Rida Vaquas, West Midlands rep on the newly elected Young Labour national committee, spoke to Solidarity in the run-up to the Young Labour conference on 27-28 February.
We shouldn’t understate the victory of the left slate. Previously we had a minority of regional representatives who regularly organised with the left. We now have won every position.
I think my campaign, on a firmly socialist and democratic basis, went well (I won!), but out of 3,000 young members in my region only 141 votes were cast. How does the left develop a truly mass democratic movement?
If the left wins at the conference, how much difference will it make?
This depends on the work we do. Socialists have to be extremely cautious of a new inert left bureaucracy replacing the bureaucracy of the right. Socialists should put in the work of grassroots mobilisation, of organising across the country.
A combative youth wing does not just come about by good people winning positions, but through the utilisation of those positions to facilitate action.
How can Young Labour increase participation and particularly working-class participation?
More work in trade unions, definitely. Also Young Labour needs to be embedded into local communities.
Currently to be involved in Young Labour usually requires travelling miles across a city or even across the country. That’s disengaging. We need genuinely local groups. Campaigning on issues that affect young people, being present in community campaigns, these are all things that affirm Young Labour’s relevance.
What should Young Labour be campaigning on?
To start with, on issues democratically decided by conference! Currently what happens is that we pass motions deciding our position… but no action is taken. For example: 45% of 25-34 year olds privately rent, up from 24% in 2004. Rent controls, tenants’ rights and the building of social housing are therefore critical policies. The crucial point is that we need to take policies seriously. A perfect political programme means nothing unless we organise to win it.
What changes are needed in the Young Labour structures?
One member one vote is a necessity now. A policy-making conference every year, in which motions can be submitted on any topic, not just on policy commissions decided centrally. NEC representatives should be mandated, by conference and by the National Committee.
What are the policy debates coming up at the conference?
Trident and free education. In both of these cases, we have a Labour Party leadership which is sympathetic and agrees with the left position, but a Parliamentary party which is hostile. These issues will be hotly contested by the Labour right. Supporting the junior doctors is also an important precedent for showing solidarity with industrial action, crucial in a time of trade union repression by the state.
How should the Young Labour left organise?
Absolutely in a democratic and open manner. Socialism can never sneak in through the backdoor, it announces itself proudly. To build a sustainable Young Labour left, we need formalised structures, in which people discuss ideas and learn how to organise. We need everyone to feel confident in doing organising work and debating their ideas out. Momentum Youth and Students can play a role, but only if it evolves from its current state, and calls a democratic conference open to all of the Young Labour left, in which constitution, structures and principles are decided, as a well as an elected committee.
What should the left do about expulsions of Labour activists?
Publicly oppose them, support comrades in fighting them. There is a strong historical tradition of revolutionary socialists in the Labour Party, but also a strong historical tradition of witch hunts. Expulsions of people who have supported and worked for Labour victories is an attack on the left as a whole.