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The war on drugs is a poison

By Simon Hannah

Since the 1970s countries around the world have been waging a war. It is a war across borders, across generations, a war against many government’s own populations, a war that has killed… we don’t know how many. 

We will probably never know. 

This is the war on drugs. Launched by Nixon in 1971, the US government used the excuse of the growth of drug cartels and narcotic addiction in American cities to flex its imperialist muscles. It led to extensive clandestine security operations in Central and Latin America, money pouring into military operations by pro US governments. It snowballed out of control as drug cartels armed themselves and an arms race began. This is what led to periods of violent instability in Colombia and the murderous state of societal breakdown along the Mexican/US border. 

The war spread as various embattled national liberation groups and guerrilla movements saw the lucrative money to be made in the drug trade and started to develop drug growing, manufacturing and smuggling operations. This gave those governments fighting the war on drugs an excuse to fund right-wing governments around the world to counteract these forces. Policies like these have led to the bloody carnage in the Philippines today as President Rodrigo Duterte has given the green light for the police to carry out extra-judicial assassinations of anyone even ‘suspected’ of being involved in drugs as part of the war against the New People’s Army.

The violence perpetuated globally by this ‘war on drugs’ is only an extension of the violence meted out domestically. The war on drugs was immediately racialised. It was about poor black men in cities taking heroin, then it was crack cocaine. Drug use among whites was higher but that didn’t matter – it was used as an excuse for the police to target black people, arrest them and imprison them. As the decades rolled on the prison sentences got longer and longer. 

The fact is that none of this is working. The war on drugs has been a dismal failure. If it was intended to stop being getting addicted to harmful narcotics, it hasn’t worked. Drug abuse is far higher now than it was in the 1970s. 

This is not just a US issue, what the US does the British government is often not far behind. 

The criminalisation of drugs in the UK began during World War One. The Defence of the Realm Act that made it illegal to sell cannabis and opiates as part of the drive to keep the population useful for the war machine. Now over 100 years later drug addictions are still with us. The danger is that because drugs are criminalised it makes it harder for people to get help – it makes drugs into an issue of crime, not public health. 

Some people think that arresting drug addicts and shooting drug dealers will solve the problem. But getting high has always been something humans have done. Since primate society we have been making beer and eating weird mushrooms. You can’t stop that kind of activity (any more than you can stop people having consensual sex) but if drugs are very powerful and addictive you can ensure they are as safe as possible and mitigate the social problems associated with them (for instance addicts becoming criminals to feed their habit).

And we have to have the tough argument. It is easy to call for drug addicts to be treated in hospitals and not prisons, but addiction is only one end of the issue. Around the world there are more and more calls for the decriminalisation or legalisation of drugs, to treat addiction as a public health issue, not a criminal matter, for the trade in drugs to be taken out of the control of gangs, to be regulated, taxed and properly checked. 

The war on drugs is a poison. It is a poison that is destroying communities and killing thousands every year. People are dying due to over policing, violent conflicts, taking bad drugs, overdosing, turf wars between drug gangs and everything else associated with the disastrous and fatal global war. It is time for it to come to an end and for common sense to prevail. 

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Labour Left Porkies – Momentum needs to get its story straight on policing

By Ruth Cashman, candidate for Momentum NCG

The murder of George Floyd has sparked a global movement against police brutality and racism. Floyd’s death is not even the most recent a long line of police killings of black people in the USA. African Americans have suffered 30 police shootings per million since the start of 2015, compared to 22 per million for Hispanics and 12 per million for whites. The movement, which builds on years of Black Lives Matters organising in the US is raising politics that seemed unimaginable until recently. A majority of Minneapolis City Council has pledged to dismantle the local police department, to be replaced by “new model of public safety”. We don’t yet know what this will mean. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had already said he would divert money from the city’s police department to social services.

Momentum rightly reacted to the global protests with support. They released a video “Spot The Difference” outlining racism in the British criminal justice system and that racist policing is not an exclusively American problem. Nothing in their reaction has acknowledged the failures of the Labour left on policing since 2017. Under the left’s leadership Labour adopted a generally “pro-police” line, including campaigning vocally to increase police numbers.

In 2017 Labour’s manifesto promised 10,000 more police officers and 500 more border guards. In 2019 the party promised to top the Tories’ police recruitment by 2,000.

In the intervening two years more police was a major campaigning demand for Labour; sometimes it seemed like its only campaigning demand. In 2019 there was a day of action against police cuts. Many left-wing policies included in the 2019 manifesto were never even mentioned before then, let alone campaigned for.

Tellingly, for instance, the party never demanded the restoration of all the funding councils have lost since 2010 until it appeared in the 2019 manifesto. More police – but not reversing the council cuts which have devastated our communities!

Under left-wing shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon, Labour rightly criticised prison privatisation but said nothing about the crucial issue of reducing the prison population, let alone anything more radical (it was just about hinted at the in the 2019 manifesto). Nor did it discuss ending the disastrous reality of most drugs being criminalised.

At the 2019 London Labour conference, a delegate from Haringey, a young, BME, migrant woman, spoke against a “more police” motion and was heckled repeatedly – though she gave as good as she got and, despite losing heavily, made the case effectively.

In the face of a pro-police stance from our left-wing leadership, much of the left went quiet. Some endorsed the “more police” line: most notably Momentum, who repeated promoted the demand and produced a video bracketing the police with firefighters and health workers and describing them as “heroes”. In 2017 Momentum promoted the Tory Police Cuts Calculator criticising Tories for defunding the police. In 2019 Momentum released the “You Are A Socialist” video, giving the police force as an example of socialism in action!

There is nothing wrong with changing your mind or an organisation changing its position. Hopefully the current movement will educate people on the role of state apparatus like the police in repression of working class struggle and oppression of minorities. But Momentum must be honest about its position and why has it changed. Are we the Momentum that supports the defund the police movement or the Momentum that calls for more cops on the street? Labour and Momentum activists cannot take part in and cheer on anti-police demonstrations without fighting for our party to adopt an adequate stance on crime and policing.

This is doubly important because under Keir Starmer the party seems likely to adopt even more regressive positions. His record as Director of Public Prosecutions was not good; and he has already criticised protesters for their disposal of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston.

There will be different views on the left about how comprehensively we want to see the police force as it exists transformed and/or abolished or replaced. But central to the debate needs to be the idea, at the moment largely absent from the official labour movement, that the police as they exist are fundamentally one of the problems confronting working-class people (particularly black, brown and migrant working-class people), not part of the solution.

The labour movement needs to drop the “more police” line, advocate serious measures to rein in police repression, violence and bigotry, and argue to radically transform society to at the very least radically reduce their role. Socialists in the labour movement must urgently engage with the anti-police movement now burgeoning to launch a serious debate about the demands we need.

Get in touch: info@momentuminternationalists.org

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Keir Starmer: Back the Colston Protestors

Add your name to this statement here

Dear Keir

We are Labour Party members and supporters who are disappointed and angry that you condemned the disposal of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston. We want the Labour Party, including Labour Councillors and MPs, to call for there to be no prosecutions arising from the destruction of this statue.

Interviewed on 8 June, you described the action as ‘completely wrong’. In contrast, we think that the protesters’ removal of this statue was a long-overdue, non-violent action, which finally rid Bristol’s streets of the stain of this tribute to a man who oversaw the abduction, enslavement, buying, selling and killing of ten of thousands of African slaves.

It is important that we know and learn from history. We can do this without having to look up to a statue erected in admiration of one of the perpetrators of one of the greatest crimes in human history.

You argued that the statue should have been removed and placed in a museum. However, anti-racists had been campaigning for this for a long time, to no avail. Finally, in the wake of international outcry against racism and police brutality, people took matters into their own hands.

We want the Labour Party to support them, not condemn them.

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Free the Uyghurs

In a world filled with horrendous oppression, that suffered by the Uyghur people in China nonetheless stands out.

Long held within the Chinese state against their will, in the last six years this mainly Muslim people has been subjected to an almost unbelievable campaign of repression. This includes the internment of many hundreds of thousands — possibly over a million out of about 11 million — in “re-education camps”; forced labour; forced separation of vast numbers of children from their parents; a mass surveillance regime including the installation of cameras in private homes; and vicious suppression of the Uyghurs’ culture, religious rights and political expression.

The Chinese government justifies its policy on the explicitly Islamophobic basis of “combatting terrorism” and so on. It is like the policy of the US government, but on steroids.

The underlying reality is that, in addition to its racist and imperialist ideology, the Chinese regime wants to crush the Uyghurs, and in fact obliterate their existence as a distinct people, in order to ensure future control of a region which it regards as vital for profitable resources and international trade links.

For more, see the Uyghur Solidarity Campaign.

If the left is against oppression; anti-imperialist; against Islamophobia; and for workers’ rights – then we must back the Uyghur struggle 100%.

In the coming weeks Momentum Internationalists will be supporting UK protests and actions in support of the Uyghurs. Please get involved!

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Forward Momentum’s ‘Plan to Take Momentum Forward’ – what we’re fighting for

By Kas Witana, BME delegate to Forward Momentum policy committee (pc)

Forward Momentum has published a “Plan to take Momentum forward”. This is a good step forward, in that Forward Momentum now potentially has a much clearer outward-looking, class-struggle set of demands for the crisis, as opposed to earlier ones which were much more heavily focused on Momentum’s procedures.

You can read the Plan here.

Momentum Internationalists should be proud of the contribution we made to this process. Among others, myself, Michael Chessum, Roxana Fraser and Abel Harvie-Clark from MI contributed extensive proposals, which you can read in the full document of submissions here.

A number of important ideas we contributed were included in the composited proposals and then passed. (For what was passed and not, see here). That includes fighting to make Labour conference genuinely sovereign; democratic public ownership of energy and banking / high finance; developing a strategy for Labour councils / councillors to fight cuts; fighting to repeal all the anti-union laws; and a series of demands for migrants’ rights including the right to vote, access to services and freedom of movement.

More generally we think our contributions shaped the final document significantly. For instance, the focus on the role of local groups and the proposal for reborn regional Momentum networks seem inspired by our submissions.

There some important caveats:

• Some important proposals we (and perhaps others) made were not included in the proposals for voting, eg working to build local anti-cuts committees.
• Some of our proposals that were put to a vote were voted down. Notably: an annual sovereign Momentum conference to decide strategy; all-member regional conferences; regional conferences electing some representation to the NCG; building networks in trade unions to push for democracy and radical action in unions; and campaigning to extend the Brexit transition period.
• Concerningly, important ideas which were passed were not included in the published document, eg the hugely important one of fighting for Labour conference to be sovereign. Also public ownership of finance and reference to councillors fighting cuts. Free movement seemed to be left out but was then added back in.
• There are some important things that no one, including us, though to raise – eg the crucial campaigning demand for full sick pay/isolation pay for all workers.

Momentum Internationalists should both keep up the pressure to shape Forward Momentum policy in the right direction – consistent democratisation of Momentum, class struggle, socialism and internationalism – and raise ideas which it won’t.

Get in touch: info@momentuminternationalists.org

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How Forward Momentum banned me from standing

By Ruth Cashman

I stood in the Forward Momentum primaries to be a candidate for the Momentum NCG. Like many I have been incredibly frustrated with Momentum over the last few years. Whether you thought its purpose was building a mass social movement, winning a Labour government, holding left control of the Labour Party, democratising Labour, transforming the Labour movement, socialist education – it is fair to say it has failed so far. But in 2019 Momentum claimed 40,000 members, and that is not to be sniffed at. Even if it has lost a lot of members in the last year, it’s a left group with tens of thousands of people and we need to engage with it. I didn’t stand because I thought Forward Momentum or its leadership were perfect but because it seemed to be a campaign that came down on the right side on the need to democratise Momentum, and would attract many of the people who took that democratisation seriously. Some of the key figures in Forward Momentum have had a platform for some time and had not taken up Momentum and Labour democracy seriously but some had – for example, the FBU played a positive role in trying to stop the Momentum coup in 2017.

On 11 May I received a call from a member of the Forward Momentum Election Committee who told me I had been flagged in the candidate vetting process. The reason for my exclusion was an article five years ago in the Weekly Worker where I was asked about an article written fourteen years ago by someone else – Sean Matgamna. I explained on the phone, as I have in one to one conversations over the years that I believed the article was badly phrased and that though its intention wasn’t racist and each point can be explained, it was insufficiently sensitive to a group under attack by using language that could offend people. However, I believe anti-racism is not simply a case of not being racist, but the extent of your solidarity with oppressed people.

That is not the answer I gave to the Weekly Worker because that article was not intended to develop antiracist politics, or even to debate the nature of anti-imperialist struggles, it was an article written to stir up trouble. It is a cheap rag with no interest in showing the nuance of the debate, only looking for gossip. The same year they published this article, they hosted a long running debate on whether the moon was built by reptiles. I don’t think I owed them a back and forth on the subject, and I probably should not even have bothered replying.  You don’t throw comrades under the bus whenever someone with an axe to grind asks you to. I would be much less suitable as a candidate if I was in the habit of denouncing all my comrades as racists for political convenience.

I explained in a later email to the election committee that I wouldn’t have phrased the article the way it was phrased. Not because the argument or intention of the piece is racist, but because it obviously has been offensive to some, and the political argument of the article gets lost as a result. Many Islamic fundamentalist groupings see the 7th century companions of Mohammed who embodied original (or “primitive”) Muslim virtue and made the first great Muslim conquests as a political model. ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other extreme-right groups are very explicit about this. This is an issue close to my heart as in 2007 I was the only representative of the UK trade union movement to attend a trade union congress in Iraqi Kurdistan, at which workers were discussing their armed struggle against these far-right organisations and American mercenaries.

Sean’s issue is not racism, it’s favouring style over clarity and ripping off the out-of-date language of Frederick Engels without referencing him. He was paraphrasing the passage from Engels: “The townspeople grow rich, luxurious and lax in the observation of the ‘law’. The Bedouins, poor and hence of strict morals, contemplate with envy and covetousness these riches and pleasures. Then they unite under a prophet, a Mahdi, to chastise the apostates and restore the observation of the ritual and the true faith and to appropriate in recompense the treasures of the renegades…” (On the History of Early Christianity).

That’s Engels who in turn was ripping off the 14th century Muslim writer Ibn Khaldun (summarised, for example, in the Prologue to Albert Hourani’s History of the Arab Peoples).

I was in politics at the time the article was written and remember the context the piece was written in. The largest left group at the time, the SWP, lashed up with George Galloway and right-wing religious figures, relegating explicit socialist and working-class politics to vague “aspirations” in order to create an electoral base out of the alliance built around the anti-war movement.

To make it work they softened their line on many things, in particular religion. Lindsay German explained she was “in favour of gay rights [but] not prepared to have it as a shibboleth” They sought alliances with right-wing organisations such as the MAB and the backing of right-wing religious figures at the expense of the independent class interests of Muslim workers. The MAB was as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Its anti-imperialism is a variety of that practised by various radical bourgeois and petty bourgeois formations in the Middle East, Pakistan and elsewhere throughout the world – a more equitable relationship with the imperialist bourgeoisie that allows them a share of valuable natural resources and in the exploitation of the working class. Many socialists in the period reverse-engineered their politics in order to accommodate to this. Islamic fundamentalism is a threat to the working class, in the first instance the Muslim working class. Independent class organisation and struggle by Muslim workers, in alliance and solidarity with other workers, is the key to defeating the fundamentalists, just as workers’ unity is the answer to all bourgeois reaction. Our task is solidarity with workers’ movements and socialists in the Muslim world, and any political concession to Islamic fundamentalism is a barrier to that. To stand against this concession is not Islamophobic, it is an act of solidarity with our Muslim comrades. Much of this politics of accommodation and communalism still exists on the left – see Starmer and Modi. Or Gardner and Modi. Or courting Catholic Priests in the North West.

The debate in 2013 around the article was between groups with different understandings of anti-imperialism, the roots of fundamentalist politics and how you relate to that. In this I am firmly on the side of the AWL. The rise of ISIS, the tragedy in Syria has shifted the debate on the anti-imperialist left.

Following my email submission to the election committee I received a call at 11.30 asking me to call them as they wanted to clarify some matters in order to make their decision. At 11.44 I emailed them to explain that I was a key worker at work and asked that they instead email me. At 14.40 with no response to my request to have the discussion in writing I received confirmation of my exclusion.

I asked for the appeals process and was told there wasn’t one. I was disappointed but not shocked by the politics involved. As a union rep, dealing with a committee containing three union officials, I was however absolutely shocked that I would be asked to give evidence over the phone and when I explained I was working but could answer over email, the chance would be withdrawn.

Over the next few weeks I saw members of the platform I was signed up to, Momentum Internationalists, bullied and harassed online. I don’t think my exclusion was because of an article printed fourteen years ago or because of the Weekly Worker coverage of it. I think it is part of a concerted attempt to push anyone within three degrees of separation from Workers’ Liberty/AWL from participating in Momentum elections. The level of harassment that members of the platform, whether or not they were AWL members, received, was unacceptable. I am sure many at the centre of Forward Momentum would agree but they have not stood up strongly enough against it. The last few weeks for me have been horrible, in the middle of the process I had nightmares and sleepless nights. I don’t say that for sympathy but because if that is how it affected me, someone who has been in the movement for decades and has been charged by police, thrown down the stairs by security guards and fought off fascists – I cannot imagine how horrible it has been for the teenagers for whom this was one of the early experiences of the Labour left. To all those people I want to extend my full solidarity and promise I will fight for a different left where debate and dissent are encouraged.

I would like to thank all those in Forward Momentum who protested on my behalf, including candidates and those on the board. I would also like to thank everyone who has publicly shown solidarity, which isn’t easy in such an environment.

• Ruth is co-secretary of Lambeth Unison and convener of Labour for a Socialist Europe.

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George Floyd – End police violence, support the solidarity protests

On 25th May, George Floyd, 46, died after being arrested by police outside a shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Footage of the arrest shows a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck while he was pinned to the floor. “I can’t breathe,” Mr Floyd said repeatedly, pleading for his mother and begging “please, please, please”.

This continued for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

Mr Chauvin, 44, has since been charged with murder.

George’s death follows a series of killings of black people in the USA, including the killing of Eric Garner and Breonna Taylor.

Following George’s murder protests took place In Minneapolis and outside the White House, they then spread across the USA. The repsonse to the protests from the police is rubber bullets, tear gas, mass arrests and violence. The response from Trump is to tweet ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’, call for the mobilising of the National guard and move to designate the anti fascist movement (antifa) as a terrorist organisation.

The protests in the USA take place against the backdrop of not only police killings of black people but also against  the backdrop of a Trump admministration that has incited racism against BAME communities, increased attacks on migrant rights and done nothing to protect black and working class communities from the impact of job losses as a result of the current economic crisis.

When we see these protests and witness the violence of the police socialists should remember why we don’t demand more police or demand the police have access to more powerful weapons. We should rasie demands for an end to police repressions, an end to the raiding of peoples home, opposition to calling in the army to suppress protests and call for the police to be disarmed.  We should also  call for democraticaly elected police committees that have the power to hire and fire police chiefs and oversee the operational managemnet of the police service.

 These are not just demands we should raise when calling for solidarity with protests in the USA but are demands for our movement here too.

We have a Tory Government which will be using the Brexit withdrawal process to further attacks on freedom of movement and attacks on rights of migrant workers, which will fuel an increase in racist attacks..  If we begin to protest at these attacks then we shouldn’t be surprised if the Tories mirror the rhettoric and actions of their allies in the USA.

In repsonse to the portests in the USA solidarity protests have taken place across Europe.

The Labour left should support the protests taking place in the UK and internationally and send messages of solidarity to the organisisers. We should defend them when they come under attack for organising protests at the time of lock down and state they we understand the anger that exists against the actions of the police and why the anger here is just too. We should also be calling for the Labour left and the trade union movement to put organsing against racism and fascism at the centre of its activity. Practically now that meeans

  1. Support the protests and send messages of solidarity to the protest organisers.
  2. Send financial aid to the organisations bailing those arrested  in USA https://www.communityjusticeexchange.org/nbfn-directory and sign and circulate the petitions at https://blacklivesmatter.com
  3. Offer use of trade union/ labour movement offices to the organisations organising the protests.
  4. For the trade union movement and left to approach organisations organising the protests to  offer help in stewarding and ask campaign organsisers to speak at union/ left meetings.   
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Interview with Abbie Clark

Abbie Clark is Secretary of Stevenage CLP and a candidate for the Momentum national coordinating group on the Forward Momentum slate, elected as part of Momentum Internationalists. She recently did an interview with The Clarion, and we republish it here.

With Josh Lovell, I founded our Stevenage Momentum group at the end of 2015. A lot of us had joined the Labour Party, but found there was little pre-existing organising on the Labour left, and that it was a bit of a hostile atmosphere for new left-wingers. There wasn’t much room for debate or discussion in the CLP. Organising as part of Momentum helped us with all that.

However, since then the organisation has changed and we’ve seen an ever-bigger shift away from member-led democracy, particularly after the coup of January 2017. At the start of this year I put forward a statement in our local group about refounding it – because we need to think about what we’re doing and why in the post-Corbyn era. Momentum nationally needs that refounding too.

I think a big reason for the fall off in membership and engagement is the lack of transparency and democracy in the organisation. There’s been no NCG elections for almost two years and now these ones come at a crucial time. Momentum could go in very different directions. That’s why I’m standing.

I’ve stood as part of Momentum Internationalists because we need a wider vision than just influencing the Labour Party. Momentum has never fulfilled its potential as being a wider campaigning organisation that can bring together and coordinate activists in various struggles. As a result it has no real campaigning perspective inside Labour either. This is linked to lack of democracy – members get no say in what the organisation campaigns on or what its strategic perspective is. We had the farce of voting yes or no to backing RLB and Angela Rayer, which was indicative of something far wider.

Momentum provides little or no space for people from different factional stances or political viewpoints to discuss and debate their ideas. To achieve real unity in campaigning you also need space to discuss ideas. Part of that is about political education, but I think it also has to mean a sovereign conference in order to make the debates meaningful, with real impact. We can’t get pissed off about the Labour Party not carrying out motions passed at conference or putting them in the manifesto when Momentum doesn’t even have one!

Why do you think Momentum was shut down as a living, democratic organisation?

Partly a reaction to the attacks from the right, and a siege mentality, which also came to embrace relationships on the left. There was a fear of what they saw left groups infiltrating and wrecking Momentum, and clearly an analysis that shutting things down was the only way to protect the project. I can grasp why Lansman did it but it was absolutely wrong both as analysis and as a solution.

What’s your assessment of Forward Momentum so far?

It’s very good there’s a project that has highlighted the democratic deficit within Momentum. It’s also very good that there are so many different people involved, and that there have been attempts at meetings and discussions to debate policy, as well as the election for candidates. In that sense I’ve been quite impressed.

The need for these kinds of discussions will not disappear after the NCG election, particularly if a lot of people elected who are committed to defending the status quo, so this needs to be an ongoing project.

However, the banning of Ruth Cashman of Momentum Internationalists was a pretty large hole in the process. The way the decision was made was poor and the decision itself was totally wrong. If Ruth stands in the election, that would be legitimate.

The call that was made for people to declare automatic loyalty to the slate is problematic given this behaviour, and given that it’s still not been determined what Forward Momentum’s policies are.

More broadly, some of the attitudes towards our wing of the left, but particularly the obsessive sectarianism that exists towards the AWL, is really unhealthy. I’ve encountered it in the Eastern region from people who really don’t have any knowledge of what they’re talking about but have picked it up as something they repeat.

What are the issues we should be raising?

One big one that I’ve already mentioned and that I raised in my statement for the selections is having a sovereign annual conference. We’re hearing a lot of woolly formulations which seem to mean people will get input but those making the decisions, at the top, can still ignore it. There needs to be an actual decision-making conference so members can send motions and delegates to decide policies and also Momentum’s overall direction. We need to re-establish regional structures, and the boundaries need to be rational, at least like the Labour Party regions, not these giant super-regions. Underneath it all, of course, we need to get groups going again. So many groups no longer meet, and that must be because of the negative atittude towards them but also the lack of opportunity for shaping anything in the organisation.

Momentum needs political education, not just training on how to use certain tools. One reason the left is so fractured is there’s no political education and discussion. I know in DSA [Democratic Socialists of America] they have political education committees in which members develop an education program. There’s practical training, but on a wider range of things including organising at work – and also reading groups, film screenings, political discussions…

Members are already organising in various campaigns – campaigning for migrants’ rights, or climate strikes, or the Green New Deal – so Momentum needs to support that work and those campaigns. Migrants’ rights is particularly crucial. At Labour conference last year Momentum didn’t even support the LCFM [Labour Campaign for Free Movement] motion.

If Forward Momentum raises this seriously, it could be an important line of division with Momentum Renewal. You know the claims that are going to be made, that Labour lost the election because it was too remain, which is of course bollocks. Talk about working-class communities which doesn’t also take on board working-class communities in big cities, and particularly people of colour and migrants, is a problem. We need to try to relate to the whole working class.

More generally, the point isn’t just to work in Labour or be involved in campaigns – it’s to do both and link them together.

How do you think the labour movement’s response to Covid-19 has been? What should we be pushing for?

The response across the labour movement has been disjoined and piecemeal. Clearly people in the Labour Party have been quite nervous about calling out the government and how shit its response has been. I don’t know if that was a fear of looking opportunistic, of playing politics with the crisis. The result is that Labour has misjudged the public mood, as well as failing to shape it. I think there’s a lot of anger out there about what is happening.

The TUC and some unions have been weak too, jumping on everything and presenting it as a huge victory even when it’s clearly inadequate, like with the furlough scheme. We should be saying yes but we demand this now, not praising the government.

Now is the perfect opportunity to raise public ownership of all health and social care. And lots of other things: scrapping no recourse to public funds. Full sick pay for all workers from day one, full pay to self-isolate, 100pc pay on furlough. Angela Rayner has been burnishing her trade union credentials, so why aren’t they talking about scrapping the anti-union laws? In this crisis when you don’t know if you’re going to turn up to work and not have the PPE, you need to be able to walk out without worrying if you’re going to lose your job.

Labour’s going to be out of government for a while and we’re about to have the worst recession for a decades, maybe ever. Why aren’t we shaping the debate? A lot of these things I’m raising are not radical, and they’ve been passed at conference. They should be givens, and socialists should be demanding bigger things too. In the current situation it’s easy to explain radical policies to the public, there is potentially a real appetite for them.

How do you think the left should relate to Starmer?

I’m not sure the left has had much to say. You’ve got people who would never criticise Corbyn at all but are very angry about just denouncing the new leadership. But there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of organised pressure. For instance on the NHS surcharge – there’s little call out of the leadership for not pushing further.

In Momentum most people have a focus on getting Momentum sorted, whatever that means, and looking at other things later. But you can do multiple things at the same time.

Momentum Renewal criticises Forward Momentum for being inward-looking and process-focused, but it’s obviously an opportunistic argument. The point is we need democracy in our organisations, all our organisations, but that has to be part of a project of pushing the party and the leadership and holding them to account.

You’ve supported the call to delay Brexit. Why?

With the fall-out from Covid, we’re already going to to face a recession, and it will be brutal. If we don’t block it we’ll have further, even deeper austerity, and it will be workers and the most vulnerable in society who will pick up the bill. There’s no good time for a hard Brexit to be rushed through, but this is the worst time imaginable. It’s obvious what the Tories want – they can launch attack after attack, and use the pandemic and Brexit as intertwined excuses. It will be a double cloak for their hard-right agenda. We shouldn’t allow that to happen.

There’s reticence about this very obvious demand, I think, because we’re still stuck with the false idea that being too anti-Brexit is why we lost the election. This is urgent, and “tactics” of keeping quiet and allowing the Tories to slip up are not going work. The movement needs to speak out. There’s also some very basic questions of democracy – how can we get proper democratic scrutiny in the current situation, particularly in the next month?

The current crisis makes the whole Brexit project look pretty ridiculous. It shows the absurdity of nationalism. Normally in a crisis people revert to nationalism, but I have a feeling there’s a big opportunity, with the impact of Covid-19 across the world, to make the internationalist argument, to highlight the commonalities of what people face. If we can get a delay, it’s not impossible people could change their minds on Brexit, and they should be given that chance.

The Labour left needs to take a strong stance on this.

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In the crises we face, fighting to take over the banks is vital

By Mohan Sen

Regulation failed to stop banks collapsing and bringing down the economy. More regulation won’t work now. It’s expensive, bureaucratic and ineffective. Private ownership means profit comes before everything else. That will continue as long as banks are under private ownership.

The public has no control over the banks’ decision-making, even in banks that are majority state-owned. Only public ownership of the major banks with a new democratic structure of control can turn banking into a public service. A publicly owned banking system could finance a mass programme of useful public works, to create jobs and modernise infrastructure.

The resources are there. But they are in the hands of the billionaires, not in our hands. We must rise to the occasion and act decisively in the interests of our class.”

– Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union General Secretary


In 2019, TUC Congress unanimously passed a Fire Brigades Union amendment to a motion from the Bakers’ Union on public ownership of energy, which said:

Congress reaffirms the TUC’s 2012 Congress policy on the public ownership of the big banks, which could play a central role in building a sustainable economy, investing in a publicly owned energy sector and creating decent, unionised jobs in the interests of working people.”

The 2012 policy, also proposed by the FBU, said:

Congress believes the economic chaos and devastation sparked by the major banks and financial institutions should be ended through full public ownership of the sector and the creation of a publicly owned banking service, democratically and accountably managed.

Congress believes that the banking and finance industry should be developed as a key public service.

This new form of banking could play a central role in building a sustainable economy, investing in transport, green industries, housing, creating jobs and assisting the recovery in the interests of working people.”

In the current, crisis, this demand is more important than ever – to protect ourselves from an implosion of credit and a snow-balling slump as the Covid-19 pandemic eases; to radically reconstruct the economy in the interests of working people and the vulnerable; and to seriously confront the climate crisis by replacing investment in carbon emissions with investment in green energy, infrastructure and jobs.

Taking over the banks and reorganising them as a democratic public service will certainly be essential if we want to seriously challenge capitalism and try to transcend it. But in fact it is also essential to gain the economic leverage and resources we need to defend the working class’ immediate interests in this crisis.

Yet, despite the highest body of the organised workers’ movement passing this policy (twice), the reality is that no one much is campaigning for it.

The TUC has stayed silent, ignoring its own policy. Aside from the FBU, no other union has done even minimal campaigning for this. In the Labour Party the Corbyn leadership avoided the issue, despite John McDonnell having previously campaigned strongly for it. It hasn’t been raised by many on the Labour left.

The demand was raised in motions for a “Socialist Green New Deal” submitted by CLPs and by the FBU to last year’s Labour conference, but it didn’t make the final composites.

The left, including Momentum, should discuss, argue and campaign for it now.

• Climate striker Abel Harvie-Clark, Ben Selby of the Fire Brigades Union and Ruth Cashman of Lambeth Unison and Labour for a Socialist Europe are speaking at a public meeting on this issue on Friday 29 May: details here.

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4 Steps Forward for the Climate Struggle

By Abel Harvie-Clark

In the context of the pandemic and economic collapse, a socialist response must have a focus on climate justice. As urgently as we need a vaccine for Covid-19, we need a serious reorganisation of production to rapidly decarbonise society, and we need an organised left to fight bottom up for this socialist Green New Deal. I’m standing in the Momentum NCG elections because a refounded Momentum organising around democracy, class struggle and internationalism could play a key role in coordinating climate justice and building a worker-led just transition. These are some ideas for what that could look like.

#1

Take the climate strikes into the workplace. The climate strike movement, led by the UK Student Climate Network in the UK, has mobilised fantastic levels of organisation and energy to significantly raise awareness of both the climate crisis,and the absolute failure of governments to tackle it. Not only have students orchestrated mass street mobilisations, we have built in communities to bring political education and outreach to a generation with little other political organisation. It is a movement I am proud to have been a part of. 

The labour movement now has a responsibility to be proactively organising beyond following school strikers. School-student strikes are great, but don’t have the same power of workplace-based strikes to disrupt and reorganise production directly.

Socialist Green New Deal campaigning through the labour movement must build on the Green Industrial Revolution events, but sharpen up the demands and make members feel confident on the issue – as actors, not passive consumers of lines from the Shadow Cabinet. Key to this is being vocal on the demand to repeal all anti-union legislation, as well as supporting workers in finding ways around the anti-union laws. Not only is it an important democratic right to be able to take strike action over issues such as climate change, and in solidarity with struggles across the country and worldwide, this right is key to defending workers from dangerous working conditions that will occur due to climate breakdown. Further, freeing the trade union movement from all anti trade union legislation is a key step in building a strong movement that can assert workers’ control across the economy.

Momentum and local Labour parties should find ways to build workplace-based climate change committees (and not just stick another item on the Trades Council agenda) and find ways to resource them ourselves. Model motions for workplace stoppages and lunchtime walk outs can easily be circulated, but other forms of pro-active organising and engagement of workers need to be promoted too. We need action both to raise the profile of climate breakdown, and also to engage every workplace in building their own transition.

Read UKSCN’s open letter to trade unions

#2

Build links beyond borders. The climate crisis is a reflection of transnational capitalism: it cannot be tackled within national borders. We should be in contact and sharing lessons with workers in parallel industries, activists fighting similar struggles, and extensions of international supply chains around the world. Our common goal is democratic public ownership of industry, and we will be far stronger in this if we work hand in hand across borders. Victories in one country can be held as examples elsewhere; injustices in one country should receive solidarity action. Advocating border controls and “patriotism” cuts against supporting working-class control of industries that span across the globe, whether that is oil and gas companies or clothing manufacturers. 

Aspects of climate breakdown are already irreversible, and mitigating the impacts equitably must be done with an international approach. Climate change forces people to leave their homes, exaggerates the material differences between rich and poor, and sparks, and is in turn fueled by, wars. Large movements of climate refugees around the world are now certain: they are happening now and will only get bigger in the future. How will we respond? Our response must  be based on international solidarity, not “legitimate concerns about immigration”. I encourage comrades to pay attention to the excellent work of Labour Campaign for Free Movement; the policy passed at conference must be defended and advocated through our campaigning.

Policy passed at conference here

#3

Build solidarity with workers in climate-critical industries. At the Drax Selby power station, 200+ job losses have been announced as coal is no longer profitable to burn. This is the sharp end of climate breakdown, where exploitation of workers and planet occur side by side. To fight back, we need to start the conversation with fossil-industry workers with solidarity. We need targeted campaigns encouraging class struggle against fossil fuel capitalism, making the positive case for a decarbonised society under workers control. Through political education and mobilisation for workplace struggles, the left should be encouraging 21st century Lucas-plan style organising for a just transition. Rank and file union members in affected industries should be empowered to lead retraining for socially useful, sustainable work. 

Not only can these campaigns make active steps to decarbonise the economy, but they can make a material difference to workers otherwise left on the frontline of the climate crisis, and thus win more people to our cause. There will be many more examples like Drax Selby in the coming years, Momentum should be ready to engage the rank and file for a worker-led just transition.

#4

Make political demands. Beyond movement building and workplace struggles, we must keep in sight the big political demands needed to rearrange our society for a socialist Green New Deal. We should hold the Labour leadership to account over the Green New Deal policy passed at 2019 conference, and make further demands such as those passed by FBU conference. In particular we should remain vocal on the following:

  • Democratic public ownership of banks and finance. Currently private finance funnels enormous capital into climate-destructive industries. Regulation is ineffective; we need public ownership to rediscover finance as a public service to support massive investment in reorganising the economy.
  • Nationalise the big 6 energy companies. Again, a private model is utterly incapable of the massive reorganisation required. Beyond public companies competing with private ones, we should push for a unified system and democratic central planning
  • Free, improved public transport. Changes in everyday life can be supported on a collective basis. Free public transport would provide a key public service, connect isolated communities and improve air quality in cities.
  • Champion free movement. Build unions, not borders. A socialist Green New Deal must be global in its outlook, recognising that we have more in common with the working class in other countries than with polluters here.
  • Support the 4 day week. We must make the positive case that reorganising society away from profit and in the interest of working classes means a better quality of life, more time off from work, and better rights at work.

Firefighters call for a Socialist Green New Deal

Join a discussion on nationalising the banks – 29 May

These are some ideas for ways that we can build in the years to come. There is already good work going on, and I encourage comrades to engage and work with campaigns such as Labour for a Green New Deal, Labour Campaign for Free Movement, UK Student Climate Network, Green New Deal UK, and to advocate for democracy, class struggle and internationalism. More ideas, feedback and critique of these ones are encouraged, get in touch!