Workers' Liberty conference 2018

Submitted by Gemma_S on 28 August, 2018 - 1:27

Policies passed out our 2018 conference (24-25 November). Policies passed on guidance on comradely behaviour, what to do in inter-personal disputes and safeguarding young people and vulnerable adults can be found here.


WHY REVOLUTIONARIES ORGANISE

The working class has the potential to become a great power in society, but can make that potential a reality, even on the most limited scale, only by organisation.

That fact follows from two facts about the working class in developed capitalist society. It is the basic productive class. It is simultaneously a wage-slave class. Its members are relegated to relative poverty, cultural and educational restrictions, insecurity, and exhausting work burdens of parcellised tasks. Individual workers, without collective organisation, are merely troops under capitalist command.

The working class has developed permanent organisations on a scale not approached by any previous subordinate class in history. Yet some facts about the position of the working class in capitalist society tend to weaken those organisations.

The wage-slave status of the working class creates a bias towards the rank and file being relatively inactive and unconfident in its organisations. Control over the leading officials and parliamentarians becomes weak, even if the organisations have good democratic forms on paper (and usually they don't).

Those leading officials and parliamentarians live in a different world, prosperous, fairly secure, locked into frequent association and horse-trading with capitalist officials and managers. They organically gravitate towards politics of bargaining within the system which leave the working class passive and in adverse times drift into little more than damage-limitation.

In broad historic terms, the solution to this dilemma lies in the creation of an organisation of the most committed and best self-educated labour-movement activists which, drawing nourishment from all the social rebellions of the working class and its allies, small and large, builds itself into a revolutionary party capable of transforming the labour movement and thwarting those organic trends of weakening. As Max Shachtman explained: “Without consciousness and plan, the proletarian revolution is impossible; lacking them, a working class that seizes power will never hold it. Without consciousness and plan, the establishment of socialism is impossible; if socialism is not consciously planned, it will never come. Consciousness and plan imply a self-active, aware, participating, deciding proletariat, which implies in turn a dying-out of coercion and bureaucratism”.

It also implies a great achievement of self-education. The organisation must be clear about its aim and active in promoting it, rather than hoping for it to be achieved by roundabout ways. That includes defining and polemicising about the gulf between working-class socialism and all the other ideologies which have come to adopt the word “socialism”.

It follows therefore that to be effective, Marxists must organise. To keep our Marxist theory sharp and clear, we must constantly test it in practice and debate, and that too requires organisation.

We must use the openings given by the Corbyn surge to advance the work of education, persuasion, and activist organising; every deficiency in doing so weakens not only the long-term battle for socialism, but also what the working class can gain from the Corbyn surge in the short term.

The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty does not conceive of itself as being a revolutionary party already-shaped, and only needing to expand in numbers and grow by its own organic processes in order to become a full-formed, i.e. mass, party. The future party has to embody a sizeable fraction of the labour movement, more than an ideologically-defined pioneer minority, and will be built through a complicated process of regroupments, splits, and mergers. We have seen the illusion of being an already-shaped (albeit as yet small) “party”, often signalled by adopting the word “party” rather than “alliance”, “league”, “group” “tendency” etc. for the organisation, accompanying sectarian politics (WRP, SWP, RCP, SP, etc).

Education

The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty is in essence a political-educational campaign for a revolutionary working-class party — one which sees our political-educational work as constantly and integrally linked with activity in the immediate class struggle: a tendency within the labour movement that aims to build up socialist class consciousness in our fellow workers, persuade them of the ideas that can form the political basis of such a party, and join them with us in ongoing activity.

This does not mean that our work is less essential than it would be if we called ourselves a “party”; only that we have a proper sense of proportion about what we have achieved so far, and what remains to be achieved. The conditions required for the work of a pioneer activist organisation to be fruitful are in general no less taxing for the people who undertake it than are those for an already-shaped party.

While we have a fundamentally educational role, the AWL is not a discussion circle. We also attempt to act as a lever to catalyse, and shape, workers’ struggle: as revolutionary activists in our workplaces and unions, and within the broad labour movement around us.

We attempt to act as a “memory of the class”, retaining the accumulated memories of struggles won and lost, so that their lessons can be learnt and applied in our struggles today.

To do what it has to do, the organisation has to be democratic, maintaining democratic oversight and accountability over the activity of its members who gain official positions in the broad movement and of course its own officials. To be democratic and effective, it must demand of its activists a solid minimum level of regularity in “party” activity, discipline in action, and self-education.

Lenin summed it up thus: “We defined it as: unity of action, freedom of discussion and criticism. Only such discipline is worthy of the democratic party of the advanced class.” (bit.ly/lenin-06). He explained further in another article around the same time: “Criticism within the limits of the principles of the Party Programme must be quite free... not only at Party meetings, but also at public meetings [but] the Party’s political action must be united. No 'calls' that violate the unity of definite actions can be tolerated…”

In other words, “discipline” does not, as with some groups on the left, mean pretending to think differently from your real thoughts. It does mean a responsibility to cooperate in action, and a responsibility to clarify and argue differences rather than passively dissociating.

Outside of times of great social upheaval, revolutionary socialist organisations have usually been small, though with an influence beyond their tiny numbers. Trotsky records that in the depth of the reaction between the 1905 revolution in Russia and 1917: “In 1910 in the whole country there were a few dozen people. Some were in Siberia [i.e. exiled there by the Tsarist police]. But they were not organised. The people whom Lenin could reach by correspondence or by an agent numbered about 30 or 40 at most”. What those 30 or 40 did was indispensable for bringing it about that by February 1917 the Bolsheviks had an organisation of some 8,000 — a small minority, but with wider influence — from which base it could move to win the majority in the Soviets and lead the revolution. If it had been only 10 or 15, rather than 30 or 40, then quite likely the Bolshevik organisation would have been too small and little-known in February to have a chance of winning a majority by October, no matter how good its policy. And if those 30 or 40 had gone “with the stream”, one way or another, rather than constantly fighting to sharpen their collective Marxist understanding, the Bolsheviks would have been unable to develop the sharp and often subtle tactics, the clear proposals, the energy in pushing ideas, which they also needed to win the majority. In fact they would probably have foundered and split in 1917.

The same goes for us today. Unless we develop ourselves sharply and energetically in not-so-favourable times, we will lack the means to flower, to acquire new capacities, to grow through splits and fusions as well as accumulation of individuals, in more favourable times.

The Corbyn surge since 2015 gives us openings. About half a million people have joined the Labour Party, and some 35,000 have joined Momentum, the great majority doing so because they want to be politically active in some way or another as left-wingers.

What happens with such initially-vague surges depends on what they find to hand in the way of ideologies and political “teams”. After decades of low political life in the labour movement, since the mid-90s at least, the ideologies and political “teams” that the new young Corbyn supporters, and the older people pulled back from political retirement, found to hand were Stalinist or Stalinoid politics — mediated through the Morning Star, but also through the activity of outright Stalinists in the Leader's Office — and “NGO politics” (the leftish NGO as a model of political activity, the career in leftish NGO offices as a model of individual activism) which easily meshes in with the Stalinist ideology. The low political temperature of the surge, and the lack of livening influences on it from the direct economic class struggle, limit the challenges to those politics. Our job is to fight those politics, and to win other people to join with us in understanding those politics and combatting them in the cause of working-class socialism. Hoped

Since 2015 we have done less well with that than we hoped.

The strength of the Stalinoid-NGO current (more than we expected), the ability of the Labour Party leadership to retain essentially all the anti-democratic New Labour restructurings without widespread revolt, and the ability of the Momentum leadership to shut down democratic life within Momentum at a national level, again without widespread revolt, have made things more difficult.

But it was never on the cards that we could attract the majority of the half-million joining the Labour Party, or even the majority of the 35,000 joining Momentum. The question is how we have done on the level of the dozens and the hundreds.

Shortfalls by us have been important on that level. 2015 did produce an increase in our activity; but, within that, not enough increase in the activity which is specific to an organisation working effectively to build a revolutionary party: getting our individual activists known as part of a purposeful collective with known ideas and visible collective activity; circulating and getting discussion on literature; drawing people into activities with us; organising political discussions. And (in most periods, anyway) half as much activity of that specific sort does not produce half the results, in terms of effective dissemination of full-scale revolutionary socialist ideas and organisation-building. It may produce a tenth of the results, or no results at all. Conversely, doubling activity of that sort can increase results way out of proportion.

The founding document of our tendency, in 1966, was written as a discussion document within what was then the Militant group, and concluded with specific proposals. The first proposal given special emphasis was this: “The first task of the leadership is the organisation. On these comrades rests the responsibility for ensuring Bolshevik activity by the whole group in the broad movement. It is imperative that their own broad movement activities take second place”.

The need for a revolutionary party depends on the fact that the working class does not develop evenly, one year everyone conservative, the next year everyone reformist, the year after that everyone revolutionary... Different sections develop differently, in interconnecting ways, and there are regressions as well as advances. On a smaller scale, that is also true within a revolutionary party, and even within a small organisation setting out to educate on the need for a revolutionary party, and build its political nucleus.

The revolutionary organisation lives, by definition, within a hostile society, indeed within a largely hostile labour movement. The revolutionary organisation strives to push its ideas out, but at the same time the broader society and the broader labour movement press in on it. A revolutionary organisation has to expect some tirednesses, discouragements, etc. among its older members, and work deliberately to make sure they do not set the tone for the whole organisation.

We must set the aim of constantly renewing and refreshing our network of organisers. As Plekhanov declared: “without revolutionary theory there is no revolutionary movement in the true sense of the word... An idea which is inherently revolutionary is a kind of dynamite which no other explosive in the world can replace. And as long as our movement is under the banner of backward or erroneous theories it will have revolutionary significance only by some, but by no means all of its aspects. At the same time, without its members knowing it, it will bear in itself the germs of reaction which will deprive it even of that little significance in the more or less near future…”

Trotsky took the argument further: “The mass organisations have value precisely because they are mass organisations. Even when they are under... reformist leadership one cannot discount them. One must win the masses who are in their clutches: whether from outside or from inside depends on the circumstance. Small organisations which regard themselves as selective, as pioneers, can only have value on the strength of their programme and of the schooling and steeling of their cadres. A small organisation which has no unified programme and no really revolutionary will is less than nothing, is a negative quantity”.

Individual

A small organisation cannot hope to make progress towards building a revolutionary party just by having its individual members run good campaigns, or be admirable trade-unionists. It can do it only by showing people around it that it has world-changing ideas, getting them to study those ideas, convincing them.

The first condition here is that the organisation's own members are well-schooled in its ideas. (That does not exclude members disagreeing with the majority on particular policies; it does mean that those members study the majority view thoroughly and strive to formulate their own, differing, ideas in well-worked-out form). And for that we need, above all, to read books.

A culture nourished only by word-of-mouth discussion, or, worse, by internet chatter, cannot have the necessary solidity.

To become an adequate revolutionary organisation, we must read more books, and in the first place the Marxist classics and our own books (as well as books from wider working-class socialist and radical traditions, and works of serious “bourgeois” scholarship).

A chief plank of our work in the labour movement, especially in the Labour Party, is the revival of democratic culture long marginalised by Blairism and general bureaucratism.

EP Thompson's history, The Making of the English Working Class, reports in the heroic period of the formation of the labour movement, in the first half of the 19th century after the Napoleonic Wars, “a general addiction to the forms and proprieties of organisational constitutionalism. It seems at times that half a dozen working men could scarcely sit in a room together without appointing a Chairman, raising a point-of-order, or moving the Previous Question”.

Whatever the influences on that addiction of mimicry of bourgeois parliamentarism or of copying from dissenting religious sects, it represented a sound working-class instinct, and a protection for the critic, the dissident, the pioneer, the unconfident, and the slow of tongue. That tradition remained in force for many decades. In the Blair-Brown period it was openly decried — meetings, motions, votes were declared “boring” — and with serious effect. Many young labour movement people have no idea of the objective procedures needed to make a meeting democratic. Many older ones have lost what idea they did have.

Restoring objective democratic procedures in the labour movement, and sustaining and improving them in our own ranks, is a central part of our work to build a revolutionary party.

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BREXIT & THE LABOUR MOVEMENT

We oppose Brexit. We oppose it in the name of the rights of the three million EU migrants currently in Britain, our workmates, our neighbours, our friends, our fellow trade-unionists. To defend their right to reunite their families. To sustain the right of others across Europe to come to work and live in Britain, and the right of British-born people to go to work and live in Europe.

We want more open borders, less fences and barbed-wire and barriers between countries. The technologies and productive capacities of today indict the division of continents into walled-off nation-states.

Socialists build on the progressive achievements (and semi-achievements, and quarter-achievements) of capitalism, rather than trying to reach the future by diving back into an idealised past.

The way beyond capitalism is through united left-wing and working-class efforts reaching across borders, uniting workers continent-wide and worldwide.

In fact, the primary drive behind Brexit is a drive against the now decades-old right to free movement across Europe. We defend that right. More broadly and connected to this, another major factor has been a drive towards a populist nationalism, or "sovereigntism", posed by the right as an answer to the disempowerment and alienation experienced by so many workers in capitalist society. Some parts of the left want to copy this, proposing a nationalist left-populism. We reject this absolutely and reiterate that only a politics of class, not nation, can truly offer answers to these problems. Any form of nationalism, no matter how much left-wing language is used to dress it up, can only serve to weaken internationalism and bind workers to the classes that exploit us while dividing us from each other.

The Tories want to find a formula to stop Brexit re-raising barriers along the border within Ireland, and talk hopefully about how high-tech wizardry can help. It is hard to see how it can do that decisively. Its effect on poisoning relations between the communities in Ireland is also a big reason to oppose Brexit.

Some on the left have made it their pitch that the Tories will produce a very “hard” Brexit. That may not be true. The argument against Brexit should be made on the positive and principled grounds of free movement, lower borders, social levelling-up, and a fight to democratise the EU, not just on the negative claim that the Tories will impose extreme Brexit.

In fact there is strong ruling-class pressure on the Tories for a “softer” Brexit. Their official plan is now to keep Britain in the Single Market for goods (it does not operate comprehensively for services anyway) and to keep it half-in the Customs Union: both those after a transition period from March 2019 to December 2020 in which Britain will still comply fully with EU rules.

The Tories have been explicit that in the short term they do not want to repeal “social” measures introduced into Britain from the EU, such as TUPE. Big business finds those measures mild enough to live with. The Tory leadership knows that repealing those measures and aiming to make Britain a low-social-overhead, ultra-free-market offshore production site, as advocated by some Tory right-wingers, would make trade deals with the EU very difficult, and does not want to pay that price.

Attempts to dramatically reduce immigration may well also be curbed by pressure from the ruling class, most of which has nothing to gain from substantially depleting the population of workers on whose labour it relies. However, much of the ruling class might welcome policies that do not severely reduce immigration, yet make migrant workers more precarious, and thus easier to bully and exploit. For instance, work visas that are tied to a particular employer, or denial of migrant workers’ access to social security. Thus we need to make the argument that even if passage through the UK's borders is not about to be straightforwardly and radically curbed, we still very plausibly face an intensification of discriminatory measures attacking and burdening migrant workers, which would also divide and undermine the whole working class.

We point all this out, not to calm worries and tell our listeners that Brexit will not be too bad, but to make our arguments against Brexit solid, principled, and free from demagogy. It is also true that there is a substantial “hard Brexit” minority of the parliamentary Tory party that does want to pursue such a policy. And this wing could well command majority support among the Tory membership, if the membership got a chance to intervene. While we need to be conscious that this tendency is not in control and not on the brink of gaining control, we must also remain alert to any developments in that direction. Likewise, we can hardly take at face value the Tory leadership’s promises not to attempt to scrap this or that particular right.

The June 2016 referendum was of dubious democratic authority. In any case it gave no mandate for the specifics of what the Tories are doing now. And in any case democracy means that minorities must retain the opportunity to argue and become majorities.

We demand Labour opposes the Tories' Brexit plans all along the line. We deny that the Tories have any democratic right to push through a specific Brexit formula - which is a very different thing from the vague prospect of Brexit voted on in June 2016 - with parliamentary votes on the detail, and a referendum on the deal on terms that allow for rejection of the deal to mean status quo, i.e. not or not yet Brexit.

We advocate such a referendum give votes to 16 and 17 year olds and to all migrants resident in the UK (at the very least, all EU citizens),.

The “debate” in the mass media before the June 2016 referendum was very heavily a Tory vs Tory one. Having no illusions that bourgeois media will be induced to straightforwardly hand substantial airtime to socialist perspectives simply by appeals to “fairness”, we must fight for every opportunity to get our views heard and for left-remain to displace right-remain as the leading force on this side, while continuing to advocate for, and for our own part nurture, the development of the labour movement’s own media.

Many anti-Brexit campaigners arguing for a second referendum have argued, often opportunistically, that referenda are in general democratic, and that the UK should therefore have one on the final deal as a matter of principle, rather than as a tactic to prevent Brexit. When arguing for a second referendum we must challenge this and clearly explain the general problems with referenda as well as the specific problems with 2016's referendum.

We advocate that Labour debate Brexit democratically, oppose Brexit, and campaign to seek a democratic mandate for reversing it.

If the Tories push through a Brexit deal before Labour can come to office, we demand Labour commit to repealing new restrictions on free movement introduced under that deal and to re-aligning with the Single Market and Customs Union with a view to getting Britain back into the EU.

All these policies sit within a broader program whose basic principles include: workers' unity across borders and national differences; winning democracy on a European level; social levelling-up across the continent; replacement of the EU's free-market-ist rules with rules of international solidarity; accepting and accommodating refugees rather than attempting to lock them out; and opening the EU’s external borders to the free movement of people, not only its internal borders.

We have sought to build local Left Against Brexit activist groups, which organise street stalls, speakers and motions to labour-movement bodies, local debates, rallies, and door-to-door campaigning.

We will seek to join these groups together into a coordinated Left Against Brexit network.

Labour's "six tests" on Brexit are as follows. Instructively, when Tom Watson was interviewed in advance of the Labour Party conference Brexit debate, he tried to avoid embarrassment pre-emptively by telling the interviewer not to ask him what the six tests are. Maybe Keir Starmer knows off-hand. Few others do.

1. Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?

2. Does it deliver the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?

3. Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?

4. Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?

5. Does it protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?

6. Does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?

No.6 is a coded version of the Irish border issue. No.5 is a coded version of cross-Europe police cooperation, which the Tories are as keen on as Labour. No.4 is a coded version of: don't scrap TUPE, Redundancy Payments, etc. But the majority of the Tories, all but the deregulation ultras, don't want to scrap those (not for now, anyway, and they'll be happy to promise they won't).

No.3 means: end free movement. It leaves open how vicious the crackdown on migrants will be, but you can surmise that "communities" there means "British people", excluding people in Europe who may want to migrate to Britain.

All that leaves as distinguishing a Labour Brexit from what the Tories are likely to negotiate, if they negotiate successfully, is no.2. Actually, even that doesn't distinguish Labour from the Hammond wing of the Tories.

The "tests" accept all the market-oriented rules of the EU which the Lexiters cite as the EU's great evils and their reason for backing Brexit, but reject what from a left-wing viewpoint is a boon of the EU, i.e. free movement.

The "tests" are also undeliverable. The only thing in the short term which can deliver the “exact same benefits” as the Single Market and Customs Union is... being in the Single Market and the Customs Union (maybe with some fudges at the edges). That contradicts ending free movement. It doesn't contradict further harassment and difficulties for migrant workers such as Belgium and Denmark operate, but that is not really enough to meet no.3.

In fact the "six tests" serve only as a device to justify Labour voting against any Brexit deal the Tories may fix up. Indeed Labour should vote against any such deal. But it needs better positive policies.

With the "six-tests" policy, the proposal of an early general election to settle the Brexit issue is an empty one. We want to see an early general election, but as Labour policy stands, that is unlikely to bring any progress on Brexit specifically. If the Tories have negotiated a deal, Labour's pitch can't be much more than: we are better negotiators, so can negotiate a deal broadly like the Tories' one, but a bit better. Doubtful. Certainly giving the electorate no chance to deliver a clear line on Brexit through the ballot box.

Ruling-class interests on all sides are very strongly for a "soft" Brexit deal, though mostly they don't care too much about the detail. They are very strongly against a "no-deal" Brexit.

Suppose, however, a mishap, and a "no deal" Brexit. Even then, in a general election Labour explicitly promises the following pitch: we are better negotiators, so we can go back to the EU and make a good deal out of "no deal". Even more doubtful.

The Labour Party conference showed a big surge of labour movement opinion against Brexit. The leadership, however, so manipulated conference as to deflect that surge without moving at all on their substantive position, and by formulating their already-expressed admission that a referendum might some time be an option in warmer but still non-committal words. The leadership moved not one inch towards the idea of a referendum in which Labour would support Remain.

Where there has been a critical voice against the leadership on the issue of Brexit, we can take a lead in being the genuine socialist current for free movement, for stopping Brexit, and for a cross-Europe fight against austerity.

Sadly, the policy passed at Labour conference does not reflect a positive move forward on the issue. The delegates to conference were overwhelmingly against Brexit and the momentum behind this movement should be used to continue to campaign for Labour to come out explicitly for stopping Brexit, via a referendum in which remaining in the EU would be an option.

What was agreed in the compositing meeting does not meet these demands, and allows the leadership to attempt to appease everyone while ultimately pushing themselves as the best placed people to negotiate Brexit. It is likely that in the coming weeks that a layer of anti-Brexit activists who welcomed what seemed superficially like a real shift in Labour policy will become disillusioned. With the existing and continuing Left Against Brexit groups that have been setup, we should draw these people into positive activity and continue to push the leadership to change direction.

There is strong grass-roots feeling against Brexit. The 23 June “People's Vote” demonstration, heavily dependent on social media for its promotion, drew 100,000 people. The general picture is that more left-wing or liberal-minded people oppose Brexit, and more conservative and chauvinist-minded people support it.

Yet so far the running in anti-Brexit protests has been made by the Liberal Democrats and groupings on similar wavelengths.

The Liberal Democrats, as you might expect, oppose Brexit only on the grounds that EU membership is “good for Britain” (i.e. British capitalism). They couple their opposition to Brexit with no program for democracy and social levelling-up across Europe. They support “the principle of” freedom of movement, but qualify that as meaning that “restrictions sought by the government must take account of the vital importance of EU workers to the British economy, including public services”, i.e. saying that the freedom can be restricted if the restriction does not appear to damage “the British [capitalist] economy” much.

We aim to create a pole, visible on the streets, combatting Brexit from a socialist and internationalist viewpoint.

That work should continue for years yet. Even if the Tories push through a Brexit deal, the details of the restrictions to be imposed on freedom of movement and so on will remain to be settled. The fight should continue to defeat or reverse those restrictions.

The Brexit drive is part of a worldwide picture of the chief political gains from the destabilisation caused by the 2008 crash and the economic travails since then being made by right-wing nationalist forces, “populist” in the sense of speaking demagogically and claiming to represent the “ordinary people” of a country against the (“foreign”, or foreign-linked) “elites”.

Internationally, that pattern has continued since June 2016, with Trump's victory in the USA, Erdogan's gaining of fuller powers, and Salvini's triumph in Italy.

Left-wing surges have also been generated by the economic disarray of the last decade: the Corbyn surge in Britain is one of them. The right-wing surge warns us that the alternative, in the medium term, to us finding the energy and strength to transform and improve the left sufficiently, is not just business-as-usual neoliberalism, but something uglier.

Trump is exceptional among the new right-nationalists in focusing on trade. Brexit sentiment in Britain has been mostly about immigration, not trade: most Brexit voters (according to surveys) and Brexit leaders (according to their statements) want the UK to stay very open to trade, only they dislike immigration more than they like trade.

In the USA it has been different. There is much anti-immigrant sentiment there, but it is not overwhelming nor even necessarily increasing. Skepticism about trade has been on the rise since the 1990s, both in public opinion and in Congress. By September 2010, in a poll 53% said free trade agreements “hurt the USA”, and only 17% that they “helped”, where in 1999 there had been a majority for “helped”.

Nationalism directed against trade, and nationalism directed against migrants, are not identical, but today they interlink. The Trump who goes for trade wars with China, the EU, Canada, and Mexico is also the Trump who wants to build a wall against migrants across the Mexican border. The Brexiters who want to exclude East European migrants will also raise trade barriers between Britain and the EU (though while making vague promises of trade deals in other directions).

Socialists do not endorse capitalist free trade. We are not for the unfettered rule of markets. We are for fettering market forces through social-provision and worker-protection policies, as international as possible. As the working class gains political strength, we aim to make democratically-decided social solidarity the chief regulator of economic affairs.

We are not necessarily opposed, even, to all bourgeois protectionist policies. “Nursery tariffs”, allowing new industries to make a start in weaker countries, are not our way of doing things, but they have a rationale, and we would not condemn them in favour of undiluted free trade.

In general, however, our approach is as Marx outlined in 1847:

“Do not imagine, gentlemen, that in criticising freedom of trade we have the least intention of defending the system of protection. One may declare oneself an enemy of the constitutional regime without declaring oneself a friend of the ancient [i.e. autocratic or aristocratic] regime...

“In general, the protective system of our day is conservative, while the free trade system is destructive. It breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution. It is in this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, that I vote in favour of free trade”.

Frederick Engels explained further when republishing Marx's text from 1847: “The question of Free Trade or Protection moves entirely within the bounds of the present system of capitalist production, and has, therefore, no direct interest for us socialists who want to do away with that system. Indirectly, however, it interests us inasmuch as we must desire as the present system of production to develop and expand as freely and as quickly as possible... From this point of view, Marx pronounced, in principle, in favour of Free Trade as the more progressive plan...”

A little later, when Lenin in 1902 wanted to cite an easily-understood example of a typical socialist campaign of his day, he chose this: “Take, for example, the struggle the German Social-Democrats are now waging against the corn duties. The theoreticians write research works on tariff policy, with the 'call'... to struggle for commercial treaties and for Free Trade... The 'concrete action' of the masses takes the form of signing petitions ... against raising the corn duties”.

Free trade first spread in the mid-19th century. Tariff protection became more popular with governments later in the 19th century, but on the whole tariffs of the leading capitalist countries remained fairly low until about 1930, with the USA as the main exception.

A spiral of beggar-my-neighbour tariffs in the 1930s crashed world trade and worsened the economic slump then.

Since World War Two it has been bourgeois orthodoxy to favour making trade barriers low, with argument only about the scale and type of the exceptions to that rule. From the 1960s the running-into-a-wall of “developmentalist” trade barrier regimes in second-tier capitalist countries from Ireland to Argentina has broadened the hold of that orthodoxy.

After the crash of 2008, the chief, in fact only clear-cut, decision of the emergency G20 summit of November 2008 was to demand of all governments that they avoid building trade barriers in response. On the whole, that decision held.

The USA has always been an exception within the capitalist free-trade world order it has promoted and keystoned since World War 2.

Because of the USA's size, its relatively small (though increasing, from 10% in 1970 to 25% now) ratio of trade to GDP, and its status as home to so many multinationals, an expert comments that: “The United States has not historically worried much about how to make itself an attractive location for investment geared towards exports”, though pretty much all other governments have worried greatly and increasingly about that.

The USA has simultaneously been the keystone of a relatively free-trade world-market system, and often the most reckless and narrow-minded about the necessary capitalist give-and-take. That contradiction has been kept within bounds for decades. With Trump, it could prove deadly.

There are strong forces of inertia which will act to stop Trump's measures decisively destabilising the world's more-or-less free-trade system, at least for now.

Even the hardest Brexiters among the Tories want some trade deal with the EU, and want more trade deals with non-EU states. Nationalist-populist parties in Europe like France's Front National (now renamed Rassemblement National) and Italy's Lega and Five Star Movement have, as they have neared or looked like nearing government office, become more hesitant about policies which might reverse European economic integration.

US capitalists who have gone along with Trump in the belief or hope that his measures are only bluster designed to get new trade deals on more favourable terms are likely to rebel more decisively if they see trade conflicts spiralling out of control.

But all that is now, when the faltering economic recovery after 2008 is at about the strongest (or least weak) it has been since then.

The growth of a new far-right movement is a particular new development and part of the picture.

One element of the new movement a continuation or revival of the former English Defence League milieu, which connected often casually-racist football firms with more developed nationalist politics. But the movement also has a core of fascist and neo-Nazi activists, such as Generation Identity, as well as links with and funding from figures on the international populist hard-right such as Steve Bannon and Geert Wilders. This movement has been able to mobilise on the streets in greater numbers than any far-right movement in Britain since the 1930s.

In this context, rebuilding a culture of working-class anti-fascism is vital, not as a campaigning activity to be outsourced to some external body (Hope Not Hate, Stand Up to Racism, or the mooted proposal of a relaunched Anti-Nazi League) but conducted by labour movement bodies - union branches and local Labour Parties - under their own banner, directly mobilising their own members, on the basis of explicitly socialist politics.

What will happen in the next crisis? The crisis for which so much explosive material is accumulating in the financial markets? Will bourgeois patience and restraint hold the line then? Quite likely not.

The response of the labour movement cannot be to endorse the more far-sighted and rational elements of established bourgeois opinion.

But it must include vigorous rejection of the drift towards trade war, and of all suggestions that there is something socially-desirable or pro-working-class about the drift.
Against a determined push by the new right-wing nationalists, the liberal bourgeoisie will not safeguard the moderate extensions of formal equality, the modest opening of opportunities to ethnic minorities, the relative freedom of movement for some across some borders, the halfway secularism, the mild cosmopolitanism, on which it prides itself.

Having already let so many civil rights be swallowed by the “war on terror” and the drive for “labour flexibility”, it will be no bulwark for the rest. The liberal bourgeoisie may not even safeguard the achievement of which it boasts most, the reduction of economic barriers between countries.

Before the USA's Smoot-Hawley tariff law of 1930, which started a catastrophic spiral of protectionism and shrinking world trade, “economics faculties [in the USA]... were practically at one in their belief that the Hawley-Smoot bill was an iniquitous piece of legislation”. Over a thousand economists petitioned the US administration against it. It went through, and its effects spiralled.

It falls to the labour movement to defend even the limited bourgeois ameliorations.

The labour movement cannot do that unless it mobilises; unless it cleanses itself of the accommodations to nationalism now so common over Brexit; and unless it spells out socialist answers which can convince and rally the millions of the economically marginalised and disillusioned. It falls to the left to make the labour movement fit for those tasks.

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STUDENT DOCUMENT

We are working with others to set up a new organisation in NUS with wings which are active in Labour Students and among women and non-binary students. The first stage was to create a unity statement which called for the student left to unite around a set of shared political demands, for campus activists and the broadly-defined left in NUS to sign up to. The next step was the Student Feminist Campaign Day and the Student Activist Weekender, which was co-hosted by a range of organisations and campaigns on the student left, bringing activists together to discuss these ideas and demands and plan the next steps for building a movement on a national level with the aim to carve out a left in NUS and Labour Students.

Attendees at both events decided that two national student organisations should be launched: one socialist feminist organisation and another national student left organisation, active in both NUS and Labour Students. The details of both will be worked out at a meeting in October: we will argue for them to be linked. The students involved are largely new and became active during the UCU pensions strike. Campus activists groups are now far more likely to focus on student-worker solidarity and rent in halls than free education: they became politically active during the Corbyn surge, rather than a wave of student activism around narrower student issues.

We will argue for this new organisation to organise around clear, publicly stated policies as a precondition for democracy. It should bring the existing campus struggles, for example on student-worker solidarity and workers’ rights on campus, rent strikes and housing campaigns, and campaigns for funding for mental health services, into NUS and push for NUS make them part of a programme it campaigns around and spreads to campuses across the country. It should campaign around a democratic program for NUS, as well as for democratic and autonomous student unions in HE and FE, to transform it into a political fighting force over which students have real control. It should agitate for NUS to mobilise students around broader issues such as against Brexit and for free movement and migrants’ rights, for a democratic, public education system and for a £10/hour minimum wage in conjunction with the labour movement.

We want to redraw the political divisions in NUS to include many that currently drift towards and become part of the soft-left bloc which is to our right in NUS. As previously in the history of our student work our intention is to include all those that want to fight on the key issues which face students; to aim to transform the student movement, from bottom to top, into a movement that links with the working class movement and acts militantly in the interests of students. The new organisation should be open, willing to debate. It should counterpose its programme, organisation and movement to the NUS right. It should offer a different vision for NUS as a whole, combining activism with an intention to build an organisation capable of providing an alternative to the current NUS leadership.

Alongside others we will lead similar united front work in Labour Students. Despite the Corbyn surge, there hasn’t been a big growth in active, left wing Labour Clubs. We have been absent from Labour Students on a national level, leaving the field clear for the careerist, stalinoid soft left who focus solely on winning elections. The recently formed, soft left led ‘Labour Students Left’ is opaque and hostile to us and others on the radical left, and has a social media presence but no meetings planned. It is unclear if it will organise around political demands. We will agitate for the left to unite around a unity programme, and for Labour Students Left to merge with the new organisation, making the case for a left that is driven by unity and open organising around political ideas and which sides with Corbyn in so far as he acts against Capital, in the interests of the working class, but is willing to oppose Labour’s leadership if it acts against the unions and the workers.

We will argue for the new organisation to run political interventions into Labour Students events, organise openly around a written program of political demands and campaign for a clear set of democratic reforms. We will fight on wedge issues within the soft left, such as Brexit and free movement.

We want the new organisation to run slates in NUS and Labour Students in 2019 and organise a drive to get left-wing delegates elected for both conferences. It should support candidates who endorse the principles and demands in the left unity statement.

Of course many issues remain to be discussed and firmed up, especially given the need for the general ideas in this document to be broken down into concrete campaigning ideas and initiatives. This broad activity based on a political programme is central to broadening our reach and growing our organisation. We are at a point of transition in our student work: the fraction plus the NCAFC had turned inwards and developed a sectarian attitude towards NUS and Labour Students. We are now at the centre of reshaping the student left around fighting for a political programme, and carving out a space where the soft left currently dominates for a better, more serious activist left, proposing ourselves as an alternative leadership in NUS and Labour Students. This is where we can educate those around us, raise the political level in the movement, and recruit.

Recruitment has slowed, but our role in the newly formed student left means we can recruit quickly. We won’t recruit people by osmosis because we are seen as good activists: the only way is through talking to people about big political ideas. Visibility for us and our ideas on campus is crucial. This means weekly stalls and paper sales and regular, well publicised public meetings. We will run reading groups and work to quickly build a branch around ourselves, inviting contacts to weekly branch meetings with political discussion, as well as organising discussions. Branches without students should systematically be doing campus sales and stalls, and advertising public meetings on their local campuses. We will run dayschools and offer to send speakers to meetings in the places where we have contacts but no students.

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SUPPORT TRANS RIGHTS

1. We support transgender rights and express our solidarity with trans people. We oppose prejudice, hostility and discrimination against trans people, and advocate support and compassion towards them.

2. We accept people in the gender they identify as (including non-binary identities).

3. We reject the assertion that individuals’ genders are defined by or are bound to the genders to which they were assigned at birth, or to their past or current biological characteristics. We recognise that gender is generally initially assigned based on perceived sexual characteristics associated with binary biological sex. Later too, gender is often presumed on the basis of or associated with perceived or assumed sexual characteristics, often coupled with suppositions about the history of that individual’s sexual characteristics. Genders are, currently, strongly socially associated not just with divergent sexual characteristics, but with different practices and behaviours, clothing and presentations, social and erotic relations, and categorisations of people and identities. These varied and intertwined social phenomena are for many people tied up with their sense of self, their sense of how they relate to other people, and their desires for how they would like to be socially understood. We assert that how institutions and society recognise and categorise an individual’s gender should be solely on the basis of that individual’s declaration of how they self-identify.

4. We recognise and and oppose the currently existing social construction of gender, and work to eliminate the inequalities associated with it.

5. We recognise the flaws in current gender recognition law and support proposed changes to it, including self-declaration of gender. We have considered, but are not convinced by, arguments that these changes threaten women’s spaces or legal protection from sex discrimination.

6. We support the established labour movement practice of including trans women in women’s structures and on all-women shortlists, on the basis of self-identification.

7.We advocate that these issues be discussed in a rational and empathetic way and are addressed through such debate rather than through bureaucratic moves, censorship, no-platforming and violence related to this issue. There are a number of terms which are sometimes used unhelpfully, either to shut down debate or used inaccurately, simply for rhetorical force. That words are used in this way or are perceived by some as inflammatory does not in itself mean they should be abandoned. We seek to properly define words and use them accurately, and encourage others to do likewise.

8. We analyse women’s oppression as taking advantage of women's biological sex rather than being rooted in it. We believe women’s oppression to be linked to the biology of women in general rather than of each individual woman.

9. We criticise and will further examine the role that identity politics and privilege theory are playing in these discussions.

10. We assert that trans rights and women’s rights are not in conflict, and that movements for trans rights and women’s rights need not be in conflict. We contend that there has been a failure of solidarity on this issue, in particular by a proportion of feminists who oppose trans rights, and that centring class politics will enable us to unite against women’s, gender and all oppression.

11. We recognise that the oppressions of women and of trans, non-binary, intersex and gender-nonconforming people are rooted in restrictive and oppressive gender relations which are perpetuated by capitalism. This also leads to many commonalities between the ways in which people in these different groups are oppressed, although there are differences and particularities. These factors – as well as the fact that many trans people are trans women and oppressed as women – provides a basis for common struggle on many specific issues, as well as in the struggle to replace class society with a socialist alternative.

We agree on these key points but continue to discuss them and also to debate differences on various issues and nuances in a comradely way.

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INDUSTRIAL REPORT

This year (to May) saw the lowest number of workers involved in strikes, 33,000, since records began in 1893. The previous record low was 2015 with 81,000 workers involved in strikes, there have only been four years in the past 120 when fewer than 100,000 workers struck. There were 276,000 days lost to strikes, the sixth lowest since records began in 1891.

The transport and storage sector accounted for 68% of all working days lost due to strikes — mostly these were in public transport and likely to be due to the Driver-Only Operation strikes on several rail franchises.

This seems to finally be the Trade Union Act having an impact, with the first national public sector ballot to test the new thresholds (PCS, see below) falling short.

Pay continues to stagnate, with token movement on the government “lifting” the 1% pay cap in several areas of the public sector actually not yielding much for workers — no part of the public sector has had an above inflation pay rise. Research done by the TUC shows a growing pay gap between younger and older workers — in 1998 the pay gap between over 30s and under 30s was 14.5%, in 2017 it was 21.9%.

The most significant change industrially this year was the UCU USS strike — the “revolt in the degree factories”. The enthusiasm of members for the strike, and the level of participation, was somewhat suprising given the extent of demobilisation within the UCU after successive pay strikes ending in bad deals. UCU membership increased by thousands during the dispute. However hundreds of members turned out on each picket line, and discussed the technicalities of USS and industrial strategy online — particularly through Twitter. The UCU leadership may have hoped to be able to stage-manage another token opposition, but members dramatically turned around the first bad deal. UCU was forced to go back to negotiations with the employer before coming out with a slightly tweaked deal, which when put to members with a heavy-handed recommendation by Sally Hunt was accepted by 64%. Once mobilised UCU members were not demobilised so easily, and a large number of branches organised to get motions of censure and no confidence to UCU congress as well as a broader democracy review motion. The UCU leadership using walk-outs and bureaucratic manouvers to shut down the conference and prevent these motions being discussed was fairly unprecedented. While the dispute is not technically over yet the long process of the Joint Expert Panel has pushed the next crunch point into 2019.

The strike combined a number of issues of trade union organising we have long pointed out: keeping strikes on while members discuss and decide on any deal; atomised national postal ballots versus decisions in meetings amongst other members; rank-and-file activists coordinating to get branches to hold votes and send their decisions to Higher Education Executive Committee members; the very quick widening out of the dispute from pensions to represent other issues in Higher Education; the lack of an equivalent of Labour’s “Corbyn surge” in the unions — despite being discredited in the eyes of most UCU members and many students for her role in the dispute Sally Hunt remains a common speaker on Momentum and Labour left panels.

The potential for a new genuine rank-and-file movement in the UCU, and perhaps across the HE sector unions, is yet to be seen fully. A variety of meetings and conferences have happened, some called by branches, some by London Region (so largely under the control of SWP-run UCU Left). It is as yet unclear whether and which of these will go somewhere. None of these have set up longer-lasting structures yet beyond a number of working groups. We have and will continue to intervene to argue for a branch-based rank-and-file movement, different from the UCU Left, which seeks to build on the mobilisation from the dispute.

The first major test of the Trade Union Act ballot thresholds in the public sector — the PCS pay ballot — fell short of the ballot threshold with a turn out of 41%. An immediate reballot is not on the cards but may happen later in the year — but they may not be joined by other public sector unions.

We will continue to work on and develop the campaign to 'Free Our Unions' launched through the magazine, winning support in the unions and Labour Party.

This campaign is important because the anti-union laws are a vitally important issue - in terms of workers' space and ability to organise and fight, the balance of power between workers and the union bureaucracies, the seriousness of the Labour left, and the character and impact of a Corbyn government. Also because, if we and our allies do not push this forward, the indications are that no one else will - which is very different from saying there is not much support to be won.

The campaign is something that every member of the group and virtually everyone we work with can support in some way - by putting one of the statements or motions to your union branch and/or Labour Party, by collecting signatories, by sharing articles and online content, and by integrating the issues into your political arguments.

The Picturehouse cinema dispute continues, in a period of rebuilding at workplace level, with a view to relaunching strikes, hopefully at an expanded number of sites, when possible.

Similarly to last year a number of disputes organised by so-called “independent” unions like United Voices of the World and the Independent Workers’ union of Great Britain, mainly in London, have either had victories or partial victories after vibrant strikes. Along with the Picturehouse strike, the continued McStrike, and strikes in TGI Fridays, these have coalesced into a growing movement amongst “precarious” and low-paid workers mainly in the service industry. We have done well in some places to involve ourselves in these disputes and the wider support-mobilisation around them. Particularly through the work of one comrade to organise a Precarious Workers’ May Day. We should do more of this, in more places — often there are campaigns ready for us to get involved in run by Unite Community branches or trades councils.

This is important in turning the Labour Party outwards into being the “party of strikes”. Last year’s document noted that “The growing number of CLPs being won by the left, and the change in circumstances in building a Labour youth movement gives us the opportunity to turn a section of the Labour Party to supporting strikes, particularly around the Hungry for Justice campaign and McDonald’s strikes. We will have another drive on these bodies, particularly young Labour ones, running “how to be a troublemaker at work” workshops. We will aim to create a new generation of strikers.”

We have done this in a limited number of places, but not nearly as many as we could. As time goes by since the left wont control of CLPs it becomes more and more important to turn them outwards.

Such a turn outwards to the wider labour movement could include:

• Running "how to be a troublemaker at work" workshops and street stalls

• Training activists alongside campaigns like Fast Food Rights (BFAWU) to do organising drives in local workplaces

• Organising public picket line visits - for example Labour Parties in parts of north London could have very visibly supported the recent Piccadilly line strike, but there was no such visible activity.

• Organising strike fundraising events and collections

• Organising other strike support such as demonstrations

• Setting up and being the hub of strike support committees

There has been no significant change in the organisation or functioning of our industrial fractions, or workplace bulletins this year. However we have succeeded in getting some recent graduates jobs in the civil service and therefore increased the size of our PCS fraction. The industrial organiser should work with the Sheffield branch to support the continuation of On Guard bulletin.

The industrial committee should continue this year.

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CORBYN SURGE AND HOW TO REVIVE IT

The upsurge in the Labour Party continues to represent the most significant development on the left, and in the broad labour movement, for a generation. As a distinct political-ideological tendency within it, we have a responsibility to help this upsurge burst it banks, and transform from a passive movement of support for Corbyn into a conscious movement for working-class socialism. We can do this best by educating those around us in our distinct ideas: class-struggle socialism, consistent democracy in the movement and in politics, and working-class internationalism.

Labour membership now stands at around 550,000. Momentum has around 42,000 members, and the affiliation of three unions. This upsurge has not yet found an echo in the industrial labour movement, where union membership is falling and strike figures are at a historically low ebb. Here too we have a distinct role to play in arguing within the Corbyn surge for an orientation to workplace organisation, workers’ struggle, and the transformation of the unions.

On many issues of controversy within the Corbyn surge – left antisemitism, Brexit and free movement, party democracy, whether to advocate radical socialist policies or statist tinkering, attitudes to the police and the wider state, and more – we have a distinct, and sometimes unique, perspective. Despite many challenges, we have an opportunity to explain that perspective to a significantly expanded number of people. We owe it to ourselves and to our ideas to approach this opportunity with the maximum amount of energy and enthusiasm.

Polls suggest Labour is neck-and-neck with the Tories in electoral terms; ahead in some, behind in others. It is far from guaranteed that Labour would automatically form the next government and despite the Tories disarray over Brexit, and potential challenge to Theresa May, Labour has not opened up a decisive lead. In the wake of Labour conference, numerous pundits and the media have given a much warmer reception to the Corbyn/McDonnell project. In part this reflects the lack of radicalism in much of their actual programme; however, whether they can conceivably carry much of it through while negotiating a “Labour Brexit” seems unlikely.

The active Labour membership has not changed much in the last 12 months. While a substantial section of young political activists now identify with Labour and with Corbyn, the most active layers are frequently older, returning members. Alongside a commitment to organisation, decision-making meetings, and other labour movement norms, the more vocal of these activists also carry the political baggage of the pre-Corbyn left, often with a kitsch-Trotskyist inflection. This has been most obvious during the antisemitism row, the “it’s-all-smears” side of which has been animated almost entirely by older activists, with some encouragement amongst sections of Corbyn-supporting social media “celebrities.”

The good response to our new pamphlet on left antisemitism at Labour conference, and a general openness amongst many delegates to discussing the issue, suggests we can make progress. We must seek opportunities for renewed political campaigning in solidarity with the Palestinians on an explicitly pro-two-states basis, as a key way to cut the roots of left antisemitism. Where bureaucratic and disciplinary measures are proposed as a first-resort response to left antisemitism, we counterpose political debate and education.

The political level of the movement remains low. While we cannot, and should not aim to, compete with the likes of Novara, New Socialist, and the re-launched Tribune, we can use Solidarity as a platform for serious political discussion and debate, and full-throated, unashamed advocacy of class-struggle socialist politics not much seen elsewhere in the movement.

We must also be a voice for Labour to campaign consistently on the streets, in communities, and in workplaces, outside of election time and occasional leadership-ordained campaign days. The spirit of John McDonnell’s anecdote that, the day after narrowly losing the 1992 election, he was back on the streets of Hayes running a street stall, must be made real.

Expulsions from Labour

The most recent indication, from Labour general secretary Jennie Formby, is that the party apparatus intends to continue operating the most stringent interpretation of rule 2.4.1(b) against some AWL members. However, other indications suggest that expelled comrades may have attempts to rejoin referred to their local CLPs.

The pattern of the last year suggests that any renewed drives for the expulsions of our comrades are as likely to come from the small core of Stalinists in Momentum and Young Labour as from the right. However, their attempts at bans and expulsions remain faltering. Our best means of countering them is to go on the offensive for our ideas.

Democracy in the party and the movement

The 2018 Labour conference was not dissimilar in delegate make-up to 2017: it was overwhelmingly pro-leadership, broadly left-wing, and relatively inexperienced. The explicit hegemony of Momentum had weakened somewhat; its presence was more low-key, and divisions seem to have emerged within it which go beyond Jon Lansman’s coup in 2017.

Some genuine steps forward were taken in democratic terms, but the defeat of the more radically democratic options on open selection and leadership candidacies show that much work is still to be done in terms of winning the arguments. To do so requires an insurgent Labour left prepared to make those arguments, and organise within local parties and unions to mobilise rank-and-file activists to fight for them.

The Labour left we advocate is one of pluralism and open debate, which is critical of the leadership when necessary, and which fights for maximum democracy across the movement. Despite a continuing bunker mentality among sections of Corbyn supporters, there is a space for such advocacy. The initiative taken by the Clarion on the anti-union laws - the success of its pamphlet, and the willingness of the Fire Brigades Union to take up the issue within Labour – show that a hearing can be won for a more critical, radically left-wing voice within the Corbyn surge.

A more critical Labour left must also seek to address the democratic deficit within “Corbynism”, which has largely retained the top-down, Blairite approach to policy making, wherein policies are formulated by technocratic specialists in shadow ministers’ offices and handed down to the party membership fully formed, with no opportunity for scrutiny or revision.

At the 2018 conference, the unions played a conservative role on most questions of democratic reform. While the unions have often been to the right of the CLPs on these issues, this came as a jolt to many activists, whose previous understanding of the unions may have stemmed primarily from seeing figures like Len McCluskey as key allies of Corbyn. We argue against attempts to dilute the unions’ voice in the party; we argue for the democratic transformation of the unions, primarily to make them more radical and responsive to the day-to-day struggles of their members at work, but also to democratise their relationship with the Labour Party, while staunchly defending the Labour link as a key determining factor in the party’s character.

Local government

The local government elections in 2018 showed some progress compared to 2017, but even in areas with large Labour wins, there are only isolated signs of a left resurgence. Apart from the on the issue of the Haringey Development Vehicle, even the councillors of the so-called “Momentum council” in Haringey have yet to fully articulate exactly how they will administer the council differently from their Blairite predecessors. The “Re-imagining Local Government” conference organised by London Momentum brought together some of those figures, as well as debating strategies for holding local councils to account. Such discussions must be spread; the “Preston model” championed by the leadership is not an alternative to fighting the cuts.

Local government remains a bastion of the Labour right. The response of almost every Labour council or group leader to events in Haringey was to write a letter declaring total independence from any control by or accountability to local labour parties. The Corbyn surge has had little immediate impact on local government as removing sitting right councillors is a very long term process.

The mechanisms by which the local labour movement might bring pressure to bear and demand accountability from labour councillors have been eroded and largely do not function effectively. One consequence is that left councillors who are elected can be isolated and subject to pressures from within Labour groups. The recent Democracy Review agreed the re-establishment of local government committees but without active pressure from the left they will remain paper bodies. The Corbyn left needs to become more actively involved in local government beyond selections and electioneering.

We advocate genuine resistance to local government cuts, and for Labour to advocate in opposition, and legislate for in government, the full restoration of the funding cut from local government since 2010.

Brexit

Where there has been a critical voice against the leadership on the issue of Brexit, we can take a lead in being the genuine socialist current for free movement, for stopping Brexit, and for a cross-Europe fight against austerity.

Sadly, the policy passed at Labour conference does not reflect a positive move forward on the issue. The delegates to conference were overwhelmingly against Brexit and the momentum behind this movement should be used to continue to campaign for Labour to come out explicitly for stopping Brexit, via a referendum in which remaining in the EU would be an option.

What was agreed in the compositing meeting does not meet these demands, and allows the leadership to attempt to appease everyone while ultimately pushing themselves as the best placed people to negotiate Brexit. It is likely that in the coming weeks that a layer of anti-Brexit activists who welcomed what seemed superficially like a real shift in Labour policy will become disillusioned. With the existing and continuing Left Against Brexit groups that have been setup, we should draw these people into positive activity and continue to push the leadership to change direction.

Young Labour

Nationally Young Labour is controlled by the left, but with right wing chair. There has been no organised drive from the leadership or the wider Young Labour left to build local groups, and help those that exist to consolidate.

There exist a number of groups, scattered and not organised together, which do undertake local campaigning work and operate a level of sustained activity. We should continue to make links with these groups, and help set up more constituency-level Young Labour groups wherever we can.

Momentum

We should continue our involvement in Momentum. Despite its many drawbacks and shortcomings, it remains the terrain to which activist- and organisation-minded individuals within the Corbyn surge are most likely to be drawn. Within Momentum we advocate for local groups to meet regularly, to campaign, to discuss politics, and to maintain democratic decision-making norms.

The model of the London Momentum network has proved more successful. Though the initiatives it has taken, like the conference delegate meetups, are small, they have demonstrated an appetite for a return to at least some sort of structure. From this a charter of democratic demands, which seeks the support of the still-active Momentum groups and those dissatisfied with the lack of internal democracy, could have some grip. We will continue to attend the London meetings and seek opportunities to initiate similar meetings where possible.

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