Statement: No to violence in the labour movement!

Submitted by AWL on 7 August, 2018 - 11:27
Image of the AWL stall after being overturned, and literature on the floor.

This statement appeared in Solidarity 245, out on 18 July, referring to events at 'Marxism 2018', on 7/8 July. For our initial report, see here. For witness statements describing what happened in more detail, see below. To add your name to the statement please email awl@workersliberty.org

"According to the following report – bit.ly/2LexXt3 – at the Socialist Workers’ Party’s “Marxism 2018” event, SWP members turned over and broke Workers’ Liberty’s stall; threw on the floor, tore up and stole some of the AWL literature and materials; and engaged in harassment of AWLers, including challenging one of them to a fight.

"The rule on the left should be unity in action where we agree, and orderly, democratic debate, without violence or intimidation, where we disagree.

"These are serious allegations; those involved and those responsible must be held accountable. We call on the SWP Central Committee to organise an investigation into what happened."

(all signatories pc)

Michael Chessum, Streatham Labour secretary, Another Europe is Possible activist
Peter North, London Underground RMT activist
Rebecca Lawrence, Lewisham for Corbyn (Momentum) co-chair
Daniel Round, Stourbridge, Clarion editor
Chris Allen, Leicester Momentum treasurer
David McAdam, Brighton
Nadia Whittome, Rushcliffe Labour activist
Andrew Coates, Ipswich Labour and union activist
Daniel Nichols, Political Officer, Romford Labour Party
Vicki Morris, University of Nottingham Unison branch chair
Bob from Brockley (blogger) - brockley.blogspot.com
Barnaby Marder, former chair, Richmond Park Labour Party
Anna Wolmuth, NEU activist

***

Witness statements from 'Marxism 2018'

Monty:

On 7 July at about 10:30, with two other comrades, Alex and Josh, I set up a Workers' Liberty stall outside the entrance to the Institute of Education on the side opposite Bedford Way, the side where a courtyard leads down to the path joining Woburn Square and Thornhaugh St.

To my knowledge it has been commonplace for literature-sellers, leafleters, and stalls to operate in that area without problems. We were not obstructing the entrance, and no-one suggested we were. We leafleted for a fringe meeting which would discuss Brexit. At that time there was only a small flow of passers-by. Some took the leaflets, some didn't, but there was no conflict.

After a while Josh went to a meeting. A man whom I know to be an SWP organiser approached the stall and said to us that we were not allowed to have our stall there. We must move to the public pathway at the bottom of the courtyard. If we didn't, he would call the Institute of Education security staff.

Alex and I replied calmly that it was reasonable for us to have our stall and leafleting where we had it. The SWP organiser went away. No security staff came out to talk to us.

Then that SWP organiser came to the stall again with about seven other people, apparently SWP members, some wearing "Marxism 2018" t-shirts. He said that the stall was not allowed and that they would move it.

Five of the SWP members took hold of the stall to pick it up and move it. I put my hands down on the stall. They pulled it away from me, in the process breaking one of the legs of the stall and tipping literature which was on the stall onto the ground.

We said only that we saw it as reasonable to run our stall at that place.

The SWP organiser said that the literature on the stall was "endangering our [the SWP's] Muslim members"!

He didn't refer to any particular item on the stall. I don't know what he could have had in mind. The next day another SWPer would say to us that we had "endangered" Muslim SWP members by "publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons". Presumably he meant the cartoons of Mohammed published by a Danish newspaper in 2005: Islamist protests against those cartoons generated riots killing at least 13 people, at least two assassination attempts against European newspaper editors, and a number of arrests or jailings of editors in the Arab world. In fact Solidarity did not print the cartoons, though we defended the rights of the journalists who did, and none of the literature on the stall referred to the 2005 incidents.

There was no-one around identifiable as Muslim, and throughout the whole of "Marxism 2018" no-one identifiable as Muslim complained in any way about our literature or behaviour.

The eight SWP members carried the stall and the literature down to the footpath, propped up the stall there, and left the literature there on the ground.

While this happened I was filming the process on my phone, and Alex was back at the Institute of Education entrance holding some of our literature.

We did not try to physically obstruct the SWPers or shout at them.

The SWP members then dispersed. On going down to the footpath I found that some of our literature had been ripped up. I didn't see who ripped it up and when.

There were few passers-by at that time. No passer-by intervened, either on the SWPers' side or on ours.

We then moved the stall to outside Student Central, on Malet St, where there were more passers-by. That would be about 11:15. Alex left to go to a meeting. Two other comrades, Tom and Chris, arrived, and staffed the stall with me.

There were lots of passers-by going into and out of the building, and there were also SWP-staffed stalls and gazebos in the space outside Student Central. For a while we leafleted for the Brexit meeting with no complaint or intervention from SWPers. We did not obstruct or block the entrance to the building, and no-one suggested we did.

When the flow of passers-by had reduced to a trickle, a group of about five SWPers, from those already staffing stalls and so on outside Student Central, approached us and told us we must not leaflet on the steps leading up to the building's entrance. We replied that we saw no valid objection to leafleting on the steps.

One of the SWPers became more agitated and challenged Tom to a fight: "Do you want to come round the corner?" The SWPers then got a member of Student Central security staff to come out of the building. The security person said that the SWP had hired the building for the event, so if there was conflict he would have to ask us to leave the steps, but deplored the clash. "We don't need this sort of trouble".

In response to the security person's request, we moved down the steps to the pavement. The SWP members still gathered round our stall, complaining at its presence. "Why have you come here? We wouldn't come and leaflet one of your events?" The SWP organiser who had initiated the moves against our stall outside the Institute of Education joined them. We replied we saw debate and dialogue between different left groups - leaflets and literature-selling at each others' events, and so on - as healthy and positive.

As at the Institute of Education, there were no leafleters or literature-sellers around from other non-SWP groups, and there was only a trickle of passers-by. The passers-by, and the other SWP people staffing stalls outside Student Central, ignored the conflict round the stall.

No-one intervened, either on the SWPers' side or on ours. No passer-by complained that we were obstructing them or troubling them in any way. Some took our leaflets, some didn't.

I left at about 12:10 to go to a meeting.

Alex:

I was at IoE at 10:30 and later went to Student Central. I can confirm Monty's statement as regards to the confrontation with SWP member, the stall being moved and being told to move off the steps at Student Central.

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