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LEFT UNITY MEETING MAKES SOME PROGRESS – but there is plenty still to work on REPORT FROM NATIONAL LEFT UNITY MEETING MAY 11th

Compiled by Pete McLaren for the ISN

The first national Left Unity meeting had been organised by an ad-hoc Organising Committee for up to two representatives of each of the 80+ local Left Unity (LU) groups. It followed the call for people to sign up to discussing the need for a new Left Party, supported by, amongst others, film producer Ken Loach. Around 60 local LU groups were represented. . It was quite a mixed audience – a handful of ISN/TUSC supporters, a few members of Workers Power, the CPGB, SR, the SP, SA, the former SWP ISN and other socialist activists, a few former SWP members and many relatively new campaigners with a healthy ratio of women delegates.

Bianca Todd from Northampton chaired the first session, which rather bizarrely began with a debate about whether or not minutes should be taken. Kate Hudson then made an introduction and explained why there was a need for a new Left Party. Reports and general comment were requested from local groups, and there was a clear divide between those of us who wanted to welcome left organisations as part of the project, and those who clearly didn’t. Everyone who spoke was positive about the Left Unity project. I was eventually able to explain, as part of my contribution from Rugby LU, that TUSC had approached Ken Loach and was now formally writing to the Organising Committee to call for collaboration, despite having been informed prior to the meeting I could not speak for TUSC! The following were amongst other points made in the discussion:

  • The SP and SWP were already involved in local Left Unity groups, and we need to find a way of all working together
  • LU must make sure it is not controlled by left groups – we must avoid being taken over as happened with the Socialist Alliance
  • We should allow left groups to affiliate, and we must respect their traditions. We need to allow factions or platforms to form
  • It was vital to offer supporters membership
  • We must be campaigning and not only work around elections
  • We must quickly become an individual membership organisation whilst allowing left groups on board.
  • If we have large numbers of individual members, including individuals from left groups, left groups would not be in a position to take over
  • Accessible language was important
  • Our class is being battered, with no real opposition, hence the need for a new left party
  • Democracy and openness are vital within a new party, which must also be inclusive
  • We should welcome all on the left as individuals, not as representatives of parties
  • We need to open up dialogue with all left groups to establish ways of working together whilst encouraging them to become a full part of LU – with safeguards/mechanisms in place to prevent groups dominating or taking over
  • LU has already moved left organisations to discuss its presence
  • We must discuss ways of encouraging trade unions, tenants and community groups to become part of LU. We want One Party of the Left
  • The Organising Committee should be congratulated for the start that has been with over 8,000 supporters and nearly 100 local LU groups in less than 2 months

The afternoon session began with Andrew Burgin describing the process and importance of setting up local LU groups. The following were amongst points made in the discussion which followed:

  • Our attitude to the SP and SWP is crucial – it must be a positive one
  • A One Member One Vote (OMOV) organisation would give people the confidence to join
  • We will need to negotiate with TUSC over elections
  • We are agreed about the need to set up a new left party: we must differentiate ourselves from the Labour Party and the Green Party
  • There is lots of student support for LU, but caution about parties

At this point Nick Wrack motivated his Procedural Motion not to take decisions today on most of the Statement sent out by the Organising Committee, any amendments to it, or other resolutions submitted, as they had mostly/entirely not been available to local LU groups.

The only parts of that Statement kept in by the Procedural Motion were the election of a new Organising Committee, the process of debate, and need for another national meeting and a Founding conference for a new Party. In motivation, he outlined how most of the 23 motions and amendments had been seen for the first time that day. Few local LU groups would have had any discussion on them, or on amendments to the Statement sent out by the Committee.

During the debate, it became clear there had been a divide within the Committee. The following were amongst additional points made:

  • We need a statement of intent – something must come out of this meeting
  • The danger of rushing is we could undo the achievements so far
  • Some local LU reps present were unelected local orgainsers with no mandate
  • The Organising Committee had decided by a two thirds majority to sent out its Statement: it was ‘sour grapes’ not to want to put it to the meeting
  • The Organising Committee did not discuss the content of the statement, let alone take a view on it

An amendment was moved that a commitment to the principle of One Member One Vote within Left Unity be added to the Procedural Motion. Nick Wrack accepted the amendment

In reply to the debate, Simon Hardy confirmed the Organising committee had not endorsed the Statement.

The amended Procedural Motion was put to the vote, and after two counts, was agreed by 51 votes to 36 with 12 abstentions and a few not voting at all. What was agreed was as follows:

This meeting resolves not to take any votes on any of the statements, resolutions or amendments except for those, or those parts, which deal with 1) the election of the new national co-ordinating group [to be dissolved and replaced with a properly elected body at the first conference] 2) the process of debate and discussion 3) the dates of the next national meeting and the founding conference and 4) the principle that the new organisation should be based on ‘One Member, One Vote’.

The session ended with an address by Ken Loach. He joked that it had been good to see democracy in action. It was vital to get our act together to combat UKIP, he continued. We did not need another Social Democratic party. The new Left party must be anti-capitalist, socialist and democratic – adopting OMOV was vital- and it did not want charismatic leaders. We needed to become experts on all social issues such as housing, education and health. We needed words, organisation and agitation, he concluded – it would be a colossal project.

The meeting then proceeded to vote for the national Organising Committee that will organise the next national meeting and plan for the Founding Conference. ISN members Will McMahon, Pete McLaren and Ally Macgregor were amongst those nominated. After some discussion the following proposal on the composition of the new Group was agreed:

§ Local group reps elected by the local groups, one per group, where the group has at least 5 members and has had at least one minuted meeting. As groups develop they will be added.

§ 10 people elected by the meeting

§ Those 10 to comprise at least 50% women

A proposal to delete point 3 was rejected. There were 30 nominations

Those elected were: Andrew Burgin (M), Terry Conway (F), Merry Cross (F), Felicity Dowling (F), Guy Harper (M), Kate Hudson (F), Chris Hurley (F), Salman Shaheen (M), Bianca Todd (F), Tom Walker (M)

Tina Becker, CPGB, proposed that the socialist groups that support the Left Unity project have non-voting observers on the Organising Committee. This was defeated.

The meeting also voted to move the Founding Conference for the new Party forward to November 2013.

In conclusion, I felt the positives outweighed the negatives, but it was hard going at times. There is a real dislike, in some quarters, of left organisations, and it is interesting that only one of the ten elected to the Organising Ctte is a member of a left group as far as I am aware (Tom Walker – ex SWP now ISN). At times, the meeting was more like a convention of youth workers (no disrespect to youth workers – I have been one and my brother still is!) in the sense that it was a little jolly, twee and somewhat bourgeois – one of the chairs referred to all men who spoke as “Sir”! However, what mattered was that a general degree of unity was shown and some positive decisions made. In many ways being there felt like a breath of fresh air. At least a commitment has been made to launching a new Left Party. An electoral title has been registered. A relatively positive start has been made, but there is a long way to go.

Pete McLaren 12/05/13

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