The campaign to demand an immediate recall conference of the Labour Party has been busy since last week’s update.
Supporters across the country have been organising online events as part of the Reclaim Democracy Roadshow (see below), bringing together grassroots activists who are looking to fight back against the right wing and their attacks.
And comrades are gearing up for tomorrow’s exciting rally, with a range of leading figures from across the labour movement – such as Richard Burgon MP and Howard Beckett, Unite assistant general secretary – speaking about how we can organise to take back control of our party.
The roadshow continues tonight with a meeting organised by campaign supporters in Leeds and West Yorkshire. And the final roadshow event is taking place next Tuesday, 9 March, with Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP and former ASLEF president Tosh McDonald speaking to activists in South London.
The Labour NEC meets next week, on 11 March, to discuss this question. Whatever they decide, this will not be the end – but only the beginning – of the struggle: a struggle to transform the Labour Party into a weapon that the working class wields in the fight for socialism.
On Sunday 28 February, around 100 socialist activists in Merseyside gathered online to call for a recall conference. Recent events in the area certainly gave this meeting on defending democracy an additional relevance, given the scandalous stitch-up surrounding the mayoral selection process.
Comrades were joined by leading members from local grassroots organisations, trade unionists, a Liverpool city councilor, victims of the Labour witch-hunt, and representatives from the national recall conference campaign.
The evening was filled with fiery speeches and calls for rank-and-file members to fight back against the Labour right wing and their bureaucratic clique.
Victoria Cuckson, a member of Bootle for Socialism, said: “The class war is rampaging with no buffer to contain it...We have a ‘Sir’, a knight of the realm, as leader of the party, whose actions and words are not commensurate with his position…There is no opposition!”
This was followed by Jordan David, representing Liverpool Momentum, who stated: “Now is the time to consolidate the strength that we have and take the fight to them. That is why we need a recall conference!.”
The evening continued with contributions from Tony Norbury, representing grassroots organisation Wirral Labour Left; Sarah Morton, a Liverpool city councillor; and Kevin Byrne, a striking British Gas worker and a GMB rep.
Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal, spoke on behalf of the Reclaim Democracy, Recall Conference campaign. Rob explained that from the word go, the right wing in the Labour Party sabotaged Corbyn’s leadership, and sabotaged our movement.
“They couldn’t care less,” Rob asserted. “They welcome a Tory government. They were willing to go to any length, as long as it was against a potential Corbyn government.”
Rob emphasised the need to get rid of these people from the Labour Party. They don’t represent the interests of the working class, but only the interests of the capitalist class.
And the only way to get rid of these saboteurs is to put power into the hands of the members. That’s why the demand for a recall conference is essential. More contributions were made by suspended Liverpool Labour members – and prominent left activists –- Audrey White and Nina Houghton.
Audrey read out a message of solidarity and support from the filmmaker Ken Loach. The statement denounced Keir Starmer and his bureaucratic clique for their attacks on democracy. It finished with the following words:
“Whether inside or outside the Party, we will campaign and organise for real democracy and for a leadership that really understands and represents the independent interests of ordinary working class people. In the end, commitment, strength of purpose and solidarity will win the day.”
Following Ken’s message, the meeting passed a vote to send a message of solidarity in return, given his current media persecution.
Ian Hodson – President of the Bakers, Food, and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) – and Rob Sewell gave the final remarks of the meeting. Both comrades summed up by reiterating just how crucial the demand for a recall conference is, and why we must fight to put power back into the hands of rank-and-file members.
Bristol and the South West
Starmer’s promise of so-called ‘unity’ is clearly not manifest in the South West. Hot on the heels of Corbyn’s suspension, the Labour left in Bristol has been at the receiving end of the leadership’s purge of socialist members.
Furthermore, the party’s rulebook has been cast aside, with the right wing riding roughshod over long-established democratic process for candidate selection.
There has been an epidemic of dismay and disbelief running through the membership. We say: enough is enough!
Bristol Socialist Appeal supporters have no intention of either ripping up their cards, or turning the other cheek. Instead, we took the initiative to organise a local meeting in support of the campaign for a recall Labour conference.
Around 40 people attended the online meeting, covering 11 constituency Labour parties. This made the event the biggest gathering of local Labour left activists for some time.
Brendan Kelly, elected regional officer of the RMT union, opened the meeting. Brendan gave a clear, defiant message – not only backing the call for a recall conference, but urging trade unionists and party members to recognise the right wing’s attacks as part of ‘civil war’. At stake, he stressed, are the party’s founding socialist principles.
The next speaker was Jenn Forbes, Labour parliamentary candidate for Truro & Falmouth in the last election, and a member of Momentum’s national coordinating group. Jenn emphasised that recent events are an attack on party democracy. She urged members to get behind the campaign, and present a united front of the left.
Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal, concluded the speeches with a rousing contribution. Rob put this battle into perspective, highlighting the hypocrisy of the right wing, who have waged a war against the left in the Labour Party, all while crying ‘unity’.
Instead of calls for ‘unity’, Rob explained, the left must fight back with the same determination and ruthlessness that the right wing have shown. The demand for a recall conference is the first step.
On Wednesday 3 March, Tower Hamlets Momentum hosted an online meeting as part of the Reclaim Democracy roadshow. Guest speakers included Ian Hodson, BFAWU President; Apsana Begum, Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse; and Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal.
All three speakers spoke passionately about the need for rank-and-file members to reclaim democracy within the party; and to fight back against the purge of socialists and left-wing party members that Keir Starmer and David Evans are currently conducting.
The speakers outlined how the campaign for a recall conference should be a rallying point for rank-and-file members; an opportunity to begin a coordinated fightback against the right wing.
Starmer and the right are attempting to return Labour to the Tory-lite years of Tony Blair, in order to make the party a safe pair of hands for capitalism once again. Members must organise to prevent this.
Reference was made by the speakers and in the contributions to the fact that the leaders of the Labour left had failed to act decisively when they had the chance.
Policies like mandatory selection should have been pushed through whilst the left controlled the NEC; and the big unions also blocked attempts to bring in mandatory reselection at the 2018 Labour Party conference – despite this policy having the support of 90% of the CLP delegates.
This proved to be a disaster in the end, allowing the right wing to continue ruthlessly attacking Jeremy Corbyn and left-wing members.
The right wing has proven that it is not interested in unity or peace. After years of conciliation and back-peddling, it is time for the left – who still represent a sizable majority of the party’s membership – to fight back and reclaim the Labour Party as a vehicle for socialism.
After the main speeches, the floor was opened up to wider discussion. Various speakers came in to support the demand for a recall conference. Others shared their experiences of being suspended from the party, for ‘crimes’ such as allowing democratic discussion to take place in local ward meetings.
Two suspended members of a local ward mentioned how they were suspended by the party last December: one of them for submitting a motion of no confidence in Starmer and Evans; and the other, for allowing it to be discussed and voted on in the meeting!
Questions of tactics and strategy were also raised in the discussion. Rob Sewell replied to these, mentioning the need to link the recall conference campaign with a struggle to transform the trade unions, given their affiliation to the Labour Party and their influence in it.
With unions like Unite, the FBU, and BFAWU already supporting the demand for a recall conference, Rob made the point that there is serious potential for the campaign to gather momentum nationally.
Comrades also intervened to emphasise the need for a rallying point for the left across the country. There is widespread dissolution and demoralisation currently within the party, following the last general election and the attacks on the left over the past year. But this is the chance to start the fightback.
The strength of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn came from the overwhelming involvement and support of rank-and-file members. Under Corbyn’s leadership, Labour was propelled to become the largest political party in Europe. Despite thousands of departures subsequently, this mass left-wing membership remains a significant force, if it can be mobilised, coordinated, and harnessed.
The demand for a recall conference isn’t the start or end of the struggle for the soul of the Labour Party. But it must be the beginning of a nationwide fightback from grassroots activists – against the careerists, the Blairites, and the bureaucrats, and for genuine democracy and a radical socialist programme!
The campaign for a recall conference continues to gain ground in the North East. To date, three CLP’s – Berwick-upon-Tweed, Blyth Valley, and Sedgefield (formerly Tony Blair’s seat) – have voted to support the demand for a recall conference, with next-to-no opposition.
On top of this, we have reports of big support for this demand in other CLP’s, where the chair has refused to allow motions to be discussed, or where the CLP is yet to meet.
Last night, grassroots activists in the region gathered to discuss the campaign and what we can do. The online meeting heard from Paul Holmes, left candidate in the recent Unison general secretary election; comrades from Sedgefield and Newcastle Central CLPs; and Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal and national coordinator of the Labour4Clause4 campaign.
Everyone agreed that the Labour Party has “never been as bad as this”. While the Labour leadership seem satisfied with a national government in all but name, the mood amongst the ranks of the party is reaching a boiling point.
All of the speakers stressed the broader political situation, highlighting the potential that exists to build a genuine opposition to the Tories. Big events are on the way – not least in the upcoming Unison NEC elections, which could shift the balance of forces in trade unions, and therefore in the Labour Party.
The campaign for a recall conference represents a concrete, focused demand that the left can organise around. The unions are beginning to move into opposition. There is everything to play for.
Labour needs a socialist leadership that is prepared to take on the Tories and their system. We have a world to win.