Why I'm standing for the Momentum NCG

Submitted by AWL on 2 June, 2020 - 6:22
Ruth Cashman

Ruth Cashman, co-secretary of Lambeth Unison and Labour for a Socialist Europe convener, is standing for the Momentum National Coordinating Group after she nominated in the Forward Momentum primaries as part of the Momentum Internationalists slate, but was bureaucratically barred from standing. She sent us this statement.

I’m standing for the Momentum National Coordinating Group as a trade union activist with a wide range of experience in a union branch and local left that have organised numerous struggles, in workplaces and the wider community, around a range of issues – from cuts to management racism to the right to strike. I’m standing to say Momentum needs to become an organising centre for labour movement activists – instead of seeing the trade unions as a support group you relate to through their general secretaries.

More broadly, as a socialist who wants to develop socialist ideas and working-class consciousness and struggles.

We need the largest possible number of democrats and socialists on the NCG – but probably the key importance of the NCG election isn’t winning control of Momentum. That may or may not be possible given the structure. The most important thing is the chance to engage with the Momentum membership, which is smaller than it was but still comprises many thousands of people who want to see a left-wing Labour Party and some form of radical left social change.

We need a discussion about how the left gets its act together for the period ahead, which is going to be very challenging, and what demands and ideas and struggles we need.

That includes very immediate demands, like the ones Safe & Equal is making about isolation pay and sick pay. But a bit further down the line we’re going to face much bigger challenges – there are estimates we’ll see a quarter of all jobs go, and so huge attacks on the terms and conditions of those still in work. Look what British Airways has already announced. We need a vigorous campaign for a four-day week and sharing out he work so that we don’t end up with millions overworked to the brink and beyond and millions unemployed. We need a shorter week for everyone on decent pay – which might also help fend off a deep slump.

The BA job cuts made me think of the crisis around Tata and how the Corbyn leadership failed to make the case for public ownership and link that to creating new, more sustainable industry and jobs. Everyone talks about the Green New Deal but it’s rhetoric if it has no connection to how we actually respond to the crisis and attacks on the working class and how the economy is going to be reshaped.

Our central message should be making the rich pay and taking control of their wealth to reorganise society. Aggressively campaigning for public ownership, including of the banks and finance, is crucial.

The Labour left has been incredibly hesitant even about demands that would have been bog-standard before Corbyn – the most glaring example being repeal of the anti-union laws, which is even more essential in the situation we’re in.

To take an even more immediate example, we express solidarity with protesters in the US, but what do we advocate to challenge the police and the prison system here? Corbyn’s Labour called for more police – Momentum supported this, and much of the left remained silent. We really need to get to grips with that problem.

Similarly in terms of internationalism, there is a minority of the Labour left that has adopted flatly nationalist positions, but a much wider layer that talks about internationalism but in practice tails the nationalists. A majority of the Labour membership has internationalist sympathies, for instance on Brexit and free movement, but the internationalist left has been too weak to develop that into a force. We need to regroup.

Neither Momentum Renewal or those who run Forward Momentum have really got to grips with these political problems. Nor with the need for a genuinely bottom up, lively, grassroots movement, like we had to some extent in the early days of Momentum, but which is perhaps something which some even in Forward Momentum are quite nervous of.

That fear of genuine, uncontrolled democracy also explains why I was banned from the Forward Momentum primaries. Very few people on the left set out wanting to suppress democracy. They set out with good intentions but start to worry about things getting out of hand, about people making what they regard as the wrong decision. It was the same with Jon Lansman in Momentum. People come under pressure, external or in their heads, to start to cut the corners of democracy. That’s also why you get people who know red-baiting and witch-hunting from the Labour right and the Stalinists is wrong, but don’t want to face it down and inevitably start reproducing it themselves.

I’m standing to contribute to radically changing this culture.

Comments

Submitted by AWL on Tue, 02/06/2020 - 18:42

Why would you like to be on the Forward Momentum slate for the upcoming NCG election?

Momentum saw hundreds of thousands of people join the Labour Party, inspired by the break from Blairism. The movement had the potential to transform the party, making it more democratic, rooted in working-class communities, inspiring and supporting working-class social and industrial struggle. We’ve barely started fulfilling this potential.

Though many Momentum members consider themselves socialist, it has not been a socialist project. Socialism can only be achieved by self-activity and organisation of the working class to change the world. It cannot be granted by governments, brought about bureaucrats, or created by cliques.

Socialism requires democracy. I would advocate:

Momentum stops pulling its punches on Party democracy. Conference should determine policy and manifestos. CLPs should be able to select and recall MPs. Momentum should support and resource campaigns to push radical policy in the party, and support community and workplace struggles.

Democratising Momentum, including a drive to build local groups as the heart of the organisation’s activity and local decision-making. That means local groups being represented in vibrant regional and national structures, and a sovereign conference.

Advocating pluralism and a healthy political culture, in which dissent and disagreement are encouraged and given space.

What experience and skills would you bring to the role?

I am the Branch Secretary of Lambeth UNISON and a trade union rep at Brixton Library. I have organised strikes, lawful and wildcat, over cuts to jobs and services. Library workers recently held a walkout which closed the library service on health and safety grounds related to Covid-19. The NCG should include grassroots trade union activists.

In the campaigns we organised to save libraries we knitted together groups and tactics. We worked in the Labour Party to pass policy and pressure councillors, and with the local community to build large marches and demonstrations and sustain the occupation of a library for several weeks. On the NCG I would look to support and connect workplace and community struggles.

I am an activist against racism and fascism. We have local campaign against institutional racism and have consistently argued that the labour movement needs to stop outsourcing its anti-fascism and mobilise under its own banners

My trade union branch launched the statement which became the Free Our Unions campaign, now supported by several national unions. On the NCG I would argue that Momentum’s relationship to trade unions shouldn’t be just conversations with General Secretaries and officials, it should seek to connect and empower workplace activists.

If you were elected to the NCG what would be your top five priorities and why?

Fighting every Tory attack

… in parliament, at work and on the streets.

Internationalism

The working class is international, and we must fight against attempts to reduce it to a national, cultural, or ethnic monolith.

Class struggle

Momentum should actively supports workers’ and working-class community struggles, and grassroots organising to build and transform the labour movement. Key workers have urgent concerns for health and safety at work and many industries are slashing jobs. We should be finding practical ways to support these workers.

Democracy

One of the basic problems in society – in the political system and in the economy – is the lack of democracy. But at the moment, our own movement isn’t even democratic: our MPs are unaccountable to members, and policy is largely decided behind closed doors.

Fighting oppression wherever we encounter it

The labour movement has a duty of solidarity with the oppressed. It has the potential to organise an integrated movement of solidarity with minorities, rejecting attempts to divide workers on the grounds of prejudice, fighting together to win all our battles. We must confront bigotry including antisemitism and transphobia on the left.

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