Now -read the book!

Here is a link to my memoirs which, if you are a glutton for punishment, you can purchase online at
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)

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Sorry? Not sorry? Labour responds to Forde allegation 6...

On the day that Black members of the Labour Party were due to hold a protest outside Conference this afternoon about the failure of the Party to acknowledge the findings of the
Forde report in respect of allegations six, the Party finally published online an apology from our National Executive Committee (NEC).

The first sentence of the apology sums it up really well; "The Labour Party apologises for the culture and attitudes expressed by senior staff in the leaked report, as well as for the way in which those comments came to light.”

In other words; "we are sorry that some of our senior staff were comfortable expressing vile racist and sexist views to each other, and we are also sorry that one or more of them were so stupid as to ensure that these would be recorded within the Party and subsequently leaked” (or, more simply still; "we are sorry we were so badly wrong and we are sorry we got caught”).

The NEC go on to say; "The Labour Party is committed to ensuring that such a situation will not arise again and that any racist and discriminatory attitudes will be tackled immediately, wherever they arise, in whatever section of the party.” 

Likewise in his own statement the General Secretary, David Evans (who has previously featured on this blog), states that; "I also want to offer a commitment to you and all other members that such a situation will not arise again and that we will tackle racist and discriminatory attitudes wherever they arise in whatever section of the Party.” 

Even the Leader of the Party gets in on the act, saying; "I want to work with all those effected to drive this work through our party and ensure this never happens again.”

As a loyal Labour Party member I want to believe these protestations and, had the apology been forthcoming promptly when the report was published more than two months ago, I might have done so.

However, my own experience, since the publication of the Forde report, does not encourage me to put much faith in these words. 

The General Secretary says now that; "we will tackle racist and discriminatory attitudes wherever they arise” but one of his senior subordinates (a national officer of the Labour Party acting under the NEC’s delegated powers) responded earlier this month to a well-founded expression of concern about racism by demanding that his correspondent; “withdraw, and apologise for, the most ridiculous assertion.” 

I see no evidence of a positive change in the culture which is so justly criticised in the Forde report.

Update on 27 September -

Watch that and weep

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Democracy and the rights of members in the Party and the trade unions

I can thoroughly recommend Al Jazeera’s "The Labour Files" the first episode of which is now
available online.

Having lived through what happened in Brighton and Hove Labour Party over recent years, I can vouch for the honesty and integrity of many of the local witnesses interviewed as part of the documentary, which explores the war being fought against socialist within our Party. I also have well-founded and firm opinions about some of the liars and bullies exposed in the programme.

I shall watch the remaining two episodes (being screened tonight and on Monday evening) and may well have more to say thereafter. The first episode, however, has been more than enough to get me thinking about the problem of confronting a rampant reactionary bureaucracy in the mass party of the working-class, and about the similarities and differences with similar confrontations in the trade union movement (with which, as regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will be well aware, I have a reasonable amount of experience).

Having a bureaucracy of paid employees which does the bidding of a right-wing leadership to constrain or eliminate left-wing critics is not a phenomenon exclusive to the Labour Party. I have written extensively on this Blog over the years about the struggle for democracy within the trade unions, both with reference to the history of the movement and to contemporary struggles within UNISON throughout my working life.

The resources available to a trade union bureaucracy (pro rata to the size of membership of the organisation) are greater than those available to the Labour Party (because the average trade union subscription is considerably higher than the cost of party membership). With those resources, I have witnessed what can be done to witchhunt socialist activists from the trade union.

However, the trade union bureaucracy, in spite of its relatively greater resources, is in a weaker position confronting its own rank-and-file than is the bureaucracy of the Labour Party. In UNISON the expulsion of a handful of activists caused great conflict and, on each occasion, the leadership eventually backed down. In today's Labour Party, hundreds - if not thousands - of members have had their membership terminated with remarkably little resistance.

The proximate explanation for this difference is the difference between the rules of the two organisations. In UNISON a member can only be disciplined in accordance with rules which protect the right to hearing and which provide that any sanction only takes effect once rights of appeal had been exhausted. In the Labour Party now, a member can find their membership terminated on the basis of an allegation which they receive in writing and to which they may only make a written response. Although they have a right of appeal, their membership remains terminated pending such an appeal - so a Labour Party member can be thrown out of the Party (regardless of the length of their membership or their record of commitment to the organisation) without any right to hearing or to challenge in person the evidence against them.

Of course, the difference between the rules of the two organisations simply reflects differences in the context within which they operate. In UNISON, the rules of the trade union can only be amended following a 2/3 majority vote at Conference on a proposal admitted to the agenda months in advance. Submissions to the conference by the National Executive Council (NEC) have no privileged position above those from branches or other UNISON bodies.

In the Labour Party, whilst proposals from Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) to amend the rules must now (once more) be submitted a full year in advance, the National Executive Committee (NEC) can, and does, submit rule amendments with almost no notice (which can get through providing the trade union delegations have been squared).

If the difference between the rules of the two organisations reflect the differing levels of democracy in their structures, the structures themselves reflect the different material balance of forces between the organisational machine and the rank and file membership in each case.

Ironically, an important part of the explanation for the different structures of the trade union and the party is provided by the framework of anti-trade union legislation put in place since the 1980s.

A trade union member experiencing injustice as a result of a breach of the rules of the trade union has the option of complaining to the Certification Officer (without cost). A trade union member who is discriminated against by their trade union can bring a complaint to an employment tribunal (at minimal cost). 

The only legal recourse available to an individual member of the Labour Party  facing unjust treatment from the Party is to go to court, incurring considerable expense up front and risking an award of costs if they lose (to rub salt into the wound one of the things for which your party membership may be terminated without a hearing is if you fail to pay costs which a court orders you to pay to the Party!)

Whilst this difference in legal context is significant (and I myself have taken advantage of it in the past) a more important difference is provided by the underlying material reality of the two organisations in question.

The rank-and-file activists of a trade union are continuously in a three-way relationship with their own officials and with the employers with whom they bargain and negotiate. Their power in each of these relationships is founded upon the effectiveness of their organisation at workplace level (and therefore their most important relationship, which is with the workers they represent). 

Strong workplace organisation constrains the ability of union officials to control local activists and can compel employers to a constructive relationship with local activists, even against union officials. My experience was always that my employer treated me as a local union activist with more respect than hostile officials of my own trade union and that, unable to secure support from the employer, the hostile officials backed off time and again. 

Local Labour Party activists have no similar corresponding material power base to act as a counterweight to the power of the organisation. Perhaps we would have if our local Labour Parties were genuine mass organisations rooted in our local working-class communities, but they are not (and never have been). Therefore a bureaucracy which is less well resourced, and generally less experienced and less capable, than the bureaucracy of a trade union is nevertheless able to wield much greater power over the membership within the Labour Party.

The question which arises is, of course, the only question which ever really arises; "what is to be done?" Your humble blogger doesn't pretend for one minute to have a certain answer to this question. However, having considered the different balance of forces between rank-and-file democracy and bureaucratic autocracy between the industrial and political wings of our movement it seems to me that we need to find a way to build out from areas of relative strength to areas of relative weakness.

At the heart of Labourism, the distinctively British variant of social democracy, has been a "division of labour" between the political and industrial wings of the movement, as part of which the leadership of the trade unions have generally ensured that the role of the affiliated organisations within the Party has been to provide ballast for the leadership. We need to depart decisively from this tradition.

The trade unions need to become campaigners for democracy and the rights of members within the Labour Party. Trade union activists need to find ways to control our Labour Party intervention so that it is used to encourage democracy and not to prop up the leadership. A small first step, which I understand has already been taken by UNITE, would be to provide representation and assistance to union members who are being victimised or disciplined as members within the Labour Party.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Serfs you are and serfs you shall remain

A little over 40 years ago, to mark the 600th anniversary of the Peasant’s Revolt, the great socialist journalist Paul Foot wrote a very interesting article.

Foot explained how it was that a peasant army which had arrived in London and achieved its target of killing various of the King's most hated advisers was defeated although its adversaries lacked the military force to inflict such a defeat;

“Pretending that they wanted new talks with Tyler’s army, the king and a large gang of courtiers went to Smithfield. They insisted that Tyler come alone at least a mile from his army and talk to the king’s men about his demands and whether the army would disband. Tyler, still, trusting the king, came, alone, on his horse, and engaged in absurd negotiaions for a few moments. It’s not exactly known what happened. Somebody shouted out some insulting remark. Tyler drew his dagger. Five people jumped on him, stabbed him, and he fell dying to the ground.

Then the king, alone, went to the peasant army and explained that there had been an accident, a mistake. We don’t know exactly what he said to them, but he managed to persuade them that their demands would be met full, indeed had been met in full, and that it was a terrible thing that their leader had been killed. He led them out of the city.

That moment is the climax of the revolt, which begins to falter from there. The confidence of those peasant armies depended on their success, and now the success has stopped.

It’s difficult even to imagine, in those circumstances, how they could have conceded to King Richard as they did. The only explanation lies in the tremendous power which the royal presence had at that time over the common people.

(I have added the emphasis to that last sentence for reasons which regular readers of his blog, Sid and Doris Blogger, will already have guessed).

When, subsequently, some messengers from the peasant army got through to the court to remind the young King of what he had said to his people, he said to have replied as follows;

‘Serfs you have been and serfs you shall remain in bondage, not such as you have hitherto been subjected to, but incomparably viler. For so long as we live and rule by God’s grace over this kingdom we shall use our strength, sense and property to treat you that your slavery may be an example to posterity and that those who live now and hereafter, who may be like you, may always have before their eyes, as it were in a glass, your misery and reasons for cursing you and the fear of doing things like those which you have done.’

I don't suppose that any of the leaders of today's workers movement in this country expect their names will still be known and honoured in 640 years as are the names of Wat Tyler and John Ball. I think we would all hope, however, that we have learned something in the last six and a half centuries and that we would not repeat the mistakes of the past.

I am not, for one moment, comparing the embryonic strike wave of the past weeks with the events of 1381 which shook England’s feudal ruling class to its core. However, bearing in mind the decision to postpone TUC Congress, and the decisions to suspend  strike action by various trade unions, as well as the instruction to local Labour parties not only that we should cease campaigning, but that we may not even meet for the time being, I wonder whether we are entitled to feel that we have moved an inch forward from the position of our predecessors in 1381, so sadly seduced and betrayed because of their feelings about royalty.

I can understand why, in the moment, those charged with making such decisions may have concluded that strike action in the immediate aftermath of the death of a hereditary monarch might be unpopular even with many of those who might be called upon to take such action. Those having that decision in front of them will have to have taken into account; "the tremendous power which the royal presence [or perhaps absence] has at this time over the common people.”

Nevertheless it is a foolish and shamed Labour movement which ceases its activities to defend our people because an old woman living at the apex of our anachronistic class society has died at the end of a long life of comfort and privilege. 

There may not be that many today who will join this blogger in saying quite honestly that I did not respect the former monarch in life and I'm not such a hypocrite as to feign respect for her in death. Nor will a majority say of the new King Charles III that he has no legitimacy as a head of state, not being elected by or accountable to the residents within any of the areas he claims as his realms. Sometimes one just has to be prepared to paddle against the tide.

Those such as Trevor Sinclair, the sports commentator who observed, in response to the death of the former monarch, that this is a racist society, will be driven into apologies by the online equivalent of an 18th-century "Church and King mob". At the very point in time when it is most relevant to question the absurdity of a hereditary head of state in what purports to be an advanced democracy in the 21st-century, any attempt to ask such questions will be silenced with the demand for respect for a nation in mourning.

I hope that witnessing the damage which the cult of monarchy and its visceral appeal to "national unity” can do to our class will now awaken activists in the Party and trade unions to the need to take up cudgels in the cause of republicanism. Even self-professed revolutionaries in our ranks rarely prioritise attacking the absurdity of hereditary monarchy, both because it seems less urgent than the next strike or demonstration, and because it is much harder to win the argument for republicanism then it is to win the argument for strike action for higher pay, or to protest against racism.

I am proud to be chair of a Constituency Labour Party which has expressed its support for Labour for a Republic. I hope that socialist trade unionists who, like me, have looked on aghast as our movement falters at the very moment when it was beginning, for the first time in years, to seem relevant and effective, will now take the argument for republicanism up through their trade branches to conferences and ultimately to the TUC and (for affiliated unions) to Party conference.

This will be a long fight and a difficult one. It will go through all the phases identified by Tony Benn; “First they ignore you, then they say you're mad, then dangerous, then there's a pause and then you can't find anyone who disagrees with you.” My life expectancy probably won't see me beyond the first stage, but unless socialists within our movement commit themselves to embarking upon this journey our movement will never be fit to free our people.

Our class can never develop a hegemonic consciousness of and for ourselves whilst we are trapped beneath the nightmarish weight of the traditions of the past venerated by our rulers and oppressors.

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Racism in the Labour Party

The Forde report may have been all but ignored by the hierarchy of our party (try searching the party website for the word Forde), but those of us who are committed to a Labour Party which represents the interests of the people the Party was established to serve need to be more attentive.

For those whose idea of politics is that it consists of what goes on in the Westminster bubble, including Party HQ on Southside and the office of the Leader of the Opposition, Forde was awaited for two years for what it would tell us about who said what to whom about disciplinary action within the party and to what extent officials hostile to the Corbyn leadership sabotaged our campaigning.

However, for those of us who understand that politics is about a class struggle, which is always being waged against us by our adversaries but only occasionally being fought vigourously from our side, the most important part of the Forde report is almost certainly its findings in respect of "allegation 6" (that “a racist, sexist and otherwise discriminatory culture exist in Party workplaces.”)

Forde States that; "three dimensions of our inquiry lead us to conclude that there are serious problems of discrimination in the operations of the party:

  • The undoubted overt and underlying racism and sexism apparent in some of the content of the WhatsApp messages between the Party’s most senior staff.

  • A significant number of replies to our Call for Evidence – mainly from ordinary party members – spelling out their experience of discrimination - racism, Islamophobia and sexism – in constituency parties and in Party processes; whilst it is not our intention to examine cases in CLPs, often the complaints were in part about the failure of party officials at regional and national level to take such problems seriously.

  • Submissions from current and former members of staff describing their experience of discrimination and of lack of sensitivity to issues of racism and sexism displayed by senior management.”

Though expressed in the measured, lawyerly language which helps to soften the blows of so much of what Forde has to say (and for which one ought not probably to criticise a measured lawyer) these are damning and damaging conclusions.

The Trappist silence of the Party Leader in response to this condemnation of the organisation he heads has rightly been called out by a number of our Black MPs. Hundreds of party members have signed an open letter calling for a response from the Party leadership to Forde’s conclusions in respect of Allegation 6.

At its best our Party has a proud record of fighting racism and supporting anti-discrimination legislation. At its worst, our Party has a shameful record of support for imperialism overseas and racist immigration legislation at home. We cannot go on facing in both directions forever if we expect to retain the strong electoral support which Labour receives from Black voters in the inner cities.

The silence of the Party leadership in response to Forde suggests an organisation in denial about its problems. This can't go on. Labour cannot be a Party in which Black activists are treated less favourably on grounds of race or are victimised for expressing their concerns.

In the meantime, those of us who become aware of individual cases which appear to illustrate in practice the conclusions drawn by the Forde report in respect of Allegations 6 will have to think carefully about how long we allow the Party to resolve issues before making public criticisms.