On Saturday 3 February, the AGM of London Young Labour took place at University College London. The conference was attended by about 350 young Labour members from across London, and passed good policy about defending free movement and working with the Labour Campaign for Free Movement, on social housing, and on creating the role of a trans officer on the committee.
The conference also discussed a motion relating to a recent anonymous claim of sexual assault on an ex-member of Workers′ Liberty by another ex-member which took place in 2005 when the victim was 16. This is an issue which Workers’ Liberty is treating seriously: details of the allegations and the process we have put in place to find out what happened then, to review our structures and to report publicly on our findings can be read here. The motion contained statements not made in the original claim, in relation to which we have received no further complaints or details. The motion also referred to Workers’ Liberty as a “secretive, top down organisation”. Yet the process we have set in motion – seeking outside assistance in applying standards of best practice on these issues, reporting publicly on our procedures and opening up this process to scrutiny from experienced labour movement representatives – is not the work of a “secretive and top down organisation”.
This motion, and the method by which the issue was discussed at London Young Labour, was not a serious attempt to move forward with either how we or how the left and labour movement deals with sexual violence. Inevitably a debate lasting less than ten minutes, where most members’ only information about the matter was in the short text of the motion, could not produce informed consideration of the issue.
A mover of the motion, and a number of supporters of the motion, had communicated to us prior to the conference that the process we had put in place had addressed their entirely appropriate and reasonable concerns. But that was not said in the debate. The motion’s suggestion that Workers’ Liberty activists should be excluded from London Young Labour inevitably tied up a discussion of responding to sexual violence on the left with factional machinations, regardless of the intentions of the movers of the motion.
The overall effect of the motion was to create an atmosphere of factionalised venom against Workers’ Liberty members and people perceived to be connected with us, i.e. people who shared some of our ideas. That plays into the hands of factionalists who want to use intimidation, instead of debate, to settle political arguments, and who are happy to instrumentalise the issue of sexual violence to that end. At the worst end of this atmosphere was a smaller group of people who are conducting a witch hunt against Workers′ Liberty and they managed to set the tone.
It was an atmosphere which made it harder, not easier, to discuss and address sexual violence on the left. In the lead up to the conference and at the event young non-Workers’ Liberty members who were standing on a slate with some Workers’ Liberty members were subjected to a campaign of bullying and harassment. They were called “paedophiles” and “nonces” for associating with us. Some young activists were intimidated and harassed for merely talking to or associating with Workers’ Liberty members.
The cynical use of this important issue, by some, ultimately is a means of silencing political opponents. It is a danger to the entire left. It will not end with Workers’ Liberty. It can, and will, be used against anyone else seen not to have ″the right line″ on any number of issues. It creates a movement within which reasoned discussion of political differences becomes impossible. Lastly, and importantly, it hinders creating any open or collective response to the issue of sexual violence. We appeal to labour movement activists concerned about any bullying and harassment around Momentum, about political methods of silencing political opponents, to join us in standing up to it.
We also urge labour movement activists who are concerned about the issue of sexual violence in our movement to seriously engage with, discuss and criticise the process that we have undertaken. We will be writing to the new chair of London Young Labour to ask how we can work together on this matter.