(This will be a two part post of personal reflections based on experienced in the north: the first looking back at 12 months of Momentum and the second will follow – looking forward to the next 12 months)
Its been 12 months since the launch of Momentum and Jeremy4Leader groups began morphing into local Momentum groups.
With approximately 150 local Momentum groups approaching 20,000 members it has continued to grow and strengthen.
As we approach its third National Committee meeting in November and the lead up to our first National Conference in February now is a good time to reflect on whats been achieved in the last 12 months and what we need to achieve to complete the political transformation if Corbyn’s leadership and the surge of socialists into the party is to be more than a temporary aberration.
In the summer of 2015 after the Tories winning an unexpected increase in MPs (no longer needing the Lib Dems), the reality of another 5 years of ideologically driven austerity, the Corbyn leadership challenge took much of the movement by surprise.
Those of us who had maintained an orientation to Labour especially through its affiliated trade union structures, were both excited but also not confident that the PLP would be the battle ground for challenging austerity, instead of perhaps a rise in trade union militancy or a battle for ideas driven by workers in struggle. But I like others active in Labour left through ourselves into the nomination battle. That summer i helped organise stunts and stalls at Unison conference and helped secure the nomination of Unison by coordinating in the Northern Region. We helped build massive rallies including the one in Newcastle, where i spoke alongside Corbyn at the overflow rally outside the Tyne Theatre of over a 1000 who couldn’t get tickets listening in the pouring rain.
So when Momentum was launched – not in the manner I would have chosen, rather too top down, rather too bureaucratic, with a pre-decided name and structure – we knew the potential to build on the phenomenal sign up, interest, phone banking and tens of thousands of supporters and new members.
Our first Newcastle meeting at the Irish Centre in early October (called jointly with Red Labour before the name Momentum had been heard of) had over 130 people turn up to decide what to do next. This was mirrored across the country showing that Momentum was immediately the largest left of labour project since the 1980s at least.
So what have we achieved in the 12 months – what have we won and lost – and what battles are yet to come?
1. Building locally, taking action and growing the grass roots – In the North East and up and down the country, local groups have been built. This has been organic, and while the lead from some in Momentum has been against organising in CLPs, this has happened and helped winning CLP nominations, for NEC and leadership getting motions and delegates to party conference. This is still uneven and evolving, but groups are reaching out to new activists and trade unionists. Many groups have taken part in marches and protests (for instance supporting Junior Doctors dispute and the NHS) and more recently the success of groups organising anti racist campaigning and local strike solidairity i.e Picturehous workers in London and now Teaching Assistants in Durham
2. Fighting for a democratic national body – As soon as the name Momentum was agreed on and an interim body set up with staff from the JC4Leader campaign there were questions raised about organising a democratic national body, committees and a national campaign. When the Independent reported in December that a National Committee would meet in early January (see here) We challenged and overturned the proposal for a National Committee made up of selected delegates and very quickly in January organised a regional meeting in the North East to elect national delegates to the first National Committee in February ensuring representation from all verified groups and those just establishing.
3. Fighting for socialist policies and ideas. At the first National Committee see here, we argued for a clearer and more strengthened socialist and working class orientation including improving the existing proposed aims of momentum (see report of first NC here)
4. Debating the nature of momentum: We won a more open and inclusive Momentum while retaining a Labour Party orientation. At the first NC there was also a debate about whether all Momentum members needed to be LP members to join. As a new organisation, with a number of key activists already suspended, expelled or excluded by the compliance unit and with thousands voting as supporters or affiliates we argued and won the position that all members need to be labour supporters and not support candidates against labour in elections or organisations hostile to Labour, but we successfully opposed proposals for two tier membership where some i.e. LP members could be officers and other LP supporters could only vote but not hold office. see here
5. Winning the call for democratic national conference. At the first National Committee meeting delegates from the NE and London including AWL supporters and sympathisers voted for an annual national conference and regional conferences. This was defeated in February but when brought again at the May NC was successful see here and here.
6. Winning a Workers Europe, pro EU class struggle socialist position. With the EU referendum being called, initial word from the Momentum office and in the press purported from Momentum was that there would be no position on the EU. Despite the May NC being quite late in the day, this was overturned and a motion again from NE and London regions was successly agreed see here (though debate about how well it was implemented see later)
7. Organsing in CLPs, in wards as well as regionally and nationally. As already mentioned organising in CLPs was slightly hampered by mixed messages often unsourced and in the press, but also reported from the leadership of the campaign and staff, with a number of groups being told they couldn’t organise at a CLP level or where there was already a group existing. This continues to lead to contradictions where some groups are almost regional convening many CLPs and other just one. But across the country now a number of ward caucuses have taken place and this looks likely to continue, the shutting down of meetings during the summer slowed this process, but now we are starting to see this take off again.
8. NEC election victory in the summer. The online campaigning to get the vote out for the NEC couldnt have been as successful if we had both built local groups to coordinate both nominations in CLPs and phone banking.
9. Labour Party conference and the World Transformed Fringe. Following on from winning CLP nominations, though hampered by the closure of CLP, we also managed to coordinate some motions (Momentum NHS were particalaruly successful at this) and delegates and visitors to conference. This is something that needs much improving and delegates from NE and Cumbria reported that more coordination would help next year. see here for more critical analysis
10. Winning a second leadership election in circumstances not of our choosing. Similar to the campaign in Summer 2015, this summer saw street stalls, protests and rallies and an improved vote for Corbyn.
There is much to be critical about alongside these positives. There has been far too little transparency and accountability, and the failure to hold the July National Committee meeting was wrong and we have to ensure that this isnt allowed to be repeated. We have to confirm that National and Steering committees are fully accountable to the membership with reports of all decisions and a process for local groups and regions to challenge and hold to account. We cannot have decisions around staffing or funding to be made by unaccountable individuals, and we have to clarify who speaks to the press and on whose behalf and not allow opinions to be claimed as policy such as on reelection that has never been debated by Momentum. But people are raising these points and although the path to a mass democratic rank and file organisation of the labour left will be no easy task, the process has started.
Watch this space for instalment two (plans for the next 12 months – what we need to do to build on the Momentum)