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Matt Hale - Brief thoughts on the Left Unity NCG meeting

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Though not without problems, Saturday's National Coordinating Group meeting was generally positive and set in motion the process leading up to the November founding conference.

The NCG began with a welcome from Louise H representing Doncaster Left Unity. For Louise, the failure of Labour politicians to offer an alternative to austerity politics means we must begin the process of building a new left party orientated on and campaigning within anti-cuts campaigns. What form this will take is something only time will tell and a discussion that needs to be had at both the local and national level.

Following Louise, Neil C from S. Yorkshire FBU was invited to briefly speak on the cuts being made to the local fire service. As I was restlessly scrambling through my documents at this point, I missed most of what Neil had to say. I do though trust it was half-decent. Inviting trade unionists along to events is important; equally though there must be a conscious orientation on the working class movement, its official organisations (trade unions) and other organisations that are thrown forward. Because the nature of the meeting not much was said but these are points of discussion that ought be taken back to local LU groups in its campaigning activity.

Before the meeting properly started a vote was requested on the status of observers. It was agreed that while observers would be allowed, they would not have speaking rights. Terry C (Socialist Resistance and directly elected member of the NCG) argued that giving speaking rights to observers would limit the opportunity of delegates to speak.

It was then time to move to the agenda and motions. I won’t bother trying to summarise the whole discussion; that much was said and my notes won’t allow for it unless I misrepresent some comrades’ arguments. However, what was agreed?

1. Resolution from Cambridge LU
“All National Committee members are to be treated as equal and that all national committee meetings should have their agenda circulated in advance and the minutes circulated after the meetings” – Passed.

2. Resolution from Southwark LU
“All minutes and documents from national meetings and committees to be posted on the Left Unity website so that everyone can have access to the articles discussed, amended and passed, and see the discussion made.” – Passed.
-Accepted amendment to extend to working groups.
-Proposal for minutes on website to be password protected fell.
-Proposal to set up a working group to organise NCG meetings passed. This should, hopefully, ensure documents are in future circulated at more notice ensuring local LU groups are able to properly discuss and decide on NCG delegates.

3. Resolution from Hackney LU
“Hackney Left Unity group endorses the proposal for a November founding conference and the setting up of policy commissions to maximise participation. However we are concerned that the timetable as proposed is too tight and that the commissions will need more time to do the serious work required and involve a wider layer of supporters with relevant expertise. We therefore suggest that whilst workshops should be part of the founding conference final policy statements and votes should be deferred to a later (possibly weekend long) delegate-based policy conference.
The founding conference should discuss and vote on a broad policy statement (such as the East London draft), on democratic structure and membership issues, and on issues relating to ongoing anti-austerity campaigns and the 2014 European elections” – Passed.
-Proposal for policy commission to form now passed.
-Proposal for local groups to submit resolutions to founding conference passed. (I wanted to speak on this but wasn’t called in the end because the sheer number of delegates that indicated.)
-Proposal for platforms to organise and put resolutions if 10 supporters can be found passed.
-Proposal to invite unions and anti-cuts campaigns to observe policy commissions will be referred to local groups.
-Proposal to create a social media working group passed.
-Proposal for a draft statement (or action programme) to be voted on at the September meeting fell.
-Proposal to create a constitutional commission passed.
-Chris S (Anti-capitalist Initiative and Manchester LU) noted there was an assumption we would be standing in elections and that rather than concentrating on policy we need make sure we discuss the politics of LU.

4. Proposal for discussion from Islington LU.
“1. Since the Woolwich killing there has been a dangerous upsurge in racism. This includes a rise in racist attacks on Muslims, growing support for the far right English Defence League, and a discernible increase in the low-level racism of name calling and abuse that blights that lives of racially oppressed groups.
2. These recent events are all the more worrying given the longer-term trend towards a rise in racist sentiment and support for far-right and xenophobic parties. The electoral breakthrough of Ukip illustrates how the right can benefit from joblessness by diverting anger into attacks on immigrants and minorities, and away from the real causes of the crisis. It show the need for a new party of the left that actively campaigns against racism. This has to involve more than simply anti-fascist activity and mobilisation, important as this is. In addition to this work, we need to tackle the “received wisdoms” of the new racism about Muslims and migrants that have become socially acceptable. In fighting the BNP and EDL it is therefore important to recognise the mainstream racism of the media and major parties, which provides implicit legitimacy for the violent actions of the far right. Positive arguments against mainstream British are therefore equally important as anti-fascist protests against the EDL and BNP.
3. A new party of the left worthy of the name must go on the offensive against racism in all its forms. Recognising the central role of anti-racist politics to a new political formation on the left, the steering group meeting in Doncaster resolves:
-To establish an open working group of volunteers to bring proposals for anti-racist policies, campaigns, and events to the founding conference.
-To immediately commission the working group to produce a factsheet, ‘RACE AND RELIGION IN BRITAIN TODAY: THE FACTS’, which carefully picks apart the most popular racist arguments.
-To organise a major series of local/national events around Black History Month in autumn 2013.” – Only bullet points voted on, passed.
-Factsheet would not necessarily have to go by the above name.

5. Proposal for discussion from Islington LU
“1. The People’s Assembly against austerity is a major opportunity to raise the profile of Left Unity. Given that it is in London it is particularly important for London groups to engage with it and help promote Left Unity on the day.
2. Islington Left Unity will propose to all the other London organisers that we organise a major public meeting in central London in ten days to two weeks following the assembly that can be advertised on the day. To this end, it will email all of the London organisers and seek to convene an organising meeting.” – Referred to London groups.

The NCG also endorsed:
The proposal to produce a broadsheet for the People’s Assembly.
The proposal that there would be a youth-led session at the November conference.
The proposal to begin talks with the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition regards next EU elections – before not after – the November conference. No decision would be made until November.
The proposal from the Percivale Production Film Project to create a film on LU including interviews and events footage.
The proposal to establish a founding membership to enable supporters to participate at the founding conference. While welcome, I got the impression that for some this was to discourage the Socialist Party and SWP from getting involved. Of course this is in contrast to Sheffield LU as we’ve written to them among others inviting them to get involved.

There was also a recognition that the 10 directly members of the NCG had gone beyond there remit and this created the danger of creating a two-tier NCG. While undoubtedly true it was argued that this was the case because a failure to clarify how NCG meetings would be organised and that most local groups only elected their delegate after being told when the next NCG meeting would be.

A call was also made for NCG delegates to volunteer themselves for the different working groups. I put myself forward to assist local group development believing this must be key if Left Unity is to succeed.

In future I would welcome a firmer meeting chair. Both joint-chairs at times were not necessarily the strongest and often allowed delegates to speak at different lengths. While this needs sorting it's not necessarily a burning issue to focus upon.

I’ve most likely forgotten a thing or two, but all in all the NCG was mostly productive with emphasis on transparency and democracy. It's really welcome that platforms (or factions) will be allowed to organise with democratic rights as opposed to unofficial factions that will crop up and exist anyway. Likewise it's significant that local groups will the right to submit their own resolutions to the founding conference; involving local supporters from the off (as opposed to just submitting amendments to policy commissions) has to be the starting point.

Important now has to be campaigning for the November conference in the localities. That means welcoming formal processes, but also an orientation on the working class movement and debating what kind of party LU should become in November if we’re to ensure we don’t just form LU on the basis of a lowest common denominator.

Onwards and upwards comrades, solidarity.