy-Review_.pdf, p33

Delegates

According to the rule change passed at the 2018 conference then, any party unit (ie, either a branch or an affiliated organisation) can move a motion proposing to change the method of organisation – ie, to switch either to AMM or GC (the Labour Party rulebook actually allows for alternative methods beyond that, but that is very uncommon). A special CLP meeting then has to be called, in which all local members and delegates of affiliated organisations can participate. The decision to switch now requires only a simple majority of all those present. 2)Labour Party rule book 2019, clause IV, point 1.C (p40)

The vast majority of union delegates at conference 2018 – as always, under strict orders from their leaderships – voted in favour of this rule change, as part of the NEC’s tame reform package. However, it seems that it then started to slowly dawn on the unions that this was, in fact, potentially a rule change that could reform them out of any meaningful existence, when it comes to CLPs.

And it is true: in all-members meetings, the role and power of a delegate from a local union is dramatically reduced, compared to their role in a delegate-based GC. In fact, a union delegate has the same rights and voting power as any local party member, when previously a single union delegate could hold as much power as a whole Labour branch.

In November 2018, two months after conference, Unions Together (previously the Trade Union and Labour Partly Liaison Organisation – TULO), which represents the 12 affiliated unions, came out against the rule change in a short statement:

Trade unions support delegate-based structures for CLPs, because they allow TU branches that have affiliated to a CLP to be formally represented and take part in the CLP’s decision-making processes. All-member meetings do not allow affiliated TUs to be represented in CLP decision-making, and this weakens the relationship between the party and the unions at the local level.

We also believe that the unions are playing a part in delaying the implementation of the reformed trigger ballot, as this would further reduce their power in the party. For the first time, the trigger ballot has been split into two – one for all organisations affiliated to the CLP and one for all branches. That means Labour members can choose to challenge the sitting MP (if one third of all local branches vote in favour of doing so) and cannot be blocked by delegates from local affiliates. However, affiliated organisations are unlikely to initiate a trigger ballot. Their role in this process has tended to be mainly a negative one – ie, often it has been local union bureaucrats who have voted against challenging a sitting MP.

This does rather beg the question as to how, firstly, those two rule changes made it into Katy Clark’s Democracy Review and then, secondly, got past the NEC, which gutted it of many other suggestions. After all, 13 of the 39 members of the NEC are representatives from the affiliated unions, with a couple of other members (like treasurer Diana Holland) having been ‘seconded’ by them. They represent a hugely important bloc and usually vote together (just as they do at conference). Did they simply take their eye off the ball?

And who had been pushing for these changes in the first place? Katy Clark was working closely with Jeremy Corbyn – did they really set out to take on the unions? Yes, the union bloc has often acted as a barrier to progressive change in the party. But the biggest affiliate is still Unite and Len McCluskey remains a loyal supporter of Corbyn. Corbyn and Clark surely would not have pushed for these two changes without McCluskey’s say-so.

Perhaps this move indicates a split within the unions between those who support Corbyn and those who are currently led by rightwingers, such as the GMB, Unison and Community. That would be very welcome indeed. But we are guessing here. As is unfortunately often the case in the labour movement, these arguments are not fought out in the open, in front of the membership, but treated like a dirty secret and kept away from the working class.

We do know, however, that a certain Jon Lansman has certainly set out to curb the power of the unions in the party – no doubt in order to increase his own. The less power the unions have, the larger Momentum looms. This became most obvious when his then ally, Christine Shawcroft (whom he made director of Momentum on January 10 2017: ie, the day of his coup within the organisation), publicly supported his short-lived campaign to run against Unite’s Jennie Formby for the position of general secretary:

I was supporting Jon Lansman for general secretary before today’s NEC subcommittee meetings, but after today I am even more determined. Only someone from his tradition will support the rights of rank-and-file members in the CLPs. It is time to support disaffiliation of the unions from the Labour Party.

The reason she gave for that last comment was because they “always stick it to the rank-and-file members, time after time after time.”

Shawcroft clearly thought she was doing Lansman a favour by repeating what he had no doubt been going on about behind the scenes. Our Jon, however, was not best pleased and – despite dumping her like a hot potato straightaway (like he has done with so many former political friends and allies) – he was forced to withdraw his candidacy.

Momentum is, as far as we can see, the only Labour organisation that is supporting the move towards AMMs. True, among the pro-Corbyn membership this is considered ‘common sense’ – after all, the members should be in charge, right? Many local members who are pushing for AMMs are undoubtedly on the left and are doing so out of a real desire to support Corbyn’s leadership and break the ongoing hold of the right over many CLPs. In many areas, the same old bureaucracy has been running things for years and seems to have an unbreakable hold over the branches.

Local branch meetings, which select the CLP delegates, are often so boring and bureaucratic, without any debates or real life to them, that many of those inspired by Corbyn turn up once – and cannot bring themselves to go again. It is very difficult to turn around a rightwing branch that has been run by the same local clique for decades; it takes patient work and a huge amount of effort to organise the local left.

Pros and cons

The AMM structure does seem the easier way to turn things around. After all, CLP meetings are larger, you only have to attend a meeting once a month and they are more likely to feature a political discussion of some sort. It is much easier to persuade disconnected, atomised Corbyn supporters to come to a monthly AMM. This is, of course, exactly the reason why Labour First opposes the move (although Matt Pound tries to pretend that it has to do with its concern for the “gender balance” of CLP delegates, which would not be guaranteed in AMMs). In other words, in some areas it can be a good idea to push for AMMs – especially in smaller CLPs.

But there are very good reasons to be critical of them too:

  •  AMMs can further atomise the membership. The average size of a CLP is 850 members, but the actual local membership figures vary massively. In a small CLP, an AMM structure can allow you to meet and organise with other lefties when there might not be many or any in your branch (if there even is a branch). But in CLPs with many hundreds of members, AMMs can easily become too big to allow for any real democratic debate or decision-making. If the chair is on the right, they may not be willing to call in somebody from the left to speak, for example, making discussions very one-sided. The AGM is likely to turn into a huge jamboree, where members are supposed to vote for candidates that many might not have even heard of. This structure has the potential to make the CLP executive incredibly powerful and almost untouchable for the rest of the year. Not surprisingly, in some areas it is the local right that argues in favour of AMMs. Any AMM that involves more than, say, 70 members is clearly too big.
  • AMMs undermine representative democracy. Jon Lansman is a big fan of ‘digital democracy’ and online decision-making using ‘One member, one vote’. That should tell you why real democrats must oppose it. These methods might look democratic on paper, but dig a little deeper and you will find that they are designed to keep members atomised and the leadership all-powerful. CLP delegates, like conference delegates, are – at least in theory – accountable to the people who elected them. They are supposed to represent and argue for a particular political point of view. Good delegates report back on how they voted and are then faced with criticism or support, which allows for good political debate and the education of the whole membership.
  • AMM structures can demobilise the membership. They may make it more difficult for members to get involved in the day-to-day decision-making within the party. If you go to an AMM, you do not need to get involved in the local branch structures, you do not need to stand for delegate elections, you do not need to defend your voting records or your point of view. But we need our comrades to learn how to run things, to take charge, to organise and to be accountable and hold others to account. This is a crucial part of training our side up to run society in the not-so-distant future.
  • AMM structures weaken the trade union link. This is where the LRC focuses its criticism: It “seriously dilutes the input of union delegates into CLPs, a dangerous step … With some on the left even questioning the union-party link at any level, it is incumbent on socialists to argue for retaining that link, while taking up the cudgels for democratisation of that union input.”

While LRC comrades are wrong to elevate support for GC structures into a principle, they are quite right to raise the need to campaign for the “democratisation of the union input”, as they put it. In fact, the whole union movement – just like the Labour Party itself – is in need of a radical, democratic transformation. Many delegates from affiliated unions and socialist societies are playing such a negative role – for example, by supporting the local rightwing MP or stopping the CLP from supporting progressive campaigns – that many Corbyn supporters are understandably tempted to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

This issue really underlines how weak the left is in its campaign to democratise the unions. This is visibly demonstrated by the fact that both the CLPD and LRC have managed merely to come out against AMMs: they are not in a position to campaign against it.

Reinstate Peter Gregson

The use of the IHRA ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism to expel a union activist marks a new low, writes David Shearer 

On March 6, a shameful precedent was set when it was confirmed that Peter Gregson, a GMB shop steward in Edinburgh, has been expelled from his union for his political opinions.

In September 2018 Gregson launched a petition for Labour members, which has been signed by almost 1,600 people, declaring Israel to be “a racist endeavour”. This was, of course, intended as a direct challenge to Labour’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance so-called ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism, which lists precisely this expression among its ‘examples’, along with six other forms of criticisms of the Israeli state. According to the IHRA, all seven such examples are ‘anti-Semitic’.

His appeal against expulsion was heard on March 5, and the following day he was informed by the GMB’s central executive council that it had been rejected. The CEC letter states: “whilst you have every right to your freedom of speech, … you continued to post online and send emails against the decisions and policies set out by the governing authorities of the union …” In other words, “your freedom of speech” doesn’t apply when we tell you to shut up.

Gregson comments: “I have been expelled for breaching the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, for I failed to ‘cease and desist’ in promoting ‘anti-Semitic views and material’, when I was told to by the GMB Scotland secretary … and am therefore in breach of the rulebook.”

I will return to the details of the case below, but first it is necessary to outline the reasons why this decision is particularly outrageous. The aim of a union is to organise all workers in a particular sphere of employment, irrespective of their political views. Whereas a party is obviously defined by its politics, and clearly must have the right to decide which particular political opinions are compatible with its overall trajectory, that most certainly does not apply to unions.

The reason for this is obvious. While we must aim to win over the vast majority of union members to principled working class politics, the necessity for such political organisation will become clearer as a result of workers initially accepting their common class interests, as opposed to those of employers and the bourgeoisie in general. So unions must not vet members for their political opinions: it is to be accepted that these will vary enormously and – especially in the current climate, where forms of populist nationalism are on the rise – a minority of workers will have racist and even fascistic views.

However, these should only result in disciplinary action if it is clear that they have impacted directly on union organisation. If, for example, a member of a far-right grouping was elected as a local union official and began discriminating against black or other members, that person would have to be removed from their post (preferably through the actions of the local membership). But expulsion must only be implemented as a last resort – if, say, a member, whether as a result of their political views or not, attempts to sabotage agreed union actions and is clearly working against the interests of the overall membership.

It goes without saying that this is not such a case – to put it mildly – with Peter Gregson. The rightwing leadership of the GMB is in reality importing the Labour witch-hunt into the union – it adopted the IHRA ‘definition’ itself immediately following its adoption by Labour’s national executive on September 4, so that now, in the union as well as the party, anything but the mildest criticism of Israel is declared to be “anti-Semitic”.

In addition to spreading the message that Israel is a “racist endeavour”, Gregson was also found guilty of breaching another IHRA ‘example’: “Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the holocaust”. He admits that he has accused Israel (as opposed to Jews) of “exaggerating the holocaust” and quotes the former Israeli minister of education, Shulamit Aloni, who said in an interview: “Well, it’s a trick – we always use it. When from Europe somebody is criticising Israel, then we bring up the holocaust …” But Gregson adds: “I most definitely do not accuse [Israel] of exaggerating the numbers – six million Jews died in the crime of the century.”

Just for good measure, Gregson – who is also “under investigation” by the Labour Party – was found “guilty of a direct attack on one of the GMB’s employees”. No, not a physical attack – he had “singled out” for criticism Rhea Wolfson as the person most likely to have initiated the disciplinary action against him. He stated (correctly) that Wolfson, a leading member of the Jewish Labour Movement, is “an avowed Zionist”. As a result he was accused of “targeting” her “because she is Jewish”.

It goes without saying that, while Gregson is not anti-Semitic, he can certainly be criticised for his eccentric politics – in the words of Jewish Voice for Labour, he is a “loose cannon”. For example, he admits that his initiative can be described as a “death-wish” petition, in that it is “sticking two fingers up to the NEC” by “brazenly breaking the IHRA rule”. He adds: “It is important now for more of us to come out and openly breach the IHRA, whilst never being anti-Semitic in the true sense of the word.”

Such brazen defiance is a matter of tactics, of course, but it must be said that in current circumstances it is not exactly a wise move. Firstly, the forces opposing the witch-hunt are extremely weak and are hardly in a good position to mount a successful challenge of this sort. Secondly, the “death-wish” petition does the right’s work for it by identifying hundreds of Labour members as easy targets.

Gregson also makes himself a target through his inappropriate choice of words. For instance, he has claimed that “Jews” in Britain have “leverage” because of what he describes as a general feeling of guilt over the holocaust. When this clumsy phrasing was criticised by JVL – surely it is the Zionists, not undifferentiated “Jews”, who would try to turn any such sentiment to their advantage? – he was not prepared to admit his error or change his wording. His response is: “… we suffer in the UK from holocaust guilt. Thus, all Jews have leverage, whether they want it or not, because all Jews were victims.”

However, we must not let this hold us back from defending him.He is a victim of a rightwing witch-hunt, aimed at defeating the left and regaining control of the party for the Blairites.

Socialist Party wants to affiliate to Labour

SPEW has written to the Labour Party asking to affiliate. Peter Manson looks at the background (reproduced from the Weekly Worker)

Those who do not read The Socialist may not be aware that the Socialist Party in England and Wales has applied to affiliate to Labour – a couple of weeks ago the SPEW weekly published correspondence on the matter between Labour’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, and its own leader, Peter Taaffe (September 19).

This is of particular interest, since for more than two decades SPEW insisted that Labour was now just another capitalist party – like the Tories or Liberal Democrats. But in its April 6 letter to Jennie Formby, in which SPEW expressed a wish “to meet with you to discuss the possibility of our becoming an affiliate of the Labour Party”, comrade Taaffe describes the election of Jeremy Corbyn as “the first step to potentially transforming Labour into a mass workers’ party”, standing on an “anti-austerity programme”. So now “all genuinely anti-austerity forces should be encouraged to affiliate”.

While we should, of course, welcome SPEW’s application for affiliation, it is surely pertinent to ask why SPEW stresses the need for an “anti-austerity programme” above all else. It does this even though it correctly states in the same edition of The Socialist: “When the Labour Party was founded, it was a federation of different trade union and socialist organisations, coming together to fight for working class political representation”: ie, nothing so limited as merely opposing spending cuts. I will explore this in greater detail below.

Eventually, on July 27 – ie, almost four months after receiving comrade Taaffe’s original letter – Jennie Formby replied, beginning her letter, “Dear Mr Taaffe”. She pointed out that Labour rules prevent the affiliation of political organisations with “their own programme, principles and policies” – unless they have a “national agreement with the party”. Also groups which stand candidates against Labour are automatically barred: “As the Socialist Party is part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, who stood candidates against the Labour Party in the May 2018 elections, it is ineligible for affiliation.”

In his next letter (August 23) Peter Taaffe answered the first point by saying that SPEW wanted a meeting precisely to discuss the possibility of such a “national agreement”. And, in response to the second point, he said SPEW would much prefer to be part of an anti-austerity Labour Party “rather than having to standagainst pro-austerity Labour candidates” (my emphasis). After all, while Tusc had not contested the 2017 general election, in this year’s local elections in England it stood no fewer than 111 candidates against Labour.

Following this, Jennie Formby replied rather more quickly. On August 29 – this time starting her letter “Dear Peter” – she ruled out any meeting: “Whilst the Socialist Party continues to stand candidates against the Labour Party … it will not be possible to enter into any agreement.” Therefore “there can be no discussions”.

As I have stated, it is good news that on the face of it SPEW has at last started to take Labour seriously. But obviously it needs to stop standing against Labour candidates, including those who it says are “implementing savage cuts”. As the Labour general secretary points out, while SPEW says it wants to affiliate in order to support Jeremy Corbyn and help defeat the right, “The leader of a political party is judged by their electoral success. Standing candidates against the Labour Party is damaging not only to local Labour Parties, but also to Jeremy.”

Nevertheless, Jennie Formby’s second letter appears to leave the door open to affiliation by left groups. Such a change would be highly significant, possibly marking a return to the basis upon which Labour was founded in 1900.

Anti-austerity

Let us now examine why SPEW states that what is needed is not a party of all working class formations, including both trade unions and leftwing groups, but one of all “anti-austerity forces”. This can be traced back to the changing face of Tusc itself.

Founded in 2010, Tusc was the successor to the short-lived Campaign for a New Workers’ Party, and both organisations were open in their aim – made explicit in the CNWP’s name – of establishing a new mass party to replace Labour. However, according to the ‘updated’ statement of aims on its website, Tusc was set up “with the primary goal of enabling trade unionists, community campaigners and socialists to stand candidates against pro-austerity establishment politicians” (October 2016).

But that is being economical with the truth. SPEW was, of course, the prime mover within both the CNWP and Tusc and, in the words of central committee member Clive Heemskerk, writing in The Socialist on February 3 2010:

The Socialist Partybelieves that the Labour Party has now been totally transformed into New Labour, which bases itself completely on the brutallogic of capitalism. Previously, as a ‘capitalist workers’ party’ (aparty with pro-capitalist leaders, but with democratic structures thatallowed the working class to fight for its interests), the Labour Party always had the potential to act at leastas a check on the capitalists. The consequences of radicalising the Labour Party’s working class base was always afactor the ruling class had to take into account. Now the situation is completely different. Without the re-establishment of at least the basis of independent working class political representation, the capitalists will feel less constrained in imposing their austerity policies.

While SPEW was clear that this could not come about immediately, the ultimate aim was stated by comrade Heemskerk to be: “A new mass political vehicle for workers, a new workers’ party”. He explained:

For the Socialist Party the importance of Tusc lies above all in itspotential as a catalyst in the trade unions, both in the structures and below, for the idea of working class political representation. It can also play a role in drawing together anti-cuts campaigns, environmental campaigners, anti-racist groups, etc (my emphasis).

So campaigning against cuts, etc was most definitely seen as secondary. First and foremost was the need to lay the basis for a new workers’ party – the nature of which was made clear in the above quote: “working class political representation” primarily for the unions – in other words, a ‘Labour Party mark two’, as we in the CPGB have always called it.

How things have changed since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader. In her article, posted on the SPEW website following the May local elections, deputy general secretary Hannah Sell writes:

… the support for Corbyn has created the potential for a mass democratic party of the working class, which is desperately needed. If it is not to be squandered, it is vital that there are no more retreats, but instead the start of a determined campaign to transform Labour into a party capable of opposing austerity with socialist policies, in deeds as well as words.

Since SPEW now apparently agrees that the Labour Party itself ought to be transformed, it is unsurprising that it has dropped the call for “a new workers’ party” to replace it – Tusc was supposed to provide the basis for that, remember (always wishful thinking, of course).

So now we find that the purpose of Tusc is suddenly “to stand candidates against pro-austerity establishment politicians” – as if the original aim of “a new workers’ party” had never existed. And, I suppose, that is why comrade Taaffe feels obliged to emphasise the need for all Labour candidates to stand on an “anti-austerity programme” and for the party to welcome “all genuinely anti-austerity forces”. Only if that happened could Tusc shut up shop!

In its statement following the May 2018 election results, Tusc claimed:

This was the most selective local election stand that Tusc has taken in its eight-year history, following the general recalibration of its electoral policy after Jeremy Corbyn’s welcome victory as Labour leader in September 2015.

There was not a single Tusc candidate on May 3 standing in a direct head-to-head contest with a Labour candidate who had been a consistent public supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and his anti-austerity policies. Tusc only stood against rightwing, Blairite Labour councillors and candidates. The Labour candidates in the seats contested by Tusc included 32 councillors who had publicly backed the leadership coup attempt against Jeremy Corbyn in summer 2016, signing a national open letter of support for the rightwing challenger, Owen Smith.

However,

In a situation where Labour is still so clearly two-parties-in-one … – with many local ‘Labour’ candidates standing more ferociously against Jeremy Corbyn than they do the Tories – the task is still there to make sure that politicians of any party label who support capitalism and its inevitable austerity agenda are not left unchallenged.

So that was the position in relation to the (‘pro-austerity’) Labour right – expose them by standing against them. But what did Tusc (and SPEW itself) recommend in wards where there were pro-Corbyn candidates? The truth is, there was no call for a Labour vote anywhere – how was that supposed to aid the Corbyn wing?

What about the unions?

So has SPEW really changed its approach to Labour? For example, why do its comrades in unions like the PCS and RMT still oppose their affiliation to the party? SPEW has argued that, until the Labour right is defeated, it is just a ‘waste of money’ for the unions to spend thousands on affiliation fees. Yet, in its August 23 letter to Jennie Formby, comrade Taaffe wrote:

We see a very urgent need to organise and mobilise all those who support Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity policies into a mass campaign to democratise the Labour Party, allowing the hundreds of thousands who have been inspired by Jeremy’s leadership to hold to account, and to deselect, the Blairite saboteurs.

Surely, if that is the aim, the affiliation of left-led unions like the PCS and RMT could only but help the process.

Perhaps I am being cynical, but the possibility does suggest itself that the principal purpose of Tusc was always something other than its stated aims (either original or amended). Maybe SPEW wanted to work within a broader formation primarily in order to win recruits for itself? It is almost as though SPEW would actually prefer a right-led Labour Party.

However, irrespective of what SPEW is really up to, at least we should be grateful that the affiliation of left groups has been broached once more; and that the Labour general secretary – no doubt after consultation with the leadership team around Corbyn – has left the door open to that possibility.

The Labour Party rules must be changed, so that all the current bans and proscriptions are scrapped. The aim must be to transform Labour into a united front for the entire working class.

John McDonnell’s 10% shares plan: There is no ethical capitalism

WEDNESDAY fullRed Pages, Wednesday September 26 – download the PDF here

In today’s issue:

There is no ethical capitalism
John McDonnell’s 10% share scheme sounds radical, but it is an old trick

Bomb hoax at Jackie Walker film

Right wing damp squib
The Jewish Labour Movement and other right wingers kept their heads down – some thugs did their dirty work

No Momentum
Conference proved that it is time for Jon Lansman to step aside


There is no ethical capitalism

John McDonnell’s 10% share scheme sounds radical, but it is an old trick

In his key speech to conference, John McDonnell outlined his plans for “true industrial democracy”. After all, “workers, who create the wealth of a company, should share in its ownership and, yes, in the returns that it makes”. So, up to a third of the seats on company boards would be “allocated to workers”. Companies employing more than 250 staff would have to pay 1% of their assets, or up to 10% of their shares, into an ‘inclu- sive ownership fund’. Although they would not be compelled to pay out dividends, McDonnell reckons that most companies would do so, which would mean up to £500 a year for perhaps 11 million workers.

Anything above £500 would be paid into a fund to help finance pub- lic services. McDonnell believes that would provide an extra £2 billion a year for the NHS, etc. Although he was trying to sell all this as very radical, he was careful to emphasise that it was actually in the interests of capital too. You see, “employee owner- ship” is likely to increase “a company’s productivity” and encourage “long-term thinking”.

In reality there is nothing radical about such schemes. Far from em- powering our class, the intention is to emphasise a ‘common interest’ with the capitalists – if we cooperate, both sides will benefit, right? That is why similar programmes have been introduced in several countries – often by rightwing parties. Surely if we have a share in the ownership of the company employing us, that will make us more likely to work alongside the bosses to help increase profits, won’t it? And it wouldn’t be a good idea to go on strike.

This scheme would be unlikely to make workers better off. It is obvious that funds diverted to shares for em- ployees would have to be taken from somewhere – companies would argue that this additional cost would reduce their ability to increase wages.

McDonnell once knew that workers and capitalists have no common interest, and that, far from promoting a more cooperative form of capitalism, we need to establish our own system, based on production for need, not for profit. But now, instead of targeting the system of capital itself, he restricts his criticism to the “financial elite”.

When it came to the proposed public ownership of industries like water, energy, Royal Mail and the railways, McDonnell reiterated that this would not represent a “return to the past”. This time the nationalised sector would be “run democratically” – with workers’ representatives sitting alongside state appointees.

Despite this vision of a more ethical, participatory form of capitalism, McDonnell had the cheek to end his speech by describing it as “socialism” – before shouting “Solidarity!” to the largely approving delegates.

The problem he and Corbyn have is that, no matter how much they go out of their way to reassure the estab- lishment, the latter just doesn’t buy it. It knows that, with their past record of siding with the workers, neither can be trusted to run the system.

John and Jeremy – drop the reassurances to capital and stick with the interests of the workers!

 


Right wing damp squib

The Jewish Labour Movement and other right wingers kept their heads down – some thugs did their dirty work

In the run-up to conference there were reports that rightwingers were planning to “force conference dele- gates to ‘run the gauntlet’ of a placard-waving demonstration that will claim to be about anti-Semitism”; that “disruption was planned at any fringe event that Corbyn is expected to attend”, and that “any appearances by Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, Labour general secretary Jennie Formby or Chris Williamson are on the hit list”. There were also rumours of some sort of anti-Corbyn demonstration along the lines of the ‘Enough is enough’ outing on March 26. Various leftwing ‘rapid response teams’ had started to organise in or- der to mobilise for a quick counter-demonstration.

Tweet on LPMIn the end, none of it happened. Supporters of the pro-Zionist Jewish Labour Movement and other rightwingers kept to themselves and made no attempt to engage delegates and visitors. We also received markedly less abuse this year compared to the 2017 conference in Brighton. Last year, our Labour Party Marxists front-page article – ‘Anti- Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism’, written by Israeli socialist Moshé Machover – led to huge uproar. Assorted rightwingers and supporters of the JLM gathered aggressively around our stall, snatched copies of LPM and tried to provoke our distributors. It was all pretty small-scale and pathetic, but the right was in an aggressive and offensive mood.

It got worse: John Mann MP and the JLM complained to Labour’s compliance unit. It led to the suspension and then expulsion of comrade Machover over his links with LPM. After a huge international outcry and a pointed lawyer’s letter to the Labour Party, Iain McNicol relented and reinstated comrade Machover within a month.

But that was 2017. This year, the response has been far more mooted.

Again, our excellent front-page article was written by comrade Machover. Its headline is intentionally provocative: ‘Why Israel is a racist state’. This refers, of course, to the NEC’s ill-judged adoption of the full ‘working definition’ of anti-Semitism published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), including all 11 disputed examples – which includes a ban on describing Israel as racist. Clearly, comrade Machover’s article is perti- nent and we were not surprised that many delegates and visitors were attracted by the headline. We handed out over 2,000 copies of LPM, in addition to the 1,300 daily copies of our Red Pages. Reactions were 95% favourable, with many thanking us, and some commenting along the lines of: ‘At long last, somebody is giving some political guidance!’ Even Labour First’s Luke Akehurst could not help admitting that he was “very impressed” by our daily output (he seems to have been the only one handing out his A4 Labour First leaflet).

palestine flags 2We got a few quietly huffed comments along the lines of ‘Don’t you know that’s anti-Semitic?’ But that’s about it. While the right has been incredibly successful with their smear campaign in the mainstream media, that kind of bubble bursts pretty quickly once you come to con- ference. Party delegates are usually among the most active Labour members – they know from first-hand experience that the party is not riddled with anti-Semites. It seemed as though every other delegate or conference visitor had swapped their official lanyard (featuring the logo of the rightwing Usdaw union) with that handed out by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Yesterday, hundreds of delegates waved Palestinian flags (which had been distributed by the PSC and Labour Against the Witchhunt) when a composite motion on Palestine was debated and, like last year, every reference to Palestine was greeted with huge applause.

No wonder then that rightwingers are not exactly keen to openly show their face at conference any more. We can just about imagine the reception they would have got if they had tried to hold up ‘Corbyn is an anti- Semite’ posters.

However, we hear of two instances where small groups of Zionist thugs from ‘Jewish Human Rights Watch’, armed with video cameras, followed Jewish pro-Palestine campaigner Jenny Manson and Unite general secretary Len McCluskey after fringe meetings, trying to threaten and provoke them. The bomb scare at the screening of the Jackie Walker documentary certainly falls into that category (see below).

Screenshot 2018-09-25 20.04.39Clearly, the civil war is far from over and the smear campaign in the media continues unabated. For example, the right has been busy fingering comrade Machover and LPM: The Jewish Chronicle shouts that we were distributing “vicious anti-Israel hate material, Breitbart calls it an “inflammatory article”, while The Times of Israel complains, wrongly, that comrade Machover was “comparing Israel to Nazis”.

Comrade Machover has responded in an admiringly calm manner to all this: “If you are interested in the truth, please read my article and the two attacks. You will see that the Jewish Chronicle and Times of Israel articles contain several lies and distortions, among which are the very headings of the said articles.”

We cannot rule out that comrade Machover may once again be reported to Labour’s compliance unit. We cannot rule out that he will once again be suspended. We cannot rule out further expulsions of LPM supporters. Although Jeremy Corbyn publicly stated last year that he was “glad” that comrade Machover had been reinstated, a lot has happened in the last 12 months. Because of the ongoing and doomed strategy of the party leadership around Corbyn to try and conciliate and placate the right, the fake anti-Semitism campaign has gained an incredible amount of ground.

Take the conference session on Tuesday afternoon with the rather absurd title of ‘Security at home and abroad’, which included the debate on Brexit – and Palestine. This session was, incredibly, chaired by NEC member Rhea Wolfson, a member of the JLM. She started the session by warning conference to stay away from “inward-looking debate which focuses on internal matters and NEC decisions. Please be careful about the language you use. Make everybody feel welcome and do not boo.”

Wolfson was, however, less than “welcoming” when Hilary Wise from Ealing and Acton Central CLP spoke eloquently about the anti-Semitism smear campaign. She stated that as a campaigner on Palestinian rights for 30 years, she had “never seen anything like the current campaign of slurs and accusations made against Jeremy Corbyn and the left in the party. I am afraid it is an orchestrated campaign and if you want to know how it works I urge you to watch ‘The Lobby’ on Al Jazeera.”

At that point Wolfson warned her: “I would ask you to be very careful. You are straying into territory here.”

Comrade Wise went on to warn quite rightly that “this campaign will only get worse and the list of people being denounced as anti-Semitic will get longer, often simply for being proponents of Palestinian rights.” Wolfson interrupted her again: “I urge you to be careful” and then went straight on to tell her abruptly: “Take your seat – your time is up now.”

After two minutes and 45 seconds, that is. All other delegates got a minimum of three minutes, with Wolfson gently requesting that they finish when their time was up. But Wolfson is not just a member of the JLM: she used her vote on the NEC to send Jackie Walker to the national constitutional committee, pushed through the IHRA definition and has ambitions to become an MP. She will fit in well with the current PLP. Her fellow travellers in the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty must be so proud (she is an editor of their magazine The Clarion).

Thornberry

In this context, the speech by Emily Thornberry, groomed by ‘moderates’ to take over from Jeremy Corbyn, was interesting. She clearly had been picked to speak in favour of the anti-Semitism witch-hunt – the only person at conference to do so. “There are sickening individuals on the fringes of our movement, who use our legitimate support for Palestine as a cloak and a cover for their despicable hatred of Jewish people, and their desire to see Israel destroyed. These people stand for everything that we have always stood against and they must be kicked out of our party, the same way Oswald Mosley was kicked out of Liverpool.” Her dramatic shouts of “No pasaran, no pasaran!” tricked some people into giving her a standing ovation.

Needless to say, Rhea Wolfson made no attempt to reign in Thornberry for these crass insults, no doubt directed at comrades like Jackie Walker, who is about to be thrown out of the party. Thornberry is a fellow Zionist, after all.

To quote Chris Williamson MP at the fringe organised by Labour Against the Witchhunt: “The only way you stop a playground bully is to stop running. The monster is getting bigger, the more you feed it. Stop feeding the beast! They are trying to pick us off, one by one. Which is why we need to call this campaign out for what it is: a pile of nonsense.”


Bomb hoax at Jackie Walker film

bombLast night’s film preview of the new documentary, ‘The political
 lynching of Jackie Walker’, had to be stopped a few minutes in.
 After an anonymous phone call (“there are two bombs in the
building that will kill many people”), all 150 visitors had to evacu
ate Blackburn House on police orders. Of course, no bomb was
found. By the time the police gave the all-clear, the staff wanted 
to go home. This hoax is almost certainly part of the campaign
by pro-Zionist forces to disrupt and intimidate the pro-Palestinian left. But, of course, this kind of cowardly behaviour will only
 increase the feeling of solidarity for Jackie Walker and all the
other victims of the witch-hunt – and interest in the film. Director Jon Pullman announced outside Blackburn House that anybody who wants to show the documentary should contact him: www.jonpullman.com.


No Momentum

Conference proved that it is
 time for Jon Lansman to go

Momentum played almost no role at conference. Of course, it organised The World Transformed across three venues, but with varied levels of success. It felt smaller than previous events and much less relevant, with most sessions having been outsourced to other organisations. While Freedom of Speech on Israel, the Liverpool 47 and Labour Against the Witchhunt were denied spaces, those allowed to organise at TWT made use of it by putting on valuable sessions like ‘Decolonising yoga’ and ‘Acid Corbynism’.

Last year, Momentum made a huge effort in advance of conference to gather data from delegates, so that they could be regularly sent text messages, carrying frequently useful voting guidelines. None of that happened this year. Momentum had published an app, but, unless you actively went looking for recommendations, you wouldn’t know how Jon Lansman (the owner of Momentum’s database) felt about the various conference motions.

Momentum also did not put forward any candidates – or voting recommendations – for positions on the conference arrangements committee or the national constitutional committee (which deals with all disciplinary matters passed on to it by the NEC).

Crucially, Lansman badly folded on the question of open selection of parliamentary candidates (also known as mandatory reselection). Moved by International Labour, this rule change would have done away with the undemocratic trigger ballot, which always favours the sitting MP, who has to be actively challenged. Open selection would have created a level playing field between all interested candidates. Clearly, a much better and far more democratic system.

Having opportunistically jumped on the open selection bandwagon about a week before conference, he let it be known during the debate on the Party Democracy Review that Momentum would now prefer that delegates voted in favour of the NEC compromise after all – ie, a reform of the trigger ballot rather than its abolition. This followed hot on the heels of Unite general secretary Len McCluskey’s intervention, who kept on insisting that he would ask his delegates to vote for mandatory reselection – if such a motion should reach conference floor. But, in the meantime, he did everything in his power to stop the motion coming before conference.

Most delegates were fuming and the NEC amendment only scraped through because of the support of the unions. Momentum was clearly not representing CLP delegates – the vast majority of whom are in support of mandatory reselection (see yesterday’s issue of Red Pages).

Momentum has proved once again how utterly useless it is when it comes to actually organising the Labour left. Things really started to disintegrate in the wake of the Lansman coup of January 10 2017, when Lansman abolished all democratic structures in Momentum and imposed his own constitution. But the whole farce over the defeat of the principle of mandatory reselection exposed really rather dramatically the huge vacuum that exists on the left of our party. We urgently need a principled, effective organisation of the Labour left that can coordinate the fight for the democratic transformation of the party and coordinate a national campaign for mandatory reselection and other important democratic demands. Momentum clearly cannot fill that role.