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Financial Appeal

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IS Network and a temporary paid worker - a debate

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A debate
1. Paris T's statement
2. China M, Penny S, Richard S and Rosie W reply
3. Parameters Document
4. Tim N's statement
5. Rosie W's response

#1: Paris T's statement

In recent weeks it's become apparent that the IS Network Steering Committee has given serious thought to the employment of a Network paid employee. I would argue that at this stage the employment of a paid organiser would be a serious mistake, and is a short-term, bureaucratic response to problems which will need much more thoroughgoing political and organisational answers.

What should the role of a paid worker be?

One of the first things that struck me when the question of a paid employee was raised was "What are they actually going to do?". As yet, the Committee has given little indication of what the role of an organiser would be - will this be an administrative role, based in London? A political organiser role, in which the employee travels the country? A national organiser seeking to build the branches? In any of the above instances, I would argue that an employee would be an absolutely unnecessary addition to the Network's structures, and a shameful waste of resources (for the price of a paid employee, we could rent office space in London which would be infinitely more useful). The primary role of the Committee in our early existence should be putting the Network on a structurally sure footing, ensuring local organisation is functioning, and increasing participation in the work of the Network and the Committee. If it is the case that there is more to do than the Committee is capable of handling, invite members to help with the work, raise these issues at national meetings and in Network News, facilitate a discussion about how best to resolve our organisational problems. Until these steps have been properly taken, I can only see the the move towards a paid organiser as being an overly bureaucratic and substitionist response to relatively standard problems faced by any new organiastion.

The last point on substitionism is particularly important in relation to the Network. The notion of rejecting paid workers or employees on principle should be rejected. Equally, at this early stage comparing our own situation with that of the organisation we've just left, where paid workers dominated the organisation both politically and organisationally, wouldn't be a particularly useful comparison. Equally though, we cannot at this early stage forget every lesson we've learnt from the SWP. If the Network, an organisation of around 200 members, is struggling to maintain its administrative and organisational work, we need to have a serious and honest discussion about why. The substitution of a paid worker or paid organiser for a solid and effective organisational structure organised and maintained by the active membership at this stage in our development is a worrying sign.

How should we reach this decision?

A second point of concern is that it appears that the Committee intend to take this decision independently of the General Meetings, and have the paid worker non-elected and accountable solely to the Steering Committee, not the Network as a whole. This in my opinion would be a less than desirable direction to go in.

Firstly, the decision to have a paid organiser, for an organisation the size of ours, is a serious political step and a substantial financial burden. The idea that this decision can be taken by the Committee without any serious discussion throughout the organisation is a mistake. At the very least, it may go a long way to convincing those of us that are extremely cynical about having a paid worker of the necessity of having one. Either way, the Committee has the responsibility to ensure this discussion takes place. There is no reason this discussion can't be had throughout the organisation, and while I accept that the Committee has the mandate to take decisions between meetings, I also believe it has the responsibility to ensure that sufficient consideration is given by the membership to specific questions that are centrally important to the Network as a whole. To do otherwise is not in the spirit of the Network and is stretching the mandate of the Committee further than many of us would be comfortable with.

Secondly, it should go without question that a paid worker or paid employee should be elected by a General Meeting. The elective principle from the top to the bottom of the organisation is something many of us campaigned for within the SWP - it would seem strange that we should jettison this over the question of the paid worker. Treating paid workers and organisers as mere functionaries of the executive of an organisation played a considerable role in the bureaucratisation of the SWP. A paid worker is a political role, and should be treated as such. They should be politically responsible to the organisation as a whole, but given direction in day-to-day business by the Committee. The idea of a paid worker or employee selected by and responsible to the Committee (and, given the recent minutes, possibly a self-selecting process may be in operation) should be something that we are wary of. Not because we believe the Committee to be malicious bureaucrats, and neither because we accept the organisational original sin myths of the anarchists, but because it is politically sensible to hard-wire cynicism into our structures. The bureaucratisation of the SWP was not a conscious decision made by evil, scheming Stalinist types. It was the result of a long process, which at no stage was properly checked by the membership. We should take these lessons and apply them to our own organisation, instead of relying on "good will" and "trust" (something, incidentally, the SWP was never short of; unfortunately Marxists need to rely on more than good will and trust).

How should this be resolved?

While I personally am opposed to this move, if the Committee feels it is necessary, it needs to provide a recommendation to the organisation, alongside a serious report of its work to date and reasons why a paid employee would be necessary. This discussion needs to be had throughout the organisation, with articles for and against published online if necessary, and it needs to be taken to a General Meeting to ensure the ultimate decision lays with the membership as a whole. The paid organiser themselves if voted for should be elected at that meeting, and ultimately responsible to the Network membership, even if in its day-to-day functions the role should be accountable to the Committee. Only by going through this process can we ensure that a decision is reached which is both in the best interests of the Network and a result which is acceptable to the membership.

#2: China M, Penny S, Richard S, Rosie W reply

The signatories to this piece strongly believe it is in the interest of the IS Network to proceed with this plan. We recognise, though, that there are firm differences of opinion on the question, both on the SC and throughout the network. Paris T has written an article arguing against such a position, while suggesting principles of selection and organisation if we do go ahead. Here, we wish briefly to respond to the concerns he expresses, to make our case for the role.

On 8 June, the second national members' meeting of the IS Network overwhelmingly passed a motion mandating the Steering Committee (SC) to look into the possibility of paying a member to perform certain tasks, and to arrange and proceed with that if the SC voted to go ahead with it.1 The SC has therefore been discussing the possibility of paying a worker on an experimental, short-term temporary basis, for six weeks. A group of four members of the committee (two who were sceptical about this plan, two who were in favour) was tasked to write up a document outlining potential parameters of the role. That document is below. The minutes of the most recent and detailed SC discussion of the issues is here. What is proposed is experimental and necessarily subject to future review and vote by SC and members.

What should the role of a paid worker be?

We recognise, given our bruising history with the bullying, dogmatic and top-down methods of the SWP's apparatus, that the term 'full-timer' is problematic. We instead use the term 'paid worker', and those of us who drafted the 'parameters' document (below) have worked hard to devise protocols that militate against 'full-timerism'. We are acutely aware of the dangers of substitutionism. There is, we maintain, no necessary contradiction between 'a solid and effective' structure of the 'active membership', as Paris puts it, and a dedicated worker. Indeed, we suggest that latter will serve to strengthen the former.

Paris's substantive questions as to what exactly this worker might do are the subject of the 'parameters' document, which answers them in concrete detail. There are complaints from members about inadequate communication, coordination and organisation and this worker will be uniquely placed to address those.

Their tasks would include;

  • organising, collating and constantly updating the membership list;
  • facilitating ongoing substantive communication between members and between members and the SC;
  • acting as a point of contact for members with concerns or suggestions;
  • helping with coordination between campaigns in different locales;
  • staying on top of administrative details such as membership forms and Direct Debit forms;
  • organising the booking of rooms and transport of speakers for meetings; and much else.

Simply insisting that the SC and/or the members should be doing these things disregards people's commitments outside the SC and network, unhelpfully skates over the fact that despite sincere efforts these tasks are not being adequately performed, and is reminiscent of SWP moralism.

We are enthusiastic about this experiment because we believe that a committed worker in the IS Network can improve the effectiveness of the network as a whole. We don't disagree with Paris when he says that "[t]he primary role of the Committee in our early existence should be putting the Network on a structurally sure footing, ensure local organisation is functioning, and increasing participation in the work of the Network and the Committee". Of course there is a debate about how best to do this, and the most judicious use of our limited resources. We firmly believe that a paid worker could help accomplish those tasks.

Paris's suggestions for solving the communicational and organisational deficits in the organisation ("invite members to help with the work, raise these issues at national meetings and in Network News, facilitate a discussion about how best to resolve our organisational problems") we of course support. These have been and will be pursued, if so far not adequately, and with room for improvement. This is not an either/or question.

We contend that given

  1. the political situation in the country
  2. the potential we are faced with, and
  3. the increasingly restive SWP opposition

there is real urgency in these matters, and that exhortations and good will are insufficient to create the necessary organisational rigour we need now so we can intervene effectively. We think a dedicated worker (with a carefully prescribed role) will help.

Paris calls for "a serious and honest discussion" about our struggles with organisation and administration; we wholeheartedly agree. No one doubts or gainsays our impressive successes. Nonetheless, everyone in the IS Network is struggling to juggle lives and work with activism: there are inevitable inadequacies. We run the risk of replicating the more regrettable elements of SWP practice: a cycle of moralism, failure and guilt. Comrade X volunteers to perform necessary Job 1; Comrade X does his/her best, but due to the constraints of life/work/uncertainty/whatever fails to perform Job 1 satisfactorily or even at all; Comrade X feels guilty (and/or resentful); Comrade X is - and others possibly are - chary of volunteering again. Meanwhile Job 1 remains partially or completely undone.

It is precisely as a result of the sorts of discussions that Paris describes that we wish to incorporate a short-term dedicated worker, uniquely positioned to help break that spiral, into our practice.

How should we reach this decision?

Paris is understandably concerned that "the Committee intend to take this decision independently of the General Meetings". This would obviously be completely unacceptable. We would reiterate the fact that at our second National Meeting, a little over one month ago, the SC was overwhelmingly democratically mandated by the members to pursue this course of action. While this need not be the end of the discussion, it is not true that we would be acting independently of the membership if we are to proceed.

Paris is right that the discussion around this must involve the membership, which is why those of us who moved the motion at that meeting laid out our position in as much detail as possible, why the SC meeting minutes we have made public outline the ongoing discussions on this issue, and why this document and the "parameters" document, as well as Paris's, are being put online for members to read and to comment on.

The SC proposes to vote on whether to proceed with the experiment. Given some of the objections and concerns raised, the SC also intends to vote on whether it should in fact take up the clear democratic mandates granted it by the membership five weeks ago, to thrash out the parameters of this paid role, and to proceed with the process of selection (see last minutes). We believe it would be patronising to the members to ignore the democratic mandate they granted the SC by repeating the same question on which they were so recently so clear, as if to ask whether they were quite sure if they had meant to vote that way. Currently, therefore, the authors of this document intend to vote yes to all these questions. Nonetheless, as we have no desire to set ourselves against the will of members, we will consider how to proceed based on feedback over coming days. We therefore urgently request your opinions on this question, before the SC meeting on 27 July.

Paris suggests that it "should go without question" that any worker be elected by a General Meeting. The IS Network membership, as represented in its second national meeting, disagreed, and mandated the SC to proceed with employing someone, if the decision to pursue the experiment was taken.1 In addition, as the "parameters" document attempts to make clear, this is conceived of precisely as a politically limited support role, always answerable directly to the membership and the democratically elected SC. This is not a full-time position, nor a political appointment. This is an administrative role. In approaching it like this, we are deliberately breaking with the SWP's cliquish conception of a paid bureaucracy with political authority. Were such a role to be elected, it would be invested with far more political and bureaucratic authority than it ought to have, as in the SWP, if not (backed by a kind of mandate) worse.

It would be extremely difficult, for example, to release and replace an administrative employee who was not fulfilling the role, if that person had been voted in by a national members' meeting. If this sounds harsh, the point is to underscore that this is conceived of as a junior, non-authoritative role. If selected according to rigorous applications by the SC as mandated, it puts the question of political accountability where it should be: squarely on the SC itself, rather than on the individual worker. It reduces the worker's political and bureaucratic authority. It makes it less likely that the best-known comrade be chosen over someone less well known but more suited to the role. And we have always been open in our opinion not only that time is of the essence, and that the longer the delay before this is tried, the harder will be the jobs that need doing.

We fear that a failure to pursue this, albeit for entirely understandable and honourable reasons, could contribute to a cycle of aspiration and burnout none of us want to see. We stress once again that the proposed role is an experiment, to last six weeks. When that time is up, we can ruthlessly take stock. Then, if the IS Network has not visibly gained from paying for dedicated work, those of us advocating this course will have to accept that we were wrong. Acknowledging our limited resources, however, we contend that it is well worth pursuing this experiment, and that it could prove utterly invaluable.

Notes

1. According to the minutes, the meeting voted that the steering committee "look into the possibility of employing paid workers" (editor's note)

#3: Parameters Document

Parameters for tasks for Paid Worker Alison L, China M, Tom W, Keith F

Paying a member of the IS Network in the short term to perform a number of tasks is an experiment. Those who support it believe that it will prove invaluable or indispensable, and may not only improve our ability to intervene as a network as a whole, but improve the ability of all individual members to intervene effectively. Others are sceptical. The initial period of employment is a laboratory to test the efficacy of the model. Accordingly, at the end of the agreed period, the committee should commit to examining the results of the experiment, with a view either to declaring it a success, and repeating it (employing the same, or another, member for another fixed period), or declaring it a failure, and returning to an entirely voluntary model of organisation.

A number of specific tasks can be identified that the worker should be tasked to perform, and a reasonable estimate made of how long those tasks might take - but we must acknowledge that unforeseen circumstances may skew those allowed times, possibly even considerably. Given the political nature of the work, it is important that the contracted worker be mandated to use her/his political judgement and initiative in specific situations - this may include changing the nature of tasks previously considered understood, and/or to undertake tasks not foreseen, or some other situation. There must of course be a vigorous and swift feedback mechanism between the worker and the committee (through one particular point person), and the wider network. For the most part, tasks - both initially agreed and arising due to circumstances - will be communicated by the committee, through the point-person to the worker. Where the worker uses her/his initiative, if that initiative is taken to the broad approval of comrades, that can be communicated and the continuing course agreed, but if it is generally deemed that a mistake has been made, the worker can be made aware of that at the earliest opportunity, and tasked to change their activities.

It is worth pointing out that if the IS Network is successful, the work outlined below will increase, not decrease, in amount.

Among the specific work the worker should tasked to undertake are the following, as a matter of urgency.

  • Analysing, collating and distributing membership lists in Excel format, organised by area, by union, perhaps by particular area of political interest/expertise, and by any other criteria deemed necessary. Assume an initial three days, but mindful that growing numbers (we hope) will make this an ongoing task
  • Email follow-ups and 'thank yous' to Direct Debit subscribers (all of whose details should be sent to her/him) (Initially 1 day, then ongoing 1hr/day)
  • Venue bookings for national events (3 days /event. This may sound a long time, but taking time to scout out different venues will save us *large* amounts of money on our events, likely more than we are paying for the worker's time)
  • Overseeing the creation and maintenance of the email lists for various groups within the network. Disseminating joining instructions as appropriate to all members, and new members (4 days initially, 1.5hr/day ongoing after that)
  • Ongoing contact with members, by phone. Some people only feel 'contacted' if they have a face-to-face or phone discussion. It would be the worker's task to subscribe to all the email lists, to keep track of what is going on in them all, to communicate the salient points to others in the network, and to ensure that any decisions or suggestions are disseminated throughout the list, by phone (we cannot assume anyone signed up to a list is actually checking their email carefully). This does not mean calling everyone her/himself, but overseeing a phone tree, and being prepared to make calls as necessary. If there are national meetings or other urgent information, the worker could also oversee the communications on a similar basis. S/he might err on the side of making many calls her/himself in the early days, to have a systematic overview of the state of the IS Network, the better to report back to the committee at the end of her/his period of employment (2hrs/day)
  • Help with the publication. Being available to liaise with printers, check and report costs of materials and distribution, perhaps to check on the status of articles as requested by the editorial board. (2 days, plus 0.5hr/day)
  • Establishing a culture of communication. We must be frank about the fact that we are being systematically criticised for having failed to communicate well with members, or to enable them to communicate well with each other. We can shift that culture - and this will necessarily be damage control for the last couple of months - but as a first step, the worker will be uniquely well placed to have a sense of the overview of the network, by means of a careful campaign of communication. Accordingly, the worker should call *all registered members*, and speak to them for several minutes (as long as necessary), ascertaining - what they do; - what their opinions are; - what union they're in; - what campaigns they're active in; - how they think those campaigns are going; - what help the IS Network might offer in those campaigns, or more generally, politically; - what in general they think the IS Network should be doing; - any other necessary/useful information. This information needs to be reported back to the committee in a systematic fashion, and judgements about how the IS Network proceed gleaned from that report. This will in turn generate more work for the worker (5-8 days, plus a 1/2 day preparing a report to the committee)
  • Generally being available to IS Network members, as necessary and possible. For example, the worker might help with venue bookings for local events, if local members for whatever reason are having difficulty, or booking speakers, etc. *OBVIOUSLY* these tasks should be delegated, but if there are difficulties, the worker helping with this task should also assume a pedagogic role, helping those members improve their organisational skills. Many ex-SWP members are, strangely enough, not used to organising their own meetings and would appreciate some guidance (2 days)
  • Being a point of contact between the membership and the committee. If all members are requested to inform the worker of their local activities (as well, of course, as by emailing the network, etc), who will keep a record of it all, then all information should be available in one place, and the worker can provide an overview of what campaigns are happening when, can advise as regards calendar clashes, etc, and give advice on strengths and weaknesses (2hrs/day)
  • Finally, the worker needs to be available as the point of contact for the various issues we have not thought of. If her/his phone number and email is available to members, anyone seeking advice or input on any aspect of IS Network activity knows to whom to speak. The worker will not provide the answers, but can act as a conduit for the conversation (impossible to gauge)

 

To allow our student and "precariat" members to apply for the position (which would be very hard for a part-time position) we should consider this full-time (37.5 hrs/week) work.

We suggest a six-week experimental agreement on the above basis, with weekly reports-back by the worker to the committee both on their observations about the IS Network, and also how their own position is progressing. At the end of the six weeks, a political and bureaucratic and financial decision can be made as to whether we are going to employ the same or another comrade for another length of time, tbd.

Details

  1. Payment: (Joseph Rowntree Hourly Living Wage) x (37.5 hours per week) x (6 weeks) = £7.45 x 37.5 x 6 = £1676.25.
  2. The "contracting party": For legal/administrative reasons, the employer cannot be "the IS Network". Instead, a member of the SC should volunteer to be the person officially contracting with the worker (see point 3).
  3. The "point of contact": We need one person on the SC to act as the official mandated point of contact between the worker and the committee. For reasons of administrative simplicity, this should be the same person as "the contracting party" above. They are, of course, accountable to the committee at all times for this role.

To be decided (no consensus as yet on the sub-group)

  1. Worker as member of SC? It has been mooted that the worker should be a member of the SC. There are good reasons to make this a requirement - it might increase accountability and a direct relationship between the worker and the committee, for example - but it would also diminish the pool of possible workers. So long as vigorous feedback mechanisms are in place, it may be sensible not to make this a hard requirement. In the case that the worker is a member of the SC, there should still be a single point person also on the SC responsible for feedback and, at least officially, the contracting party.
  2. Discussion of the parameters of the role: It has been mooted that if accepted, this "parameters" document should be shared as a discussion among the membership, for reasons of accountability. Others on the sub-group do not consider that necessary at this stage, citing our pre-existing mandate to hire and exigencies of urgency. If after debate the SC decide that this "parameters" document should be put to the membership, it is very important that we institute (i) an agreed time for discussion, (ii) a rigorous mechanism for deciding democratically what proposals might be added to or subtracted from these parameters, and how, and how decided.
  3. Selection: If it is accepted that we go ahead and contract a paid worker, we need a mechanism for selecting candidates. We need an agreed period during which the job is advertised (say, a week) on the website and/or email list. There then appear to be two (very broad) possibilities: one, that the SC or a mandated group thereon act as a selection panel; two, that the decision is put to the entire membership. There is not consensus on the sub-group about this, and there are difficulties and problems with both options. If option two is chosen, we need to work out a mechanism that allows for meaningful democratic deliberation among all members, without sacrificing urgency or accountability.
  4. Phone bills/travel: We have not yet agreed a mechanism for deciding on reimbursement terms for travel/communication bills for the paid worker, incurred in the course of her/his official activities. (This is more due to running out of time than any controversy on the sub-group!)

#4: Tim N's statement

Paid worker: a question of accountability

“Humanity won't be happy until the last capitalist is hung with the guts of the last bureaucrat.” A Parisian worker

There is a debate amongst the membership of the IS Network over the question of employing a paid worker on behalf of the IS Network. Paris Thompson has already written a document opposing the idea, and four Steering Committee members have written a response. I would like to add my own voice in opposition to the idea, and respond to some of the points made by China, Rosie, Penny and Richard. In my view, the idea of appointing a paid worker is substitutionist at this point, and will actually limit the development of the organisation. Furthermore, the method of appointment as proposed by those in favour of the idea is, in my opinion, undemocratic. Finally, the process, as it is, raises serious questions of the accountability of the Steering Committee.

Substitutionism

The proponents of the idea of appointing a paid worker are seeking to address some genuine problems that we currently have in the IS Network regarding the slow development of branches and the lack of communication between the Steering Committee and the wider membership. The problems, in my opinion, are a result of our inability as yet to develop a proper bottom-up democratic structure in which members of the organisation are direct participants in decision making and activity. Appointing a paid worker at this time will not devolve decision making away from the Steering Committee to the members, but further abstract the organisational tasks of the Network into the hands of one individual. It is argued that a paid worker will help encourage the growth of branches; the fact remains that only the self-activity of the membership can build branches, unless they are just going to be artificial, semi-functioning bodies dependent upon the “centre”. A paid worker would substitute for this self-activity not generate it. The actual organisation of branches being in the hands of their members is a key part of their independence and democratic role. To make this a reality will take patient work, no silver bullet is available. In their document, the proponents argue that they are “acutely aware of the danger of substitutionism”, yet at no point do they propose how we can ward against these dangers, but rather imply that fear of them is simply misplaced. They also dismiss the argument that the role they see the paid worker carrying out could be fulfilled by members of the Steering Committee and the wider membership on a volunteer basis, saying such initiatives “have and will be pursued”. They do not state how such things have been pursued, or how they will be. There have been attempts in this regard, but only limited ones, largely carried out by individual Steering Committee members rather than systematic attempts by the committee as a whole, and we certainly have not exhausted all the possibilities. We have not approached unemployed or student members to help, in exchange for expenses. We have not really attempted to utilise the network of regional contacts which was set up by a former member of the Steering Committee and have instead allowed this valuable resource to lie fallow. In fact, the first solution seems to be to employ a paid worker. 

All of this seems to me to be people trying to find an organisational solution to a political problem. We have not fully developed our politics, or our democratic structures. As a result, naturally, there are organisational and administrative problems. A paid worker is an inadequate shortcut to addressing these fundamentally political issues.

The question of what this role will be remains confused. The proponents argue that it will be an “administrative role”, yet it has been clearly argued that they see this role as central to communication between the Steering Committee and the membership, “coordination between campaigns in different locales”, and building branches. These are organisational roles certainly, but political, not simply administrative. We cannot play down the role this individual will play in order to allay people’s fears, and at the same time argue that the role is essential to the organisation’s political development.

The elective principle

My main concern with this initiative is that it risks overriding a key principle to a democratic organisation  – the elective principle. China, Richard, Penny and Rosie are suggesting that this worker should be appointed by the Steering Committee, with the membership having absolutely no say in who is employed. It is my, and others’, firm opinion that all positions in the IS Network should be elected. In their document, the proponents state that they will be “answerable directly to the membership and the democratically elected SC”. Answerable to the membership how exactly? The membership, if the proponents get their way, will have no say in who is appointed, or what the parameters of the role will be, nor will they have a mechanism to remove them. Without democracy, any “accountability” will be a sham. If we want somebody to be truly “answerable” to the membership they should at least be subject to basic democratic discipline. The worker will be appointed by, and in reality therefore only answerable to, the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee, elected or not, is not the membership. This issue is more of a concern considering the fact that one of the members of the Steering Committee, and a proponent of the initiative, Rosie W, has already expressed an interest in being employed in this role. Will she be answerable to her democratically elected self? Will she vote to remove herself if she is ineffective, or no longer needed? Bollocks will she.

The arguments against elections for this role are confused. It is asserted that electing an individual will invest them with potential authority. Well, yes, it will, but ensuring someone is in no way accountable to the membership does not necessarily mean that they have no authority. Exactly the opposite. Democracy should be in place to ensure that those with authority are recognised as being so and are accountable for it. If elections mean that this person will have a mandate which will enable them to better fulfil their role then so much the better. What the proponents are really getting at is that direct elections will ensure that this person may be invested with authority which means that they have a degree of independence from the Steering Committee (the horror!). This argument makes more sense when considered alongside the assertion that this role will be purely administrative, but this assertion is an evasion. No organisational role in a revolutionary organisation is purely administrative – politics permeates everything that we do. My role as secretary of the Steering Committee is “administrative”; to argue that I have no political role would be absurd. To insist that a role is only administrative is to make an argument for an apparatchik – by insisting that those who organise are not fulfilling a political role is to argue that those who organise should have no politics, no say and no opinions other than those of the people who appoint them. In reality such people have all of those things, but by denying their existence they ensure they are not accountable for them. The proponents also gift us with this gem: “It would be difficult to replace someone elected at a national members’ meeting.” No, it would be difficult for the Steering Committee to replace such a person. It would in fact be easier for the membership to remove someone if there were elections. The proponents continue to mistake the Steering Committee for the membership.

Paris’s argument that all positions should be elected by saying that at the last members’ meeting the membership “disagreed”. Really? The argument for elections wasn’t even put. The membership (or forty of them anyway) agreed that the Steering Committee could appoint someone, but let’s not pretend that an alternative position was introduced, argued for, and rejected. It wasn’t.

The process

The process for appointing a paid worker outlined by the proponents is, in my view, at best shoddy and at worst high-handed. If they get their way, in between two members’ meetings the (rather arbitrarily, mostly apolitically elected) Steering Committee will have made a decision to appoint a paid worker, decided what the role will be, and appointed them, all without any further consultation of the membership. This is all justified in the name of “urgency”. Given that they assert that this is purely an administrative role, such urgency is odd. I work in admin, and as yet I have never been needed in an emergency. The “political situation in the country” is cited as a reason why the position is urgently needed. This is ludicrous to the point of being pompous – in a mass strike the appointment of a temporary admin may not be able to wait a month, until then chill your boots. If you are going to make such a statement tell us what about the political situation, and the IS Network’s influence on events, requires this role to be filled immediately, otherwise this is just hot air. The “increasingly restive SWP Opposition” is cited as another reason, but it is not explained now this (completely apolitical of course) role is going to help us relate to this opposition. The problem with the argument that a task is urgent is that it convinces its proponents that there is no time for trivialities like democracy. This is the logic of hyperactivity. 

The proponents argue that they agree with calls for “serious and honest discussion” about organisation, yet they want to move towards appointing a paid worker without the discussion being properly had. They claim that the membership has already agreed to the decision. This is disingenuous. The last members’ meeting agreed that the Steering Committee should look into the practicalities of creating this position, and perhaps filling it, but the issue had not been fully looked into or discussed at that point. Now the discussion has properly started, and the political implications are being considered. The Steering Committee is divided on the matter, and there is vocal opposition to the idea in the membership. A leadership of a small organisation should always be aware that a “mandate” is all in the eyes of the membership. As Dave Renton argues:

“During the recent crisis in the SWP, some comrades showed a tendency to say that democracy means doing whatever the majority calls for… It is sheer activist good sense that a position works, or doesn’t work, according to the decision that is being taken. If you have a group which has a very strong tradition of discussion and debate, with majorities regularly overturned, leadership pulled in and out, and despite shifts in opinion, a group strong enough to survive  – yes, of course, vote on everything and whoever gets 51% will win.” 

Granted, Renton was talking about rape apologism by plebiscite not emergency-ninja-admin-temps, but the point still stands. It is our ambition to build such an organisation, but we haven’t yet. We are four months into our project, our organisation has no clear politics and our democracy is a work in progress. The Steering Committee was largely composed and voted for on an apolitical basis. We therefore need to be realistic about what “mandates” we have and, whenever there is significant disagreement, we cannot fall back on a simple majority vote at one meeting, but, when possible, return again and again to the membership to confirm decisions and seek majorities. We are a small organisation which has formed as a result of a crisis – opinions will change dramatically day to day. We must take that into account. Whether the proponents of a paid worker feel that they have a mandate or not, the fact is that there is disagreement on the question within the Network – take it to the membership and confirm you have this mandate. Let’s have a big argument and a vote, it’s what we’re best at.

#4: Rosie W's response

Paid worker response

Having read Tim N's piece arguing against the creation of a role for a paid worker, I feel compelled to respond on a personal level. The authors of the piece to which Tim has responded intend to address some of his concerns in a response. Here, I wish to make a personal statement. Firstly, I would like to express my deep disappointment that I had to first read Tim's concerns online, rather than in a medium where they could have been addressed productively. I do not think this is a coincidence.

In his article, Tim names me as the steering committee member who has expressed interest in applying for the role. This is absolutely true; the moment this was raised for discussion on the committee, I immediately announced that I was considering applying.

What Tim fails to mention is that having identified myself as someone who would be potentially interested in applying for the role, I subsequently recused myself from the discussion about whether or not we ought to create it, on the grounds that there may be a perceived conflict of interest, which we should eliminate. I voiced absolutely no disagreements with this arrangement, and thus was not present for the initial discussions around the issue. To me, this would seem an odd step to take for someone who was attempting to create a job for themselves.

I would like to reiterate that my absence from the discussion was about a perceived conflict of interest; the steering committee was concerned that it might appear, as Paris puts it, "self-selecting". I am frankly affronted that Tim goes a whole step further and seems to suggest that I have an actual conflict of interest, that my motivation for being in support of the creation of the role is based upon my own personal circumstances, rather than political agreement.

It is worth noting that this is the first time Tim, the secretary of the IS Network, with whom I have daily email contact, has voiced his concerns over my supposed conflict of interests to me. Call me naive, but considering that I was not present for the debate, I would have expected that if Tim, or anybody else on the committee who also holds this view, thought that the role should exclude applications from steering committee members, one of them might have raised it with me directly. They have not. This seems to me to indicate not a concern about the potential application of a steering committee member, but instead an attempt to muddy the waters of the argument, and to arouse paranoia in the membership about the motivations of those in favour. I severely hope I am mistaken.

In the interest of this debate continuing with maximum clarity, I feel I have little choice but to publicly rescind my interest in the role. It deeply saddens me that I feel this is necessary; I believe that if I were chosen for such a role I could bring a great deal - including probity - to it, but contrary to Tim's assumptions, my reasons for advocating the creation of the role are purely political, and I cannot see any other way of making this clear.