A report on founding conference

The main points…

1. The so-called ‘Safe Spaces’ policy was remitted (ie, rejected and sent back to policy conference for redrafting). This was a very good thing in my opinion. The policy had not been sent round local groups for discussion or amendment, so it was a great victory for democracy that this was rejected by a large majority. That’s not to mention the policy itself which would be, in my opinion, if passed, a bureaucratic nightmare.

2. Our amendment – to reelect the NCG – was narrowly defeated. In my opinion, this was worth voting on, even if defeated – it means that, in effect, Conference voted to keep the NCG we elected in May until the next election, as specified in our constitution. This will allow time for a proper election process to be put in place.

3. It was decided that the platform statements be voted on as platform statements, but not then included as part of the ‘Aims’ section of the constitution. I was against this, but it should please people who think we are moving too fast into hard political positions.

4. The ‘Aims’ section of the constitution was accepted as amended by Leicester. See below.

5. All the platform statements were rejected by large majorities with the exception of the Left Party Platform, as amended by Camden and Manchester, and the Hackney/Tower Hamlets statement. These are now accepted as general statements of political intent, but are not a part of our founding constitution. See below for all statements. This leaves us with three, in places mutually contradictory, political statements. This may sound bad but I think it is a democratic reflection of the fact that we are still quite fluid, with many different opinions on the way forward.

6. Our constitution was accepted as variously amended – it is too complex and involved to go into the details, but I will circulate the final document when it becomes available. Our amendment to abolish quotas for women was defeated, but Ally and many others made very strong arguments in favour, and the arguments against were at times, in my and Lynn’s opinion, quite unnecessarily abusive. Leamington acquitted ourselves well (thanks Ally!), and we can revisit this in the future. It was also decided that future conferences can amend the constitution with a simple majority (rather than a two-thirds majority as proposed), so it will be relatively easy for us to revisit and try to get changed any remaining issues we have problems with.

7. There was a ballot for the new party’s name. The winner was “Left Unity”.

8. Conference ran out of time, so all the statements about campaigning priorities and election strategy have been remitted for consideration at a future time. This should come as good news to all our members who were concerned that we were moving too quickly on this. We now have many more months to discuss our views and move them for a future Conference.

The Aims section of our Constitution:

The aims of Left Unity are:

a)     to unite the diverse strands of radical and socialist politics in the UK including worker’s organisations and trade unions; ordinary people, grass root organisations and co-operatives rooted in our neighbourhoods and communities; individuals and communities facing poverty, discrimination and social oppression because of gender, ethnicity, age, disability, sexuality, unemployment or under-employment; environmental and green campaigners; campaigners for freedom and democracy; all those who seek to authentically voice and represent the interests of ordinary working people

b)    to win a mandate to govern and introduce radical and fundamental changes in British society based on our belief in the benefits of cooperation and community ownership instead of the chaotic competition of capitalism; universal human rights, internationalism and peace; social, political and economic equality for all in the fullest sense, without which true democracy and mutual respect cannot flourish; a democratically planned economy that is environmentally sustainable, within which all enterprises, whether privately owned, cooperatives or under public ownership operate in ways that promote the needs of the people and wider society; an inclusive welfare state which operates on the principle that each will contribute to society according to their ability to do so, and society will in return meet their needs.

c)     to above all promote grass roots democracy in the understanding that fundamental and radical change can only come with the support and active involvement of the majority of people and that the way we organise today is a pointer to the kind of society we want to see in the future

(d) to organise and campaign in ways that recognise and promote alternative and new forms of popular political culture that are creative and educational, that can move and  empower people through hopes of a better and realisable future, and that delight, inspire and provoke thought.

Political statement No. 1 (amended Left Party Platform statement)

1. Left Unity stands for equality and justice. It is socialist, feminist, environmentalist and against all forms of discrimination. We stand against capitalism, imperialism, war, racism, Islamophobia and fascism. Our goal is to transform society: to achieve the full democratisation of state and political institutions, society and the economy, by and for the people.

2. Our immediate tasks are to oppose austerity policies designed to destroy the social and economic gains working people have made over many decades; to oppose the scapegoating which accompanies them; to defend the welfare state and those worst affected by the onslaught; to fight to take back into public ownership those industries and utilities privatised over the last three decades; to fight to restore workers’ rights; and to advance alternative social and economic policies, redistributing wealth to the working class.

3. We are socialist because our aim is to end capitalism. We will pursue a society where the meeting of human needs is paramount, not one which is driven by the quest for private profit and the enrichment of a few. The natural wealth and the means of production, distribution and exchange will be owned in common and democratically run by and for the people as a whole, rather than being owned and controlled by a small minority to enrich themselves. The reversal of the gains made in this direction after 1945 has been catastrophic and underlines the urgency of halting and reversing the neo-liberal onslaught.

4. We are feminist because our vision of society is one without the gender oppression and exploitation which blights the lives of women and girls and makes full human emancipation impossible. We specify our feminism because historical experience shows that the full liberation of women does not automatically follow the nationalisation of productive forces or the reordering of the economy.

5. We are environmentalist because we recognise that if humankind is to survive, it has to establish a sustainable relationship with the rest of the natural world – of which it is part and on which it depends.  An economy based on achieving maximum profits at the lowest cost in the shortest possible time is destroying our planet. The current operation of industry and economy is totally incompatible with the maintenance of the ecosystem through the growing loss of bio and agro diversity, the depletion of resources and increasing climate change. The future of the planet can only be secured through a sustainable, low carbon industrial base designed to meet people’s needs on a global basis.

6. We are opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether on the basis of class, gender, race, impairment, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, religion, age or politics. The current economic onslaught disproportionately affects already disadvantaged groups and we oppose their persecution and oppression. We support the introduction of legislation and social provision to make this intention a reality. No society is just and equal while some people remain without the support needed to achieve their full potential.

7. We work for and support strong, effective, democratic trade unions to fight for full employment, better wages and salaries, for improved living standards, for better working conditions and stronger, more favourable, contracts of employment. We believe that the strength of the union is the people in the workplace; that what each person does at work matters – to make the job better, to make the service provided more effective, to persuade workers to combine for greater strength. Going on strike (including mass/general strikes), occupying workplaces and solidarity between workers (in different unions and/or workplaces) can be effective tactics in winning individual disputes and changing society.

8. Our political practice is democratic, diverse and inclusive, organizing amongst working class communities with no interests apart from theirs, committed to open dialogue and new ways of working. We will campaign, mobilise and support struggles on a day to day basis, recognising the need for self-organisation in working class communities. We recognise that support for our party and its electoral success will only advance to the extent that it is genuinely representative of working class communities, has no interests separate from theirs, and is an organic part of the campaigns and movements which they generate and support.  We will engage in elections, offering voters a left alternative – where any elected representatives will take an average wage and be accountable to the party membership – while understanding that elections are not the only arena or even the most important arena in which political struggles are fought.

10. We are an internationalist party. There are no national solutions to the problems that humanity faces. Capitalism is an international system, highly organised and globalised and its defeat requires not only international solidarity but the linking up and coordination of struggles across Europe and the world. We will work with left organisations and movements in Europe and internationally that share our aims.  We will also seek to learn from the experience of those parties in Latin America which have challenged and rejected neo-liberal economic policies and are establishing a social and economic alternative in the interests of the majority of their peoples. We stand against imperialist wars and military interventions, against the exploitation of other countries for economic gain, and for a drastic reduction of military expenditure for the benefit of social spending, and for a foreign policy based on peace and equality.

Political statement No. 2 (Hackney/Tower Hamlets statement)

Introduction: The Ken Loach appeal launched in association with his film The Spirit of 45 and calling for a new left party has resulted in over 8000 responses nationally.  The film informs us that in 1945 the Labour Party pledged to put an end to the social evils of disease, idleness (mass unemployment), ignorance, squalor (slum housing) and want (poverty) and, despite the legacy of wartime debts, achieved significant reforms. Britain today, along with the rest of Europe and North America, is far wealthier in human and technological resources than it was in 1945. Yet as a result of over 30 years of so-called free-market policies, culminating in a chronic economic and financial crisis since 2007, all those evils have returned.

Our most urgent task is to defend and reclaim the gains won by the labour movement during more than a century of struggles. We believe that there is no prospect of the Labour Party today doing that effectively. Elsewhere in Europe left parties such as Syriza in Greece are winning mass support for resistance to austerity. In Britain we also need to create a new Left Party founded on the following political principles and policy commitments:

  1. 1.     On the Immediate Economic Crisis.
  • We are against austerity programmes which make the mass of working people, the old, the young and the sick, pay for a systemic crisis of capitalism.
  • We are for policies to restore full employment through measures  such as  reduced working hours for all;  spending on public housing,  infrastructure and services; and the public ownership of, and democratic collective control over, basic utilities, transport systems and the financial sector.
  1. 2.     On Public Services
  • We are against the creeping privatisation of the NHS and Education, the sell-off of the Royal Mail and the marketization of the public sector as a whole.
  • We are for free provision of education (from nurseries to adult and higher education), the arts and all forms of healthcare.
  1. 3.        On The Environment
  • We are against an economic system which prioritises short-term profit over the future of the planet, and which is responsible for accelerated climate change and ecological crisis.
  • We are for sustainable development, an end to energy and transport policies which contribute to global warming and for an agricultural system which is committed to animal welfare and environmental protection.
  1. 4.         On Employment
  • We are against the casualization of employment conditions and laws which restrict the right of workers to organise effectively and take industrial action.
  • We are for the ‘living wage’ as a minimum for all, an extension of employment rights for all workers and support for workers’ cooperatives.
  1. 5.     On Tax and Welfare
  • We are against cuts in benefits and measures such as the bedroom tax, changes to disability allowance and cuts in legal aid, hurting the poorest.
  • We are for a tax and welfare system based on the principles of social justice, universal benefits and steeply progressive and effective taxation.
  1. 6.     On Equalities
  • We are against all forms of discrimination and oppression whether on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexuality, (dis)ability or national identity.
  •  We are for an inclusive society with equal citizenship rights for all, including asylum-seekers and refugees, and support for all those in need.
  1. 7.     On Internationalism
  • We are against fascism, war, imperialism and an international economic system dominated by the wealthy and militarily powerful nations.
  • We are for the right of national self-determination for oppressed nationalities such as the Kurds and Palestinians and solidarity with all those resisting austerity and oppression. We are for ‘fair trade’ and recognise the necessity for global solutions to global problems such as climate change.
  1. 8.      On Anti-Capitalism
  • We are against a system whose benefits go disproportionately to 1% of the population and which is responsible for devastating economic and ecological crises across the planet.
  •  We are ultimately for a radical social transformation based on the principle of ‘people not profit’ and drawing on the best of the cooperative, radical democratic, feminist, green, and socialist traditions (although we may disagree on how such a transformation can eventually be achieved).
  1. 9.     On a New Party
  • We are against the bureaucratic centralism, corruption and sexism to be found in existing political parties of the right and left.
  • We are for a mass, democratic and inclusive party which unites campaigners and trade union activists, supports collective direct action and self-organisation, and has close links with similar parties or movements resisting austerity and ‘freemarket’ policies across Europe and elsewhere.

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