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Momentum – ‘Educate, Agitate, Organise – For Tory Cuts?!’

May 16, 2016 2 comments

On Thursday the 28th of April, about 50 people packed into a small lecture room for the first open meeting of Southampton Momentum at the local university. Apparently attendance would have been higher if there was not a scheduling conflict with a debate on the EU referendum. I went along with some other new activists from a near-by local borough and it was good to see some other left-wing activists in the party.

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On the top table were Lisa and Rick Fricker, Alan Fraser (a GMB equalities officer), and University of Southampton students Yasmin and Phillipe.

After Lisa had outlined the core aims of Momentum, Rick (who introduced himself as a local shop steward) highlighted the 4 main positions of Jeremy Corbyn that he saw as most important; bringing democracy to the party (e.g. by allowing party conference to make policy), strengthening links to the trade unions (achieved recently with the FBU), winning elections, and bringing ‘socialist’ policies to the manifesto (such as the nationalisation of utilities and a council house building programme). Rick also made the correct point of how significant it is that Corbyn chose to use his first speech to speak at a pro-refugee rally.

At this point there was a quick break for questions. In response to a question about Momentum activists’ relationship with the local Labour Party, the answer was ‘we persuade, not threaten.’ I took this opportunity to say that I thought Momentum should be campaigning for mandatory re-selection and for workers’ MPs on a workers’ wage (something which Dave Nellist and Terry Fields did as Labour MPs until 1992). Although Rick agreed with the demand for mandatory reselection, he said it was something that Momentum would have to make a decision on. Jennie Formby (Unite representative on the Labour Party NEC) spoke from the floor and said she thought the current trigger ballot system was adequate – there was no response to the idea of representatives of the working class receiving the same wage as those that they represent.

There was also a strange moment when nobody on the panel seemed to be able to answer a question about what had been done in order to encourage young people to register to vote. Although Yasmin made a good point about not necessarily patronising young people as they have lots of the same concerns of older people, ‘Democracy SOS’ was the first national campaign of Momentum and I thought that a simple answer about flyering, etc would have helped to answer the question.

Phillipe was next to speak and was keen to put things into an international context. He spoke about 1.2 million people on strike in France against labour reforms and forming assemblies, the ‘Panama Papers’, introduction of negative interest rates, and global inequality. In response to this, he said, governments only have small room to manoeuvre – Francis Hollande tried to tax the rich in France and there was capital flight, ‘the rich can move their money around the world’, there has been a similar situation in Greece and he wondered if a similar situation could be imposed on us in Britain.

Rhetorically he asked, ‘I this due to corruption? Mismanagement? No – it is a structural problem’.
In response to all this we have seen Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, Podemos and the ‘remarkable’ Bernie Sanders campaign in America – Phillipe stressed that the Jeremy Corbyn phenomenon should be seen as part of this ‘anti-austerity wave’ and ended by continuing a theme of the meeting that everyone should join the Labour Party.

Yasmin is a first year student and bemoaned that the current generation is the first to be facing a worse situation than that of their parents, massive tuition fees, no home ownership, privatisation of the remaining public utilities, endless austerity, low paid zero-hours contracts during university and then unemployment and debt afterwards, forced academisation, junior doctors on strike – all whilst we face a housing crisis with many empty buildings ‘irrationality in the system’. Despite this, Yasmin says that the youth are only apathetic in face of establishment politics – pointing to the ULU rent strike and ‘Kent cut the rent’. Students must link with workers by attending picket lines. The Syria vote in parliament shows the ‘disconnect’ with MPs and the party membership and that we must fight for recall of representatives.

From the floor someone spoke of the hypocrisy of the government using the argument of keeping jobs to defend Trident whilst refusing to support steel workers at Tata and an interesting point was also made about how some of the guys manning the subs are facing a 3 grand annual pay cut in real terms and that many of them are thinking of leaving.

I raised the point of the Southampton Councillors Against Cuts group who were suspended from the Labour council group in 2012 for voting against cuts and since left the party and asked if anything had been done to have them readmitted them. They appear to be close to the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition but unlike other TUCS candidates they have both successfully defended their seats (they defended their seats for a second time since this meeting was held and even added a third member to their council group). I went further and said that Momentum should be calling for Labour councils to refuse to implement the Tories’ cuts. Whilst the government would sent a CFO to make his own budget, socialist councillors should try to help spark a generalised anti-cuts movement. I appealed to something which Yasmin had said before, that we want ‘a Labour Party not just in name, but in nature’. It may be a risk to stand against cuts, but is this a bigger risk than implementing them??

The response to this ranged from that we should wait until the general election in 2020 (not the actual words used), to laughing at the ‘rebel’ councillors for printing items about recycling bins in their local literature (because this is not something that Labour councillors do around the country?!) and that a CFO would implement austerity in a worse way.

On the trip home from the meeting someone pointed out to me that a member of the audience asked what Momentum’s position would be towards the EU referendum and that there was no reply.

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