Left Unity and the People's Assembly meet

Submitted by Matthew on 27 June, 2013 - 10:45

Left Unity held its first National Coordinating Group meeting in Doncaster on Saturday 15 June. The meeting was attended by representatives from 36 local groups, as well as the 10 members who were directly elected at the 11 May national meeting.

Much of the agenda was taken up with basic organising of the new coalition and with the timetable for a founding conference set for 23 November. Broader political discussions were had between delegates over lunch.
The National Coordinating Group now has the remit to prepare the November conference. Policy Commissions have been set up to draft policy. Amendments on 15 June gained the right for local groups and political platforms to contribute to that process.

Many delegates were unhappy that the directly elected group of 10 had been taking decisions since 11 May without minutes being circulated properly. It was agreed that all minutes be posted on the Left Unity website.

The directly elected 10 had already discussed things such as a broadsheet to be used at the People’s Assembly and how to work with the press and the labour movement. These are political issues, yet Left Unity has not yet adopted any policy to guide the content of articles!

I would have been forgiven for thinking that Left Unity had taken the decision to contest the next possible elections and was well on the way to gearing up for it. In fact Left Unity has no formal policy on this — it is meant to be decided at the November founding conference.

Those involved in Left Unity seem to have a wide range of views on the role of a left of Labour political party, its composition, its relationship to the existing left and the wider labour movement and how soon it should come about, if at all — and on the very political basis of such a party, for example whether or not it should be explicitly socialist and committed to working-class struggle. This debate needs to be had as fully as possible before electoral tactics can be rationally discussed.

Thanks to a push from people at the meeting, there is now space for amendments to policy etc. However Left Unity now has a structure very reminiscent of the Labour Party. The Commissions will be made up of Left Unity supporters and “experts in the field” on a variety of topics. These topics are grouped in such a way that would form the sections of an election manifesto if Left Unity were to have one in the near future.

These Commissions and the topics look like a collection of left policy areas that wouldn’t look out of place in the Green Party manifesto or even, dare I say, the Labour Party one. What they lack is a unifying thread and that should be the bedrock of any initiative, focused on working class representation and orientation to the labour movement.

Left Unity seems to be well on its way to constituting itself as a Party that intends to contest elections, yet the left and the labour movement has not yet had the opportunity to have a serious discussion on working class political representation.

We need to discuss what sort of left unity we need, how to relate to the existing left and the Labour-affiliated unions, and how to transform the labour movement from its current passivity.

• A longer report from the Left Unity National Co-ordinating Group (NCG) on 15 June 2013 compiled by Rugby LU delegate Pete McLaren can be found here

A "show of force" or attempt at shortcut?

If the journalist Owen Jones is to be believed, the People’s Assembly on 22 June will be a “show of force”, and a “launchpad for a missing force in British politics”. The “movement” that will emerge from it will “give Labour some real competition” (Jones is a Labour Party member).

Jones’s fanfares for the Assembly emphasise its breadth and cross-party nature, although his trumpeting of the involvement of Caroline Lucas and the Greens may now be a little embarrassing given their strikebreaking and scab-herding in Brighton.

On the far left, only Counterfire — the animating element behind the Assembly — has been unambiguously enthusiastic, but its coverage has mainly consisted of plain-vanilla promotion of the event.

More in-depth analysis of its wider political potential, or any indication as to how Counterfire plans to intervene in it or what it plans to propose, is in shorter supply.

An article by Alex Snowdon from 15 May argues that the Assembly will be the “main basis for co-ordinating resistance to cuts for some time to come”, and that it “should be the central strategic priority for the left”. The article is shot through with a feverish sense of urgency (“We have to make [the People’s Assembly] work. The stakes are too high for us to fail”), and although it sets out to address the Assembly’s critics, it leaves some key questions unanswered. For example, how does the call for “long-term […] local coalitions” arising out of the Assembly intersect with existing local anti-cuts campaigns? Will Counterfire be pushing for the creation of local People’s Assemblies as alternatives to existing bodies?

The article also approvingly cites the experience of Respect as a model of how an electoral vehicle can emerge from a “mass movement encompassing new forces”, implying that something similar could cohere out of the People’s Assembly in future.

The Socialist Workers’ Party, the crisis-ridden organisation that spawned Counterfire in a 2010 split, has been fairly low-key in its support for the Assembly, describing it in a 18 June editorial as “a chance to fight back”, and expressing an expectation that it will be “impressive”, but warns against ignoring “the role of union leaders and Labour if we are to make our struggle as strong as it can be.” The possible implication here is that the ultra-enthusiasts of the Assembly see it as a chance to find a shortcut to a mass movement against austerity that can circumvent the work of transforming the broad labour movement. That is a perfectly valid criticism of some of the Assembly’s more fantastical cheerleaders, but if that is indeed what the SWAP mean they should say so.

The main comment on the Assembly from the International Socialist Network, which split from the SWP in March 2013, has come from ex-Socialist Worker journalist Tom Walker, who commented coolly on the Assembly, calling out its lack of democratic structures and Counterfire’s top-down organisation of the initiative. The article argues that Kate Hudson’s and Andrew Burnie “Left Unity” project, rather than the Assembly, is the basket in which to place one’s eggs.

For its part, discussion of the Assembly on the Left Unity site has focused on how much LU (whose entire raison d’etre, according to its central organisers, is to create “a new party of the left”) can involve itself in an initiative in which Labour figures like Owen Jones are so prominent.

The Socialist Party has hardly commented on the Assembly at all. It criticised, in passing, union leaders’ attempts to “contract out” the discussion of a general strike (which, for the Socialist Party, is a kind of political Holy Grail) to “amorphous groups like Coalition of Resistance and their ‘People’s Assembly’”, but has said little else.