The Momentum Grassroots conference on Saturday 11 March (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Conway Hall, London, WC1R 4RL) presents an important opportunity to shape and coordinate the work of local groups after the 10 January coup in the organisation. We hope for a large turnout, with delegates representing groups from around the country.
Workers’ Liberty have backed this meeting as a means to give local groups, for the first time, an opportunity to get together and discuss the way forward. While we do not want to see a rival organisation to Momentum, the election of a new coordinating group at the conference could help organise campaigning and develop groups; this is crucial for the event to be a success.
This conference has been organised by the Momentum steering committee and the Conference Arrangements Committee, delegated to do so by the December Momentum National Committee. But for the groups co-ordination to have any legitimacy going forward, a new body will need to be elected by the meeting.
We want this conference to be a positive event. The conference will begin with speakers from the Picturehouse dispute and the Derby Teaching Assistants, and that will set the tone. Momentum should be oriented to workers in struggle so that it can fight for a labour movement that stands foursquare behind these struggles. The conference should also hear about the left’s recent wins in elections in all three CLPs after Brighton Labour was shut down by head office.
However, the agenda is packed, so practical conclusions and elections could be tricky. Delegates should ensure that we get to debate the way forward and do not get too bogged down in discussions that local groups have already had. The lack of any motions in advance is likely to make fuller debate and direction harder. In the run up to the conference we have argued to allow for some motions and more specific agenda items to be discussed. We did not win that argument, but we still hope to persuade people of the need to have clear campaigning priorities that will have the support of the conference.
A point of controversy is likely to be over the newly elected National Coordinating Group for Momentum. We were in favour of a left-wing, anti-coup slate being elected across all the regions.
The three successful candidates from these efforts — Sahaya James, Yannis Gourtsoyannis and Rida Vaquas —should have the conference’s support; they will be backing the conference and the grassroots initiative although the NCG meets on the same day. Those who believe that the NCG elections should have been boycotted and now believe that a complete break with Momentum is necessary are acting in a misguided and sectarian manner.
The new constitution for Momentum is wildly undemocratic and has been engineered to try and marginalise the hard left, including Workers’ Liberty supporters; to cut out or neutralise those who want to push Momentum beyond an electoral machine for use in further leadership elections.
Momentum still has a huge pool of resources and a membership of over 20,000. To walk away and squander the biggest opportunity the left has had in a generation to transform the Labour Party is wrong and should be resisted. Hiving ourselves off from the majority of the membership might make some feel powerful or even important, but it is a recipe for ignoring the struggle we need to be involved in — transforming the labour movement. That is why we will vote against any attempts to split from Momentum and form a separate organisation.
The anti-coup members on the NCG should do everything they can to push for democracy in Momentum and to expose any moves to further limit democracy. We support Momentum continuing to campaign on the issues it has previously agreed to support — against expulsions and suspensions of socialists, for migrants’ rights and a plan for eco house building. Momentum groups working with Stop the Labour Purge, with campaigns on migrants works and fighting schools cuts, would also be important steps forward.
It has been said that Stop the Labour Purge has not taken up the cases of those suspended or expelled for alleged antisemitism. This is false. Stop the Labour Purge has been clear that all suspensions and expulsions should be overturned and a proper process should be in place to review all the allegations with the individuals concerned given a proper hearing. However allegations of antisemitism on the left are not just inventions, inspired by a plot against Corbyn. A failure to take this issue seriously is a sign of an unhealthy culture within the left.
Workers’ Liberty supports the election of a sizeable committee of around 15-20 people, 50% women, elected by STV. Those standing should be elected on the day and given an opportunity to present why they wish to stand. The conference will hear three distinct proposals on the committee. Two of them are hugely inadequate and could damage the viability of ongoing organisation. We will argue against any proposal that keeps the existing conference arrangements committee and National Committee in place, or sets up a system that delays votes to an online poll after 11 March.
Guardian invents “exclusion”
The Guardian article ‘Momentum plans relaunch to end factional infighting’ (by Ewen MacAskill and Alex Hacillo, 4 March) was highly misleading. “The group became a magnet for many leftwing groups, and individuals well to the left of either Lansman or McDonnell, such as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, a Trotskyist group. The AWL is one of the groups excluded from the new-look Momentum.”
But that statement contradicts previous assurances by one of the directors of Momentum Ltd, Christine Shawcroft. Shawcroft wrote in the February 2017 edition of Labour Briefing, “A lot of misinformation has been put around... with wild claims that people would be expelled from Momentum. Section Five does say that someone expelled from the Party may be deemed to have resigned from Momentum but that was on lawyers’ advice so that there is a mean of taking action against members expelled from the Party for sexual harassment or racist or homophobic behaviour.
“Even if we do take action against someone, they have a right of appeal. Summary executions will not be taking place.”
We have written to advise the Guardian that a correction is due. We would hope also to see a correction issued by the Momentum office that dispels the rumour that the AWL or other organisations have been excluded from participation in Momentum. It may be that many in the Momentum leadership would prefer we were not involved, but that’s another matter. As it stands, the “official” Momentum line is that we still have a democratic right to continue to play an active role.