By Ed Whitby, North East and Cumbria delegate (personal capacity)
On Saturday 6 February, a Momentum National Committee met for the first time in London. Just the fact of Momentum holding its first democratic national representative meeting was a success. The procedure could certainly have been improved – there was not enough time for local groups to prepare properly for the regional meetings, indeed some regions didn’t meet at all, and for both the regional meetings and the NC, many documents were either not presented until the day or circulated at very short notice. Nevertheless in many groups and regions it appears there was a lively process of electing delegates and discussing issues, a process which has helped to draw Momentum together.
In general delegates to the meeting pushed things in the direction of greater democracy and a more radical political line. I will summarise here but also publish some of policy passed, remitted, etc, soon.
A summary of what was decided by the NC
– The basic statement of aims was amended to refer more to socialism and the working class. It is still, in my view, far from adequate, but it was agreed as an interim statement to be reviewed by the Steering Committee for redrafting in consultation with NC members and local groups.
– Momentum is oriented towards organising within Labour, as well as broader campaigning.
– Momentum will become a membership organisation. It will encourage its members to join Labour, but anyone who wants to support Labour and is not a member of a party organisationally opposed to it can join, be a representative, officer, etc.
– Momentum will work with others on the left, who are free to distribute their literature at Momentum public meetings, etc.
– In addition to local groups and regions, there will also be the possibility of specific Momentum campaigning organisations: the document specifically mentioned Momentum NHS.
– We agreed to set up an interim Student and Youth Committee made up of student and youth members of the National Committee and nominations of student and young members from regions and a formal more detailed proposal on this work was referred to the Steering Committee.
– It was reported that some regions were already organising policy conferences, but the proposal for holding regional and national policy conferences was remitted to the Steering Committee for further discussion
– A summary of votes of North East and Cumbria proposals are listed at the end of this report.
National Committee and Steering Committee
The NC meeting was attended by 53 delegates (26 from the regional meetings, 8 equalities reps, 11 from various Labour left groups and 8 from trade unions – Unite, TSSA, CWU, Bakers, ASLEF and FBU). About eight delegates were also members of left organisations not formally represented, including two from my organisation Workers’ Liberty. Copies of Solidarity, Socialist Appeal and Labour Briefing were sold at the meeting: a welcome exchange of left-wing ideas. There were people active in a number of unions not formally represented, eg NUT and PCS, and in campaigning organisations including the People’s Assembly and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.
The NC will meet at least quarterly. It also elected a Steering Committee to meet more regularly and guide the organisation. The eight representatives from England elected to this committee are (designations indicate who they represented at the NC meeting – they were all elected to the SC as individuals): Jill Mountford (London), Michael Chessum (London), Marsha Jane Thompson (Eastern), Jon Lansman (Left Futures), Sam Wheeler (North west), Jackie Walker (LRC), Christine Shawcroft (Labour Briefing Coop) and Cecile Wright (Black and Minority Ethnic).
They will be joined by four trade union representatives, one rep from Scotland and one from Wales.
The membership debate
This was a big debate at the NC. First we agreed to have paid membership; those who don’t join will remain supporters.
There were proposals about who could become a member and who could become a supporter, and what rights these two categories will have.
The lack of time and clarity in advance caused real problems here, in part because the wording of the options was not very clear, but I think the NC did a reasonable job of untangling things.
The three options were:
a. Only Labour Party members can join or even take part in organising / planning meetings as supporters; though local groups can continue to organise joint meetings with other organisations which can be open to non-Labour members.
b. Membership open only to Labour members, but people can be supporters and participate in local groups, voting only on local issues not connected to Labour – as long as they do not support parties against Labour. Only members can stand for office.
c. Membership and supporter status open to any person who supports Labour and doesn’t support other parties which oppose Labour. All members can take part in all decisions, stand for all positions, etc.
The first position received two votes, the second 18 votes and the third 27. I think that was the right decision. People should join the Labour Party, and it is right that Momentum will strongly encourage this; but there are still many people coming to the organisation who for whatever reason haven’t joined yet. We need to encourage and persuade them, not throw up an unnecessary barrier (insisting Momentum members and supporters must not oppose Labour is enough). And we have avoided creating anything like a two-class system of membership.
It also positive that the NC voted, by an overwhelming margin, to allow other organisations to distribute their literature at public meetings and so on. It is right that those who support other parties against Labour cannot join; but that is no reason to create a culture which discourages debate and free exchange of ideas.
There was discussion, and some criticism, about how equality reps (and also the student/youth reps) had been selected. Although there was not a vote on this, there seemed to be general agreement that there should be broad, democratic equalities/liberation networks established who should allow open nominations and to elect delegates to future National Committees as happened with regions.
Michael Chessum proposed a document to create a democratic Momentum Youth and Students organisation. There was wide support for this but it was referred back to the Steering Committee. It was agreed that the youth and student reps on the NC will form a provisional Youth and Student Committee, which the SC will work and consult closely with.
The North East and Cumbria region proposed national and local policy making conferences made up of delegates from local groups. This was remitted to the SC.
The meeting voted by a clear margin not to organise in Northern Ireland. I think this was wrong. The document said that this was in line with, and for the same reasons as, the Labour Party not doing so. But that is factually wrong: the Labour Party does organise in Northern Ireland, it just doesn’t stand candidates. Moreover, the document didn’t spell out what the Labour Party’s reasons are: I would say that they are generally conservative reasons about not upsetting the “normal” operation of sectarian politics. It was argued that people in a British orgnisation shouldn’t decide or comment on Northern Ireland: surely it dictates to tell them they can’t organise a Momentum group even if they want? Anyway, this is something that comrades in NI can best take up.
Momentum Scotland submitted a report on their work. The Scottish comrades amended one document to point out that the Scottish Assembly elections, and not just the 2020 general election, are also important. Momentum NHS also submitted a report, and its activists spoke about groups mobilising for the junior doctors’ picket lines on 10 February.
We accepted a finance report, setting out some outline funding plans and proposals for employing full-time staff (eight posts to be advertised).
Very positively, Matt Wrack from the FBU moved proposals for unions to be able to affiliate to Momentum, including non-Labour affiliated unions if they sign up to Momentum aims.
I proposed an amendment saying that the requirement to agree with Momentum aims and formally affiliate should also apply to Labour left organisations that take a formal role in Momentum. This was agreed.
The documents passed set out a wide range of campaigning objectives, along lines that will be familiar to Momentum supporters. I will post the relevant material soon.
In the discussion on the 16 April People’s Assembly march, which Momentum is building for, Rida Vaquas from Red Labour argued that Momentum should seek to improve and make more radical the draft demands on a number of issues: build council housing; repeal all anti-union laws, legalise solidarity; demand free education and living grants for all students. The original demands were too conservative, in some cases less radical than official Labour policy (eg it just said “Scrap the Trade Union Bill”, when last year’s Labour Party conference voted to legalise solidarity strikes). This was agreed.
There was some discussion on the Centre Left Grass Roots Alliance slate for the NEC, and some criticisms were raised. Althought it was agreed to support it. There was also discussion on Trident and criticism of Corbyn’s suggestion of building just the submarines proposal. Comrades from Socialist Appeal made good contributions on scrapping Trident but defending the jobs and incomes of workers through conversion.
For all the problems, I think the National Committee was positive. There was lively discussion and the NC certainly did not act as rubber stamp; on a number of points the documents were amended and the proposed position changed. Moreover a wide variety of people from different sides of various debates were elected to the Steering Committee.
We need to ensure that the Steering Committee meets regular and functions well, establishing real democratic control over Momentum’s operations and working closely with local groups.
Most importantly, Momentum needs
1. To get out on the streets campaigning on big issues in the class struggle, the NHS being one of the most obvious, supporting workers’, anti-austerity, anti-racist and other struggles, and pushing for the Labour Party to do the same.
2. To develop a clear program of demands and initiatives to shake up and transform the Labour Party, involve more people, change and activate policy and crucially democratise the party.
I think we are in a stronger position to do that after Saturday.
Please feel free to get in touch, tell me what you think, or ask questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
Specific proposals from the North East and Cumbria regional meeting – how the NC voted.
1) Change ‘Make Labour a more democratic party’ to ‘Support democracy within the Labour Party”- final wording: “Transform LP into a more open, member-led party with socialist policies and the collective will to implement them in government.
2) Change ‘…with the policies’ to ‘…with the socialist policies’ – see above
3) The National Committee, along with the Regional networks, have responsibility for ensuring that Momentum groups cover every locality and that all supporters/members are connected within groups and regions. – agreed and incorporated
4) The National Committee should be tasked with engaging with special interest groups, such as Momentum NHS. – agreed
5) The National Committee should meet in different regions (not always London) – agreed
6) The National Committee should organise an annual policy making conference with delegates from local groups – deferred to steering committee
7) The regions should be the largest represented group on the National Committee to ensure that there is a strong sense of democracy and representation. – almost (53 delegates (26 regional, 8 Equality, 11 labour left groups, 8 trade unions)
8) Strong desire for Trade Unionists to be involved in Momentum. However, Trade Unions having ‘block votes’ was strongly rejected by the group. National unions and regions can affiliate and can get 2 delegates to regional network meetings (i.e. the same as local groups with same rules)
9) Strong desire for regions and local groups to be able to access data in a controlled way. – agreed
10) Regions should organise policy making conferences – remitted as a policy, but regions can do this (East Midlands has one in March) it is just not a requirement for regions to do this
11) Membership and attendance at meetings: Remove the second paragraph:
Organising or planning meetings should be open to members of Momentum (Labour Party members, affiliate members, or individuals who are not members of other political parties who support the aims and values of the Labour Party*).
“Momentum groups may choose to organise campaigning activities or public events, which may be open to individuals who adhere to the ‘code of ethics.’ However, as Momentum is a Labour-oriented organisation, individuals are not permitted to promote any other political party (this includes distributing literature for or by another political party).”. We agreed to remove this and agreed that members of momentum can be labour party, members, affiliates or supporters as long as they do not support other parties to labour.