Left Unity launched

Left Unity

The first indication that Left Unity is different from most other left wing organisations came very early in its November 30th founding conference writes Liam Mac Uaid. Ken Loach, the person who is seen as having given the inspiration for the launch of the new party, proposed that we shouldn’t take a decision on which of the political platforms to endorse. Ken lost the vote and conference moved on to next business. There was no dramatic tension, no sense of impending crisis. It would have been hard to imagine a similar scene at a Respect conference. It was a very promising omen.

Around 400 people attended the event. The morning session was given over to a discussion on platforms – documents which were intended to establish the general framework of Left Unity’s politics. Socialist Resistance was strongly behind the Left Party Platform which we think defines Left Unity as a radical socialist party with strong positions on ecology and feminism. To various degrees the other platforms wanted to define the new party as an explicitly revolutionary one.

The existing interim leadership received what was effectively a vote of confidence. Members voted to allow it to remain in place until a new leadership is elected at a conference to be held by the end of March.

The Left Party Platform (LPP) won convincingly with 295 votes in favour and 101 against. The Socialist Platform was supported by 122 members and opposed by 216. The significance of this is that it failed to win much support beyond the list of people who had originally signed the statement proposing it. By contrast the LPP got the endorsement of the majority of Left Unity’s members in the hall.

Another thing that made the conference rather different was that it was impossible to predict which way any of the votes would go. This was hardly surprising as most of the participants were strangers to each other. A vigorous debate on the safer spaces policy saw conference agree to refer it back for further discussion. While most participants understood the need for guidelines on protecting members from harassment and abuse the conference clearly felt that such a complex policy needed more time spent on it.

The afternoon was taken up with a long and intricate discussion on the constitution. From our perspective a crucial clause here was one which would have enabled Left Unity to organise in the north of Ireland. This emblem of the weight of British imperialism on the country’s labour movement was removed.

More explicitly than other attempts to launch new political parties Left Unity has set out to tackle issues of gender imbalances. It has a commitment to women comprising at least 50% of its leadership and speeches in defence of male privilege were received cooly, this despite the fact that men were over-represented in the hall. Left Unity is set to be a self-consciously feminist organisation.

Although the party only formally launched on November 30th it already has over 1200 members, 400 of whom were sufficiently committed or able to attend its first conference. That is a small but significant base which already makes it one of the largest organisations on the British left. It has come into being at a tricky time. There are local government elections in May 2014 and a general election the following year. Labour will win most of the anti-coalition votes as people want to punish the Tories and it will be hard to win a big audience for a new left wing party. But there is an audience for such a party. Many people will vote Labour with no great enthusiasm and will want a party that articulates something better, different, radical and socialist. Now Left Unity is there for them.

17 Comments

  1. This was the first major left conference I’d attended for many years and it was refreshing to see such strong support for positive action for women and a majority of comrades showing a committment to socialist feminism in practice.

    What was disappointing to me though, was that in deciding that LU could only have a woman and a man as principal speakers (or two of each I can’t remember which one got passed). This enshrines a fundamental sex/gender binary in the LU constitution and discriminates against genderqueer, genderfluid and intersex people who may not fit into either/or male/female binary boxes. I did try and speak on this but didn’t get called so made a statement to the Standing Orders Committee to that effect. I have to say that SOC’s response to me was very encouraging in that they recognised the oversight and also saw this as highly problematic and needing rectifying. It’s also been encouraging the responses I’ve had from other LU comrades I’ve been in discussion with over this since yesterday and we’ll get a motion prepared for next conference so we can discuss and decide.

    Getting the LGBTQI caucus established and preparing for what may (or may not?) be a challenging debate is linked in to the work that needs to be done on the safe space policy. It’s also of huge significance that conference voted to not have any age limits on membership. It’s both vital and urgent that LU now develops clear, robust and transparent safeguarding children (and adults at risk) policy as part of the safe space development. The sister who sang about the children, even if you didn’t agree with her conclusion or like her singing, raised an incredibly important issue – that of child political exploitation in its most brutal form.

    The disabled comrade who spoke at the end of the day raised important issues around access and agenda management for future conferences and I’ve heard that childcare will be provided at the next conference too.

    All in all a good day and a ‘work in progress’. By chance I ended up sat next to Ken Loach in the afternoon and it’s a sign of the spirit of the day that he was just like any other comrade in that we helped each other out with where we were up to, what amendment number, page number and what vote we were taking. Even when we were often voting in different ways! I resisted that part of me that wanted to snap a selfie with him even though I’ve been a fan of his films since watching Kes and Cathy Come Home as a youngster. As you say Liam, what a difference from Respect and the less-than-gorgeous George.

  2. I was in favour of a broad socialist party, and therefore I am quite pleased that an amended version of the LPP won. Your report fails to mention the fact that one of the two amendments to the LPP from Manchester, that I wrote and spoke on, was accepted, improving the wishy-washy paragraph on trade unions that advocated strong and effective unions but didn’t’ mention strikes (never mind general strikes), occupying workplaces or solidarity at all! I think this is significant because it acts ad an antidote to those within the LPP who favour a wholly (or overwhelmingly) electoral approach.

    My accepted amendment is as follows:

    Add to the end of paragraph 7: “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.”

  3. A positive report, which I hope will lead to a positive discussion of the way forward for Left Unity on this site. I want to comment on two things:

    Firstly, LU really came out of a national initiative, namely the showing of Ken Loach’s film, The Spirit of ’45, followed by a live video link-up, to thousands of people in various cinemas around the country. Nick Wrack’s explicit call for a new left party during the discussion was followed by an appeal on the LU site. The thousands of signatures showed the potential. Now, there seems to be a feeling that the important issue for LU is to “build in the localities”. This, of course, is vitally important, but it is best not to present this as some kind of contradiction. The above account is meant to show that local building can only gain from strong initiatives from the “centre”, of which nationally co-ordinated election campaigns are one.

    The second is what is the likely response after the conference of the political groups who see Left Unity mainly as a vehicle for some sort of “revolutionary unity”. It would be difficult for some left unity groups if they had to interminably debate this question.

  4. The figures from the registration desks say 495 actually registered but about 600 actually registered so nearly 100 registered and did not come. Some had illness or other probs and others paid in solidarity. So over 500 would be an accurate figure since there were observers and others there too.

  5. Great article and summarises well the positivity I felt, for the most part, sitting in that room.

    However, I do not believe that the speech asking for 40% male and 40% female was in defence of male privilege and I do not believe that aiming for a 50/50 split, directly down the middle, is defending male privilege. 50%/50% is equality. Anything else is redressing inequality with further inequality. But anyone who was to try and pose THAT view would be accused of a “rape denier” or a member of the “far-right.”

    I came out of the conference feeling positive and hopeful for the project, despite the obvious attempts of the CPGB to steer it in their own direction. However, that particular section of the conference felt highly worrying. We cannot simply dismiss those who disagree with us as “fascists”, otherwise we’re going to slip right back into the same old leftist trappings.

    • But anyone who was to try and pose THAT view would be accused of a “rape denier” or a member of the “far-right.”

      Indeed these facile comments were totally insulting and mindless. The real problem is why only about 30 percent of delegates were women. Left Unity needs to address how they intend to attract working class women; what does it offer for the mother trying to hold down a job and do most of the caring in her household. the more than 50 percent rule is irrelevant.

  6. Interesting report. I don’t think the situation is really comparable to that in France, but the line among revolutionaries which I favoured here was the one that said that since, perhaps sadly, in the minds of most workers today there is no clear distinction between reform and revolution, but there is a hunger for change, it is probably best for revolutionaries to be putting forward their ideas strategies tactics and priorities within a wider kind of organization.

    • Yes, but the problem in France is this: is there any left organisation that includes reformist political activists that is democratic? If revolutionaries go into an undemocratic organisation dominated by reformists, they can only act as entrists. Similarly, there is an issue if the party in question has an explicitly reformist programme (primacy of parliament), which LU doesn’t have.

  7. Those voting to remit the Safe Spaces policy did not all do so because they recognised the need to protect members from abuse but thought such a complex policy needed more time to clarify it – considerable numbers did not want such a policy at all. Many of the same people don’t like equal gender balance policies either. It’s great those things survive imo, but we must acknowledge the opposition they face

  8. Were there any statistics on the social composition of attendees at the LU conference?
    I mean such things as their occupation, union membership, whether they are employed, part-time workers, unemployed, contract workers, whether they earn the Living Wage, work in industry, the service sector, public sector, self employed, students etc..

    • The brief answer is no. Getting that sort of detailed information is a work in (slow) progress.
      However, about 50% of those registering for conference self-declared as unwaged or low waged.

  9. I was not so inspired; apart from hardly any black faces present, the notion of ‘unity’ was absent from all lot of the old fashioned rhetoric coming from certain factions; I heard people denounced as ‘dishonest’ and even ‘degenerate’. To pass a rule allowing members to organise and stand candidates explicitly against Left Unity was utterly absurd; I was baffled that Weekly Worker managed to get that passed. I also could not understand the rationale for the no minimum age limit on membership; I believe this would open the door to manipulation by allowing someone to sing up kids and exercising votes on their behalf. We need safeguards against this potential abuse. The fact that any debate on policy and issues fell off the agenda was predictable and doesn’t bode well for the future. We need a serious debate on issues like the role of banks, fracking,the EU, housing, job creation and what an alternative economy will look like. There is therefore a lot of work to do before the great mass of the people will start to take Left Unity seriously.

  10. “From our perspective a crucial clause here was one which would have enabled Left Unity to organise in the north of Ireland. This emblem of the weight of British imperialism on the country’s labour movement was removed.”
    It is not clear to me from these sentences if you support or oppose Left Unity organising in NI.

  11. Any modern left wing party should ditch all the tired cliches about `equality` which only end up tying people in knots. The primary function of any new party – and one I can’t see here and find most depressing – is economics. Race and gender issues etc are a given. We leftists don’t need to debate this, these are side issues. What we do need is coherent economic ideas which can appeal to a boat load of day trippers to Calais or a bunch of UKIP voters from the shires. It is economics which empowers – and dis-empowers – people, the more vulnerable in society more so. Dynamic, fluid, economies where individuals can make something of their lives – and where the weakest are protected – are what is needed. The rest all follows after that…

    • Absolutely agree,We are all paying for the failure of capitalism and not it’s success.

      The Bankers throughout the world have created the crisis and those who’s financial assets are being protected are using the same crisis to impose conditions not seen since the 1920s. Google Naomi Klein,and her views on “the shock doctrine,” apologies to those that already know of her.

      There is no such thing as the deficit, the deficit lie is the tool used to dismantle the state, once people understand that and the fact that the banks were bailed out with printed money, that did not previously exist, should demonstrate the lengths previous politicians have gone to to protect this corrupt system.

  12. It is encouraging to read Liam’s report of the November conference of Left Unity. One correction to facts where he claims that with a membership of over 1200 LU is one of the largest left organisations – there is a much bigger one that being Compass, the Direction of the Democratic Left, not a party but more of a debating forum with 50,000 members – almost bigger than the failing Labour Party who are unable to challenge the capitalist system or indeed change it.

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