Violence in Lewisham Momentum

Submitted by cathy n on 15 August, 2019 - 2:49 Author: Mark Osborn
LM

A further series of unpleasant attacks on left activists aligned with Workers’ Liberty took place at the Lewisham Momentum meeting held on Wednesday 14 August.

The most serious incident at this Momentum meeting was that Bill Jefferies of Ladywell ward, Lewisham Deptford CLP, physically attacked me. He hit me on the chin and grabbed my throat, in the hall outside the meeting room as the meeting was breaking up. He is 10cm taller and 40kg heavier than me.

I’m okay, as always. But my chin still hurts and there’s a mark on my neck.

The witnesses to this incident were Tom Harris and Rob Robertson. Robertson, despite standing three metres away, watching closely, claims to have seen nothing. Robertson is Jefferies’ friend and also, like Jefferies, is an ex-member of Workers Power.

The political issue between Jefferies and myself was that he claimed that a political friend of mine, Jill Mountford, is a manager who has supported cuts in connection with the Besson Street building project. I repeatedly asked him for evidence. Since he has no evidence (he’s invented the allegation, no evidence exists), and he is hysterical and a fool, he chose to attack me instead of answering.

At the end of the meeting I was approached by a man I didn’t know who told me, “Why don’t you fuck off? I know you, I’ve seen you, you’re a fucking troublemaker. Just fuck off. Fuck off.” He was also incoherent and hysterical. I asked for his name. He told me to “Fuck off”.

The only thing I had said in the meeting (my contribution lasted a minute) was, essentially this: Did the speaker vote for an anti-trans rights motion in Tottenham CLP? Did the speaker support “left” antisemites like Ken Livingstone? Did the speaker agree that it was disgraceful that councillors who voted for cuts should be considered as left wing?

The speaker was someone called Noah Tucker, a councillor from Haringey (apparently he is ex-Straight Left, that is, a hard-line Stalinist, and an ex-Cabinet member). Instead of answering any of my questions Tucker said, demagogically, that what was disgraceful was that (and apparently he was talking about me) some people supported imperialism rather than the oppressed. Very demagogic, and tiresome. But he was whipping up the small meeting (25 people) against me. Lots of applause.

I asked Tucker after the meeting if he had voted for an anti-trans rights motion which had been put to Tottenham CLP. He said he was not going to answer my question.

The meeting was chaired by trade union bureaucrat Bill Patterson, despite the fact that Patterson was not elected onto the Lewisham Momentum Committee at the last AGM and the elected Chair was in the room for most of the meeting. Patterson is a Stalinist buffoon who sets the tone in Lewisham Momentum; he was trying reasonably hard to stop me speaking.

Momentum nationally should not allow Patterson to continue to run the local group in this way. Lewisham Momentum is now a small, poisonous sect.

We need a left which is open and takes ideas and political debate seriously, which is willing to answer questions which are seriously posed. It is not “troublemaking” to ask political questions and expect serious, honest, clear replies.

We need a left which is opposed to antisemitism, is for trans rights, and which opposes council cuts - including those voted for by pseudo-left councillors.

We need a left that understands that physical violence in the labour movement is never justified.

Outside the meeting room, as the meeting dispersed, a comrade from the AWL was handing out the text of the Tottenham CLP anti-trans rights motion. One of the audience picked up the comrade’s copies of the AWL’s paper, Solidarity, and made an attempt to tear them up, until I intervened and told her not to.

Conclusions:

Momentum - nationally and in Lewisham - should suspend Jefferies and investigate the incident;

The Labour Party should do similarly;

Momentum should prevent Patterson running the local Momentum group and ensure that its elected officers run the group and its meetings.

Why I did not go to the police

Our basic response to disputes in the labour movement, including the stupid instance of violence against me outside a recent Momentum meeting, is not to run to the police.

The police are not a neutral force, they are not honest arbiters. We want to educate our movement not to rely on the superficially impartial bourgeois state. The state is hostile; we don’t believe the state has a role in this.

Disputes in the labour movement should be sorted out by the labour movement.

I have filed complaints to multiple Labour Party organisations and to Momentum (nationally, locally, and to Laura Parker and Jon Lansman) about the Jefferies attack.

Of course in this case none of the individuals or committees I have approached has done anything to investigate the case.

That’s not a big surprise. Neither Momentum nor the national Labour Party (despite their significant resources) cares much about a person like me. No matter – we need to campaign and insist they do the right thing.

We want to demand the movement relies on itself, alone. And the movement needs to learn to clean up its own messes, and sort out its own problems.

I suspect there’s been some miseducation on this question because, starting in 2016, when I reported disgusting slanders (anonymous and unevidenced) against myself which were posted on the Red London Facebook page, activists associated with the AWL have reported various incidents to the police.

The difference between doing that and going to the Met about this incident is that in the case of anonymous abuse on the internet there are no labour movement routes or mechanisms to use.

And Red London is not a labour movement organisation, the people that edit that page are Red-Brown scum (despite the fact that they are probably union members).

Any working class militant dislikes the cops, and is suspicious of them, perfectly reasonably. By trotting along to the local station whenever something unpleasant happens we will discredit ourselves and mis-educate those who are watching what we do (essentially we will be reinforcing the bourgeois myth of state neutrality).

That the bourgeois state has no right to sort out disputes in the labour movement is a principle, not a tactical matter.
We shouldn’t do it even when we think we’ll get what we want.

But in this case “getting what we want” (presumably having Jefferies interviewed, charged and convicted) would not even happen. The police would takes some notes then probably do nothing. Jefferies should be “convicted” following Labour Party and Momentum investigations.

While we demand action on this from the official movement we will continue to campaign to warm activists of the threat posed by Jefferies and the unpleasant culture that exists in Lewisham Momentum.

To the Labour Party members who say we must go to the police we argue the case, above. To the Labour officials who say they can do nothing until the police act we say they are making excuses for their lack of action.

A crime number is not necessary for the Labour Party to deal with a complaint.

Endnote: Anti-trans rights motion

For information, printed below is the text of the motion discussed at the June 2018 meeting of Tottenham Constituency Labour Party. The motion that Mark Osborn asked Noah Tucker to state his position on.

The point of view that the motion expresses is that of “Women’s Place” and other organisations. Such groups, while maintaining they are for the rights of trans people, oppose gender self-identification “in respect to women’s services. That is, they are hostile to the inclusion of trans women. Logically they must oppose gender self-identification more comprehensively. This is because, for them “biological realities” are overwhelmingly politically important. For them, trans women can never be “real women”. The underlying logic of the position is to segregate, it is anti-trans rights, and for forcing trans women into the humiliating and unjust position of having to justify their gender identity in many ways.

We think that point of view is wrong. It is certainly very important to discuss, given the attacks on trans people in society. It is not a discussion that an elected representatives of the Labour Party should be able to “take the Fifth Amendement” on. Noah Tucker is entitled to his opinion whatever it is but he should be prepared to state it. If he does not support that motion, that’s good. If he does, then we have a right to debate and challenge that.

It should be a principle that any person who seeks transparency on any issue from an elected representative, put into a position by the Labour Party, should not be called a trouble maker or hit for taking the time and trouble to do that.

People who do not understand that do not understand basic labour movement democratic norms.

Gender Self ID – Northumberland Park

This branch/CLP notes:

The National Executive Committee on 22 May 2018 confirmed that transgender people who self-identify as women while being biological males are eligible for inclusion on All Women Shortlists and minimum quotas for women as well as election as Women's Officers.

The NEC's decision was taken without consulting widely with women members and women's organisations.

The NEC went on to state the decision on self-identification had no bearing on the Labour Party's approach to reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 on which the representative bodies of the party were still consulting.

This branch/CLP affirms:
Biological sex and gender are two different concepts. Biological sex is a binary fact of life for the vast majority of people (except for a small minority of people who are born intersex). Gender is a social construct enforcing norms of behaviour which many men as well as women find socially oppressive.

The oppression of women is based on biological sex, particularly the role of women in reproduction and men's ability, if they choose, to physically and sexually intimidate and abuse women. The biological differences between the sexes create an imbalance of power that must be recognised by society if it is to be countered.

The NEC's decision on AWS, quotas for women and the election of Women's Officers, in the absence of a proper explanation of their ruling, appears to conflate sex and gender. This risks giving the socially conservative construct of gender priority over the biological reality of sex, thereby undermining the steps the party has previously taken to combat the oppression of women and achieve parity for women in parliament and in public and political life.

The principle of gender self-identification threatens women-only spaces, facilities and services that are important for the safety, dignity and privacy of women, and the right of women to self-organise in order to advance issues that particularly affect them, such as reproductive rights.

Women in the Labour Party have the right to debate gender self-identification and promote policies which protect them. They have the right to be treated in a respectful and comradely manner. The no-platforming and harassment of women members who are critical of gender self-identification by other party members is to be condemned.

This branch/CLP resolves to:
Campaign for a society that allows transgender people freedom of dress, behaviour and self-expression, protects them from discrimination and harassment, and accords them respect, privacy and dignity.
Oppose the principle of gender self-identification with respect to women-only spaces and services, and women-only organisation within the Labour Party and elsewhere, because of the implications it will have for women in terms of safety, dignity, privacy, participation in sport and public life, and political representation.
Recognise that women are entitled to sex-based protections and to campaign to preserve, strengthen and extend these.

Advocate:
*legislative changes that break down rather than reinforce gender stereotyping;
*protections for transgender people based on the outlawing of gender-specific norms such as mandatory dress codes that are different for men and women;
*gender-neutral or trans-specific services and facilities alongside those for women.

Call on the national Labour Party to consult with women both inside and outside the party, including women's organisations such as Women's Place UK, on how to give transgender people maximum rights and acceptance without sacrificing the protections and rights of women.

Comments

Submitted by Fatimi Makosha (not verified) on Thu, 15/08/2019 - 17:08

Violence in the labour movement should be and is used against fascists only

Submitted by John Hampson (not verified) on Thu, 15/08/2019 - 23:27

Mark Osborn is a vile reactionary and menace to all right-thinking people. Bill Jeffries may not have acted as Osborn claims, but if he did he acted for the good of humanity

Submitted by cathy n on Sun, 18/08/2019 - 13:40

In reply to by John Hampson (not verified)

We’ve approved the above trolling comment for information. It’s the sort of ridiculous, ignorant thing we’ve had back from a certain layer of people.

Submitted by Jim Denham (not verified) on Tue, 20/08/2019 - 11:55

According to the statement, Noah Tucker was once (like Andrew Murray and Seumas Milne) a member of the ultra-Stalinist 'Straight Left' faction. It was recently suggested to me that the name 'Straight Left' was chosen, at least in part, to signal these people's hostility to gay rights.

Submitted by Rich (not verified) on Thu, 22/08/2019 - 00:27

Prima facie what happened to Mark Osborn is reprehensible. However it is only one side of the story. A former member of Workers Liberty has said on Twitter that Osborn is a racist. Jeffries I have encountered (on the web) in his previous incarnation as dogmatic (2007) crisis-denier in chief for the 20 or so members of the "Permanent Revolution" breakaway from workers' power. It does sound from Osborn's account as if they were involved in quite a heated argument, following a meeting in which Osborn (by his own account), in his one-minute contribution, managed to call other people on the left anti-semites (presumably without any corroboration since he only had one minute). It does not sound like the wisest course of action but I agree there is no excuse for physical violence.

Submitted by Mark on Mon, 26/08/2019 - 12:08

In reply to by Rich (not verified)

The first large demonstration I helped to organise was to oppose the NF lecturer, Andrew Brons, in my hometown (1985)
In 1993 I edited (and wrote most of) a Workers' Liberty magazine called, "How to Beat the Racists". It ran to three editions and must have sold 30 000 copies.
I've organised many public meetings against racism, public protests, a speaker tour with a former member of the Black Panthers.
I've written about the Panthers, Malcolm X, Reconstruction, US Slavery for the socialist press.
I could go on and on. I have decades of anti-racist activity behind me.
There is of course another explanation: that an idiot called me a racist, without evidence on the internet. So, let's not reproduce evidence-free claims shall we?

I did not call anyone an antisemite except Ken Livingstone. Try to read text exactly and precisely.

It should be possible to engage in heated arguments without getting punched in the face. Besides, none of the heat was from me.
I got punched by Jefferies because I insisted he justify a slur on a comrade. He couldn't do that, and punched me instead. How could I possibly be to blame for this?
Should I just have let it go? That would be pathetic.

The fact is that this is the most recent act in a series of actions against the AWL and its supporters in Lewisham Momentum. We have been subjected to the most disgusting anonymous slanders on the internet, systematically witchhunted; people have deliberately excluded us, gerrymandered the organisation, refused to engage in debate with us, split the local left.
Anyway, we will not be silenced. We'll continue to advocate open, honest organisations where rational debate can take place.

Submitted by Mark on Mon, 26/08/2019 - 13:53

In reply to by Mark

Here's an example of the way "democracy" works in Lewisham Momentum.
This is footage of the "AGM" of Lewisham Momentum 2018, held in a local bar as the AGM split and the AWL was purged. This "meeting" was endorsed by National Momentum who didn't care who got the officer positions as long as it wasn't the AWL.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXPxxrGSQ-U&t=128s

Submitted by Mark on Mon, 26/08/2019 - 13:56

In reply to by Mark

And here is a briefing about the disgusting internet campaign that some of those involved in Lewisham Momentum and Red London have organised against the AWL:
https://www.workersliberty.org/story/2019-01-08/red-london-their-own-wo…
Note, in particular, the racist campaign against our member Sacha Ismail.

Submitted by Nick Lowles (not verified) on Sat, 24/08/2019 - 18:50

This item shows exactly why people are sick of Jeremy Corbyn's 'leadership' of the Labour party. The CLPs have become battlegrounds for the different far left groups. AWL supporters versus WP (Red Flag) supporters - an argument that goes back to the 1970s, if not before. And, of course, the warring Trotskyist groups both hate the 'Stalinists' (Straight Left).

Submitted by cathy n on Mon, 26/08/2019 - 11:30

At the risk of confirming your bias against "sectariana" Nick, a bit of info re. who's who and what's what. Bill Jeffries is no longer a member of Workers' Power (Red Flag); what his current analysis of Stalinism we couldn't tell you. In fact, at least on one issue, campaigning against Brexit, Red Flag and the AWL are working together. I think you have to do a bit more deconstruction and recent historical analysis to describe accurately what is going on in Lewisham/the Labour Party. In fact the first person to "poison the discourse" in the Labour Party after 2015 was Tom Watson, who, among other things, used the AWL as a chopping block against the entire left in the Corbyn surge. The initial and continuing battleground was left versus right. But within the left, the political conflicts, as you know, are over really important political questions like antisemitism. You also know, over the last 30-plus years we have written and published hundreds of thousands if not millions of words - opposing from the left. It is precisely because we have called-out people in Lewisham on this issue that we get hit. Your lofty and frankly apolitical "all as bad as each other" dismissal is not helpful.

Submitted by Mark on Mon, 26/08/2019 - 14:22

Hi Nick. I remember the first time you came to the AWL office, back in 1986. You were actually very excited by "sectariana" then (ie. the interesting, world-transforming ideas of the socialist left).
And where did you get your hatred of left antisemitism from? Us! (Just like Dave H and Alan J and others who are now well to our right). Well, I'm still fighting for a new, socialist world. You, you've collapsed, to such a point that you can't tell the AWL apart from the rest?
Actually this debate isn't Workers' Power vs the AWL. It is about fighting for the authentic ideas of Marx and socialism as human liberation, as against socialism as a Gulag. The people we're at odds with in the Labour Party (and that often includes Corbyn) have a degraded "socialism" that takes a lot from Stalinism. We're right to oppose them. Pity you gave up.

Submitted by Sonia G (not verified) on Tue, 27/08/2019 - 10:08

Not surprising about Nick. He has turned HNH into a Blairite front for Ruth Smeeth and the other Corbyn-haters.

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