By Rida Vaquas, NCG member for the Midlands/East/West rep
The Momentum National Co-ordinating Group meeting on Saturday 1st July yet again demonstrated Momentum leadership’s conscious disconnection from the grassroots labour movement.
As an NCG member, I had tabled a paper regarding showing solidarity with the strikes across Picturehouse cinemas for a Living Wage, expecting this to be fairly common sense and uncontroversial. My paper included a resolution for Momentum to donate £1000 to the Picturehouse strike fund, and to encourage Momentum groups to do collections and fundraisers and build links with Picturehouse workers, including inviting a speaker. Given that my own Labour Club – by no means a hotbed of socialist activism – successfully passed a motion to donate £100 to the strike fund, despite necessarily being poorer than a large national organisation, I did not foresee this being hotly disputed.
Yet no fewer than five NCG members chose to speak against donating to a strike fund of an active struggle, going so far as to attack the principle of donating to a strike fund itself. Jon Lansman, the chair of Momentum, firstly stated that he did not believe in making “piecemeal” donations, and that he considered Momentum could play a larger role in publicising the strike fund on social media and encouraging others to donate. He then argued that Momentum is a poor organisation (we were later presented with a Treasurer’s Report detailing that we were doing well financially).
These are, to a degree, technical objections to donating to a strike fund. Other NCG members then proceeded to make political objections. A recurring theme was that donating to the Picturehouse workers would “set a precedent” for supporting other industrial disputes, and where would we be then? How would we decide what industrial disputes to support? The second key objection was that Momentum was not a “grant-making organisation” and that we need to maintain our political focus on supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, and funds collected by Momentum should be used for furthering that purpose, not for supporting strike funds.
In the meeting itself my response to these criticisms can be summarised as this: Promoting the strike fund on social media and making a donation are by no means mutually exclusive, in fact making a donation alongside a statement of support could increase the publicity it receives. (Moreover Momentum clearly can afford to make a donation). It would set a precedent for supporting other industrial disputes – that is an actively good precedent. Momentum should support every worker in every struggle, as active industrial struggle at a grassroots level advance the interests of the labour movement as a whole.
The turn of phrase “supporting every worker in every struggle” caught the imagination of Jon Lansman who responded attacking the entire idea “Supporting every worker, in every workplace, in every struggle is a nice slogan. But we’re a political organisation that needs to be strategic. We need to make sure we’re about actually bringing about change and not just slogans” going on to call this “slogan” an “illusion”.
I will not pretend to fathom the nuances of a socialist “strategy” which doesn’t involve showing practical solidarity to workers fighting against their bosses, including enabling them to carry out strike action, but it is either not socialist or it is not a strategy.
It is more alarming that the whole idea of “supporting every worker in every struggle” that advances the interests of the working class is dismissed so easily as a fanciful slogan, dreamed up by a hot-headed youth, as opposed to the only sustainable way the Corbyn project can transform society. Hillary Wainwright wrote in “The Limits of Labourism” in 1987 of the need for a party which lays its foundations in the institutions of daily life, a party which “would be present in every factory, design office, hospital, school and community; it would be present in the organizations that workers and other oppressed people have created for their self-defence”, a party, in other words, that workers could turn to in an industrial dispute and expect support to be forthcoming. That is what Momentum should be aiming to make the Labour Party. Transforming society “for the many and not the few” requires equipping the many to “rise like lions after slumber” as the poem goes so that they can transform society for themselves, making them able to directly challenge their exploiters in the workplace.
In the case of the Picturehouse Cinemas, who have recently shamelessly attacked the right of workers to organise by sacking four trade union representatives involved in the dispute, the need for such practical solidarity is evident. It is not an abstract or irrelevant question from organising for a Corbyn-led government, the struggle creates the basis for its existence and ability to defend itself from pressure. At a time when union membership is falling, we should embrace the possibilities for trade unionism that the strikers across Picturehouse cinemas have fought for. We already saw during the election campaign how employers sputtered with rage at the prospect of paying a £10 Minimum Wage. To counter them, we need a forceful trade union movement, capable of setting the political agenda and winning its demands. Strengthening the ability of workers to fight fortifies our capability of carrying out our political programme.
Rida and fellow NCG member Sahaya James
If “supporting every worker in every struggle” is “a slogan” because we lack the material capacity to realize its fullest meaning, then our immediate task must be making ourselves worthy of these words, that is to say begin organising in workplaces, holding street stalls, joining workers at picket lines, and yes, donating to strike funds when a struggle is ongoing. If “supporting every worker in every struggle” that advances the interests of the class as a whole is truly “just a slogan” that means nothing and not a modus operandi which guides our every action, the Corbyn project shall collapse the moment any pressure is exerted upon it.
Conclusions of the NCG Meeting, 1st July
There will be no donation made to the Picturehouse strike fund, however, the crowdfunder will be publicised on Momentum social media and Momentum will make contact with Picturehouse workers. This was, as many things are in Momentum NCG, decided without any vote taking place, in the guise of what is called consensus decision-making. This is one of the ways meaningful accountability of NCG members to the membership is limited. To make it clear, this apparent “consensus” of prominent individuals choosing to turn their backs on striking workers by refusing material support is not one I include myself in.
The Members Council, as outlined in the Constitution, will take place on 9-10th September. It will be composed of 50 members drawn by lot (the sample will be stratified to ensure a representative sample of membership according to region, gender etc.). It continues to be unclear how decisions or feedback in the Members Council will relate to the work of the NCG. Nor has a process been elaborated by which discussions will be had and decisions made.
The NCG is going to co-opt Adam Klug as a non-voting member of the NCG, and will discuss co-opting 4 voting members into the NCG following a ‘skills audit’ at the next meeting (further diluting the already limited proportion of the NCG who are directly elected by the Momentum members). There was a proposal in the meeting to co-opt Adam immediately as a voting member of the NCG, however, this was defeated.
There is going to be a renewed focus on building vibrant Young Labour groups, as argued by the paper calling for making Young Labour groups “centres of campaigning, discussion and social activity”, however, amusingly this should apparently be the “collective responsibility” of the NCG rather than led by the NCG members who are under 27 (myself and Sahaya James), as the paper outlined.
Momentum is going to support The World Transformed to host another festival of political discussions and entertainment alongside Labour Party Conference. Responding to feedback from last year, this is going to be more integrated and interlinked with what is happening on the Conference floor.
It is worth noting the extent to which it is actively discouraged that substantive political issues are discussed by the National Co-ordinating Group. The ostensible reason provided is to avoid key decisions being leaked to the media, however, the other side of this is that key decisions are presented as outcomes above scrutiny. As opposed to tabling papers, we are encouraged to get into contact with members of staff with our ideas (apparently this is how the Members Council came into being). In this way, collective decision-making and accountability is nearly totally circumvented. In this way the “structures” of Momentum stink “of new smells of decay no one had ever smelt before” (Brecht), of demobilisation of local branches, disenfranchisement of membership, and lack of effective accountability. As I believe decisions for a political organisation should be made through democratic discussion as opposed to informal chats, I will continue to submit papers.
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The Clarion will publish regularly reports of NCG meetings and decisisions by Rida and other NCG members.
The slate on which Rida and other left-wingers were elected to the NCG