AWL code of conduct, as adopted by AWL conference 2014

Author: 

AWL conference

Code of conduct

A background note on the “Guidelines for a code of conduct” and “Guidance on grievance procedures”

These two documents were both passed at the National Committee on Saturday 22 February 2014.

Both texts are not the “final word”. The “Guidance on grievance procedures” is what it says — guidance, intended to be used by the Disputes Committee; that body might wish to add to and make amendments to the practical arrangements set out there.

We should take further advice on “Guidance on grievance procedures” (from a properly-qualified experienced, person in the trade union movement). And we still need to organise training for relevant people.

In addition individual comrades, branches and, not least, the Disputes Committee may wish to propose amendments in the future.

These documents have been produced “in the wake of” internal disputes of the British SWP.

The rationale for their production is unconnected. We should see them as as additions to our formal rules (our constitution, our NC rules of functioning etc.) and an attempt to put existing policy onto a more formal basis.

For instance “Guidelines for a code of conduct” is an extended version of a policy passed by our National Committee in 2010 (see appendix).

That said, there are lessons to learn from the SWP fall out. An article we produced on that matter (www.workersliberty.org/story/2013/01/16/swp-case-isnt-closed) discussed how not to deal with internal complaints:

“The SWP leadership has blustered about the impossibility of justice in the bourgeois courts. But the SWP did not, and could not, construct at will an island of superior proletarian justice. In fact the Disputes Committee fell short of the better criteria of bourgeois justice. There may be a lesson here for the whole of the left: our AWL Disputes Committee, too, would have lacked the resources and expertise for such a case.”

Given that lack of resources we have our operational assumption should be that any grievance procedure would be used in a very select number of possible circumstances. These would be:
 - where informal complaints (as described in the “Code of Conduct”) have failed to resolve matters
- cases of serious complaint that are not matters for the criminal justice system (e.g. systematic bullying)
 - in serious matters (such as sexual harassment or abuse) where complainants do not wish to go to the police

Guidelines for a code of conduct

Introduction
These guidelines are intended to help us in our day-to-day dealings with each other and about what to do when ordinary comradely relations break down.

More serious complaints - e.g. serious bullying, predatory sexual behaviour, sexual harassment are matters for formal investigation and potential charges. We have separate written guidance on procedure for those situations.

To initiate a formal investigation you should normally contact the EC at awl at workersliberty.org, and the EC will be responsible for ensuring the appropriate next steps are taken - e.g. invoking the Disputes Committee, supporting the comrade in accessing professional expertise and so on. If the complaint is about the behaviour of the EC, or of a member of the EC, you can contact the Disputes Committee directly at disputes at workersliberty.org, sending a copy of your communication for information to awl at workersliberty.org

Where comrades are directly told of, or witness, or have a credible third party report of serious abuse which they feel would be grounds for complaint they are obliged to report this to a member of the EC or Disputes Committee. The information will handled in way which is compatible with keeping control with the person who is being abused, bullied etc. Information will not be be shared, the responsible EC or DC person will approach the person concerned to discuss the matter.

General approach
In the AWL we call each other “comrades”, and our relations with each other should be comradely.

It should go without saying that we do not tolerate any discriminatory language or behaviour from our comrades either inside or outside the group, including in internet forums (for example, but not limited to, sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, disablist, against people with physical or mental ill-health).

We know we will have political arguments among ourselves, sometimes angry ones, and we know we will have conflicts where some members think that others are letting them down in activity; but through it all we have solidarity with each other as fellow-combatants in a long and difficult battle against bourgeois society.

You will find personal friends in AWL, because those are the people who share your basic outlook on the world. You will communicate your ideas and values to other friends you have, and even if they start off uninterested in socialism, your conviction and knowledge will draw some of them towards AWL.

In AWL, though, comrades must be able to know that they will be treated with respect, as comrades, regardless of personal friendships or fallings-out.

There is a pattern in everyday bourgeois life of older people in positions of prestige or authority, at work for example, using that prestige or authority for sexual advantage with younger co-workers. It sometimes happens in the left, too. We must guard against it in AWL.

Many AWL contacts become AWL contacts via or in association with a personal friendship with an AWL member. That's fine. But once the contact's wish to talk politics with AWL has been established, the primary responsibility for organising systematic contact discussions, educationals, and discussing induction into AWL activity should be handed over to another member, so that the contact's political relationship with AWL can be separated out from the fortunes or misfortunes of the personal friendship.

When pairing people for contact discussions, educationals, and discussions of induction into AWL activity the organiser should take into account the potential impact of power dynamics (for example resulting from gender, age and other factors) on the working relationship and experience of the contact or new member.

AWL organisers must avoid any reality or appearance of "patronage", that is, of allocating more prestigious activities to young members as a "reward" for friendly personal relations.

When AWL organisers ask AWL members to do activities, they should not pose the request as a personal favour. When they rebuke other AWL members for failing to do activities - as sometimes they must - they should do it objectively, in terms of the consequences for the cause of the AWL and socialism, not of the dilatory member having let down or inconvenienced or embarrassed the organiser personally.

In criticism or conflict, we should avoid sarcasm, put-downs, talking-over, or extended bad-mouthing of other comrades behind their backs.

Where AWL members fall out with each personally - as we will - they should continue to deal with other in a comradely way for AWL activity. A feature of the AWL tradition of which we're proud is that we have been able to have political rows inside the AWL in which people who are personally friendly clash strongly on political issues, and people who personally get on poorly collaborate well in advancing the arguments they agree on.

Procedures
If you think a comrade is breaking these guidelines, the first thing to do is to talk with her or him directly. If you are not confident about that, talk first with some more experienced AWL member (of your choice: it need not be an NC or EC member). You may also ask a person of your choice to accompany you when you make your complaint.

If the initial discussion yields no result, draw in a more experienced AWL member (of your choice: it need not be an NC or EC member).

If there is still no result, make a formal approach to your AWL branch committee or branch organiser, which will probably ask some other experienced AWL member to investigate and intervene.

If the issue cannot be resolved within the branch, approach the EC, which again will probably ask yet another experienced AWL member to investigate and intervene.

If there is still a grievous problem, consult with the EC about next steps. Those might include formal disciplinary proceedings or invoking the AWL Disputes Committee.

Guidance on grievance procedures

1. Our approach

In complaints of serious sexual or physical assaults of all kinds we will support complainants in their choice of procedure if that involves contacting the police or seeking professional help. We recognise, given the police's record in these matters, and for other reasons, complainants may chose not to go to the police.

We will always conduct our own investigation whenever a complaint is made, while seeking to ensure that investigation does not interfere with any outstanding or possible future police investigation.

Given our resources we do not believe we can replicate the best professional standards of investigation. We will make complainants and alleged perpetrators fully aware of this deficit at the beginning of any grievance process.

We will seek whatever outside professional advice is deemed appropriate and within our resources at any stage.

We are aware that women who complain of sexual harassment or abuse are often subjected to victim blaming; we should consciously work against this. Our starting point is such complaints will be dealt with as any other kind of complaint — at face value. The complainant will be supported through the process. Subsequent lines of investigation and questioning may need to test the evidence but will be compatible with the initial approach. None of this should contradict a fair process for all parties.

We will not prioritise our public reputation over ensuring an open and fair process. If a public allegation is made against one of our comrades we will investigate and make a public statement outlining what action we intend to take. We will share information about that investigation as appropriate with the complainant.

The EC and/or the Disputes Committee will take the necessary steps to ensure the proper functioning of the organisation while an investigation is taking place. E.g. the parties may need to be kept apart; it may be appropriate to suspended someone from political activity (and paid suspension if the comrade works for the organisation).

2. Definitions

a. General harassment

Harassment is now defined in law and takes in sex, sexual orientation, disability, race, religion and age.

b. Sexual harassment (adapted from TUC)

Can include:

* Unwanted (possibly repeated) verbal or physical sexual advances (touching, pinching, patting, kissing, leering, sexual gestures);

* Unwanted sexually explicit statements and messages (including jokes and displays of sexually explicit material);

* Sexually discriminating and derogatory remarks which cause someone to feel threatened, humiliated, patronised or harassed or which create a threatening or intimidating environment.

c. Bullying (adapted from ACAS)

Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, and abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the individuals.

Examples (much longer list on PCS website):

- dissemination of personal criticism of others to third parties who do not need to know.
- demeaning comments
- overbearing supervision
- aggressive behaviour

d. Domestic violence

Domestic violence (DV) is physical and sexual violence, psychological and emotional abuse, threats and intimidation, financial blackmail, harassment, isolation, also belittling and unreasonable criticism within an intimate or family relationship. It could be part of a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour.

3. Procedure

As with other complaints there should be a complaints process with different levels according to how serious the complaint is or how easy or difficult it is to resolve the situation.

From the beginning and at every stage the complainant and the alleged perpetrator will have the right to and are strongly advised to have representation.

Both parties will have the right to call witnesses. Those witness can be accompanied to investigative hearings if they chose.

We have no “statute of limitations” on complaints. Nonetheless it is better for comrades making complaints if this is done sooner. They will be supported in all instances.

Membership of the Disputes Committee should be for a fixed term but longer than one year. The organisation should ensure members have appropriate training. Three alternates should be elected at the same time as full members are elected (for situations where there are potential conflicts of interest).

a. Informal stage

i. Bullying:
 1. Talk over your concerns with a trusted comrade. 
2. Keep a diary of incidents, records of times and witnesses and your feelings
. 3. Tell the person to stop whatever it is they are doing that is causing you distress. Ask your trusted comrade to do this on your behalf or with you if you need to.
 4. Consider writing to the bully (keep copies of this and any reply).
 5. Be firm, positive and calm and stick to the facts. 
6. It is your right to make a formal complaint if you feel this informal procedure is inappropriate or does not produce results.

ii. Sexual harassment
: 1. Points 1-5 as above may be appropriate. Many people are not aware that their behaviour is offensive to others and drawing the matter to their attention may be enough to stop it. 
2. It is your right to make a formal complaint if you are not happy with proceeding informally for any reason.

b. Formal stage

1. After an internal formal investigation has been initiated, written details of the allegation should be lodged with the Disputes Committee. Wherever possible this should be done within 30 days of the alleged conduct. The Disputes Committee (or alternates) should meet as soon as possible. At any stage it may be decided that a more appropriate course of action (e.g. reporting to police) should be made; if so this should also be done promptly.
2. Otherwise the complaint will be investigated and recommendations made within 60 days. Clear time limits should be set for each stage.
3. Complainant and alleged perpetrator should be interviewed separately.
4. If the alleged perpetrator is to be suspended or “stood down” this should be done promptly and the reasons explain in writing.
5. Records and details of meetings will be completely confidential.
6. Records might include:
Copy of complainants written statement of grievance
Copy of alleged perpetrator's response
Action taken
Reasons for action
Any information relating to an appeal
Further developments

7. If the complaint is upheld there will be disciplinary procedures or expulsion. Levels of remorse, mitigation etc will be taken into account.

8. Mechanisms to monitor any procedures will be made.

9. There will be an appeals procedure (open to both parties).
10. Mediation by an outside body can be suggested by either party.

Appendix

Guidelines on comradely behaviour (passed at National Committee April 2010)

We must in AWL create enough solidarity and comradeship that we can work together effectively, that new members can be drawn in, and that contacts find our activities accessible and welcoming.

We have to pay special attention to getting things right, or at least workable, for younger members, for women members, for non-white members, for members lacking formal education, for members lacking confidence.

That requires certain standards of personal behaviour from us all. It requires special standards from AWL organisers: they have to avoid anything that can make a member feel that how an AWL organiser deals with them, in relation to AWL activity, depends on personal favour or disfavour.

AWL branches are asked to discuss whether they are getting things right; if they can identify examples of good practice that should be more widely known and followed; if they can identify examples of bad practice and remedy them.

We should focus on what needs to be done, and not done, rather than ideological labelling (labelling bad behaviour as "sexist" may be appropriate or may not be, but the important thing here is whether it is bad or not).

We should try to make the discussions as constructive as possible: otherwise they are going to destroy solidarity and comradeship rather than improve it.

That shouldn't stop comrades raising complaints. These can be raised in branch meetings, but if they are major complaints, the formal raising in the branch should be after due notice and investigation with the person complained about.

Complaints are best raised directly with the person whose behaviour is being complained about. If you think you need support in doing that, ask any experienced comrade whom you trust to help.

It doesn't have to be an organiser or EC member; though the organisers, NC, and EC have a responsibility to be the fallback if you don't think, or find, other approaches workable; and there is a further fallback, the
disputes committee, elected at conference each year to act as a body separate from the NC to deal with difficult disputes between members (see the AWL constitution).

Complaints about the behaviour of un-named people are best avoided, since they are more likely to lead to gossip ("I wonder who it was", "I bet it was X", "no smoke without fire", etc.) than to self-improvement.

To try to turn the AWL into an island of socialist life within capitalism would be futile and turn us into a cult rather than an effective combat organisation. Imagine, for example, if we were to say that to fight for economic equality in society we must first create economic equality within AWL by making all our members live in communes, or compelling our better-paid members to hand over enough to ensure an equal income for all AWL members. But we do need to have standards which enable AWL to function effectively as a revolutionary organisation.