Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Why socialists should oppose All Member Meeting structures for local Labour Parties

Labour Party Conference has changed the Rules of every Constituency Labour Party (CLP) to require the CLP to convene an All Member’s Meeting (to vote on abandoning a delegate and General Committee based structure) if this is called for.

If a majority of members at such a meeting support such a proposal, the Constituency General Committee would be abolished and replaced with periodic meetings open to every member of the CLP.

Since some of those most opposed to All Member Meetings are on the Party’s Right, some comrades have concluded that this radical innovation might be something which the Left, and in particular supporters of the Party’s leadership, should get behind.

Indeed two recent advocates of All Member Meetings argue that these will be an antidote to right-wing manipulation of their Constituency Labour Party – but that seems to be wrong from the perspective of our experience in Brighton and Hove.

An All Member Meeting, if it is successful enough in drawing members to be large, is a far blunter instrument with which to hold an Executive to account than is a General Committee. In practice, an Executive reflecting one point of view is less likely to have difficulty “managing” the Party in the teeth of opposition within the membership if it organises and choreographs occasional mass meetings than if it has to face monthly accountability to a General Committee of delegates elected by branches and affiliates.

In an All Member Meeting structure, the role of branches in making policy is necessarily diminished – why turn up to attend a policy debate in your branch as an individual member when you can also attend the mass meeting to which any motion from the branch will be sent?

Nor do All Member Meetings give greater opportunity for member participation – if seven branches have a debate, each for twenty minutes, perhaps half a dozen members in each branch will have time to contribute to discussion – for forty two members to have their say at an All Member Meeting that same debate would need to last for more than two hours.

I think that support for All Member Meetings often reflects a desire for a swift (political) solution to the domination of Parties with a leftwing majority in the membership by an experienced and entrenched right-wing leadership.

Similarly, I have heard arguments that the disenfranchisement of affiliates (which is an unavoidable consequence of doing away with a General Committee) should not trouble socialists because the trade unions are dominated by their bureaucracies and therefore delegates from affiiates could hold back the socialists policies supported by the rank and file (individual) Party membership.

Aside from the argument (rooted in local experience) that there is nothing inevitable about union delegates being right-wing in practice, both these desires to resolve political problems by organisational changes are flawed.

They miss the point that it is not the objective of socialists to win votes in Labour Party meetings – our objective is to transform society. We need to shape our Labour Party to be a useful tool in achieving this wider objective. This is more important than that Party meetings should be convivial, exciting, enriching or enjoyable.

In order for a left-led Government to stand the slightest chance against the enormous forces which will be ranged against it from the ruling class, the establishment and the deep state, we will need a campaigning Labour movement – not just the Party – able to mobilise mass support for socialist policies. We need to bring the trade unions with us (and as trade unionists we need to organise for democracy and member-control) – and we need a Party rooted in localities (which depends upon a vibrant branch structure).

I accept that I write as Chair of a Constituency Labour Party with over 3,000 members – and that there may be different considerations in different areas. However, I doubt very much that All Member Meetings will ever make any local Labour Party a more effective tool for us to wield in the struggle for socialist transformation.

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