Momentum: what needs to change?

Submitted by AWL on 8 July, 2020 - 7:17 Author: Mohan Sen
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With a clear Forward Momentum majority on the National Coordinating Group of the big Labour left organisation Momentum, there is the possibility of significant changes for the better in the organisation.

There is so much that needs changing in Momentum that it’s almost hard to know where to begin. Here are some ideas for priorities in the next month or two. Much bigger changes are needed in the longer term.

Small bits and pieces around certain disputes it may have seen as “trendy” (e.g. the McDonald’s strikes) aside, Momentum has done essentially nothing to support workers’ struggles.

An immediate test: thousands of council workers in Tower Hamlets have struck for 3, 6 and 7 July to stop the imposition of worse terms and conditions. Tower Hamlets Momentum has been active in support of the strike, but until now not the wider organisation.

The 4 July NCG passed a motion in support of the strikers; new Momentum co-chairs Gaya Sriskanthan and Andrew Scattergood’s first email out mentioned this as evidence Momentum is changing. But so far nothing about what people can do and so far nothing on Momentum’s extensive social media.

There are numerous things Momentum can do to actively support workers, and working-class communities, in struggle. There should be people on the NCG responsible for driving this work. As a start activists should pressure the NCG to insist that the organisation starts using its social media, email lists and so on to advertise actions, promote statements and solidarity, collect money and above all raise consciousness — starting with Tower Hamlets.

And there will be many other struggles. Such battles raise two additional issues. Momentum should campaign for repeal of the anti-trade union laws. The NCG agreed this in 2017, but it was never carried out. With a number of Free Our Unions supporters now on the NCG (including new co-chair Andrew Scattergood), we can hopefully make progress on this fast.

Left-wing campaigns

There is also the issue of what the organisation says about councils cuts and how to fight them and reverse them. A serious discussion about that is needed.

More broadly, Momentum needs to establish links with and mobilise support for a range of left-wing campaigns. Most urgent is the campaign against the Tories’ Immigration Bill, which has gone to the House of Lords and will return to the Commons soon.

Many of the new NCG members signed the Labour Campaign for Free Movement’s pledge. Starting to establish campaigning links with LCFM (to oppose the Immigration Bill and more broadly fight for migrants’ rights and free movement) is crucial, both in terms of shifting to a campaign culture and in terms of shifting from Momentum’s previously weak stance on migrants’ rights.

There are many important left-wing campaigns, particularly Labour-focused ones, that Momentum should link up with and support. But that implies a change in its political approach on many issues. Supporting the Black Lives Matter protests, for instance, is hollow without abandoning the pro-police line Momentum has pursued and developing demands to at least rein in the police.

Momentum should start to argue and campaign for left-wing policies agreed by Labour conference to be carried out, as an essential part of democratising the party (along with democratic reforms such as open selections) and getting it campaigning.

Momentum should campaign for Labour Parties to be able to hold decision-making meetings again and the scheduling of a real-world, decision-making national conference in the first half of next year.

There is a lot that can be done here but again promoting this message, as well as specific campaigns and struggles, on social media and email would be a start.

The first step is to get the National Coordinating Group functioning as the organisation’s actual week-to-week governing body, with real control over the office — which has emphatically not been the case previously.

Member-led process

A genuinely member-led process to discuss changing Momentum’s constitution needs to be put in place as soon as possible. That should involve a properly democratic convention, representing local groups and affiliates, where different proposals can be seriously debated. The Forward Momentum “Plan” promises some sort of refounding convention by May 2021. That is a long way off.

It needs to be made clear to the NCG members chosen by Labour Party office holders and by non-trade union “affiliates” (many of them paper organisations) that they cannot stand in the way of democratic reform. There also needs to be a clear consensus developed about abolishing these type of positions.

More generally activists and officers need to develop and campaign for a clear program of democratisation to feed into the process (see e.g. on the Momentum Internationalists site).

There also needs to be action to get Momentum’s complaints system working properly, or indeed working at all. There are numerous complaints about in some cases serious bad behaviour and even bullying and harassment by supporters of the old regime which have never had a response, let alone been dealt with seriously.

There should be a push begun through as many channels as possible to encourage the reconstitution of well-functioning and democratic local groups.

The NCG should encourage local groups to hold meetings to discuss the next steps, and convene regional all members’ meetings to widen the discussion, exchange information and start to rebuild regional links.

Momentum’s public message is, generally speaking, lowest common denominator anti-Toryism and soft social democracy, with bits of Stalinism and extreme statism (e.g. presenting the police as “heroes” and any activity the existing state as socialist). It will take a while to seriously sort that out, through serious political argument. Pushing for Momentum to seriously promote working-class and liberation struggles and socialist policies and demands (like taking over the banks as part of transforming the economy in a “Socialist Green New Deal”) will help. In any case, recognition that the political message is inadequate and needs shifting is necessary.

• Forward Momentum’s “Plan To Take Momentum Forward”

• Ideas agreed by the FM Policy Committee but not included in the plan here

• Momentum Internationalists’ demands

Republished from The Clarion

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