The Labour Party bureaucracy has scandalously expelled Lilly Boulby, a hard-working Unison activist who was democratically elected to represent young members on the union’s NEC, and who also has a position on the Unison Labour Link committee.
As a result, right-wing officials from the Labour Link have prevented her from attending the committee’s first Annual General Meeting (AGM) since the regional elections, which was held this morning.
I recently received a message from the Labour Party, informing me that I was being auto-expelled for being a supporter of Socialist Appeal.— Lilly Boulby (@LillyBNEC) November 16, 2021
This is a clear political attack: witch-hunting a young female activist for her socialist values.
Since she was old enough to work, Lilly has been drawn to the labour movement and to the cause of socialism. In her work in the health service, she has seen firsthand how the Tories have chipped away at the NHS. And it is these experiences that pushed her to get involved in Unison as an activist.
At no time has Lilly hidden her ideas and beliefs: that capitalism is to blame for all the ills we see around us; that this system cannot provide working-class people with anything approaching a decent life; and that only clear socialist policies offer a way forward for workers and youth.
The fact of the matter is that Lilly’s ‘crime’ is to hold the ‘wrong’ political views in the eyes of Labour’s ‘compliance unit’.
The charges against her – relating to her support for Socialist Appeal – are nothing less than a crude attempt to expunge socialism from the labour movement. The prospect of a prominent young activist defending bold socialist ideas openly and publicly is simply intolerable from the perspective of the right wing.
All of this is bad enough. But there is far more to this situation than an attack on an individual.
It is crystal clear that Labour’s right wing have resorted to this bureaucratic manoeuvre in order to try to cling onto their control of Unison’s national Labour Link committee.
Following recent elections for the committee’s regional seats, the left held a wafer-thin majority. The committee’s AGM, held today, was set to be a pivotal battleground, as far as the civil war in Unison – and in the Labour Party – is concerned.
A left-wing Labour Link committee would have replaced the two right-wingers on the Labour NEC. This would have represented a significant victory for the left, shifting the balance of forces against Keir Starmer on the party’s ruling body.
Lilly’s expulsion is therefore a blatant attempt to prevent both Unison’s political wing and the Labour Party from shifting to the left – a grubby manoeuvre that unfortunately has been carried through.
We have seen time and time again how the right wing will happily resort to dirty tricks in order to fight their battles. They prefer to hide behind organisational manoeuvres, rather than political arguments – relying on witch-hunts, bans, and proscriptions in order to maintain their grip over the mass organisations of the working class.
The Unison bureaucracy likes to promote the fact that the union’s membership is overwhelmingly female. It also talks a great deal about young members, and the need to involve people in the union.
We can confidently predict that they will remain silent, however, about this attack on a prominent young member and female activist. After all, Lilly is firmly on the left – a proud supporter of Socialist Appeal and the #TimeForRealChange campaign inside Unison.
And like their fellow wreckers and saboteurs in the Labour Party, the Unison right have no qualms about using any weapons at their disposal against the left.
The similarities between the Unison and Labour bureaucracies are no mere coincidence. The two apparatuses are intimately connected. Leading Unison full-timers, for example, were heavily implicated in the attacks on Corbyn and his supporters, as documented in the infamous leaked report.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the part that Unison has played in propping up the Labour right wing over many years.
The attack on Lilly is part of a broader attack against the left – not only of socialists within the Labour Party, but of grassroots activists within Unison.
And it has also seen right-wing union officials working hand-in-glove with the employers in their campaign of victimisation against Unison President Paul Holmes.
The fight to defend Lilly and to win control of the Labour Link for the left, therefore, must be seen as part of the wider struggle against the right-wing bureaucracy – a struggle to transform Unison and the entire labour movement in the interests of workers.
This battle cannot be won by appealing to the courts and the rulebook, but only by appealing to the membership; that is, by mobilising grassroots activists through the formation of rank-and-file committees, and the organisation of a recall conference, putting power and decision-making in the hands of ordinary members.
The stakes are high. Unison’s low-paid members are faced with a tsunami of austerity and job cuts on the back of the pandemic. We need a fighting union that is prepared to organise its members, in order to take on the Tories and their capitalist backers. And we need a political arm to our union that is prepared to fight for a socialist Labour Party.
As such, Unison activists must demand the immediate reinstatement of Lilly; and from there, pick up the gauntlet and take the fight to the right with full force.
More than anything else, this latest attack shows why a top-to-bottom transformation of the whole labour movement is needed.
A fighting, militant Unison could be a leading force in organising united action against the Tories – including a one-day public sector strike that brings together the struggles of workers in healthcare and local government over pay.
Similarly, a socialist Labour Link could play a huge role in ensuring that the Labour Party fights in the interests of public sector workers, rather than staying silent as Labour-controlled councils such as Tower Hamlets and Croydon deploy brutal fire-and-rehire tactics and carry out vicious cuts against them.
The need for fighting leadership and clear socialist policies has never been greater. Only by showing solidarity with victimised activists like Lilly Boulby and Paul Holmes, and struggling to transform the unions, can we ensure that our movement is fit for the tasks ahead.