This weekend, two important events are taking place in Manchester for young members of the labour movement: an extraordinary national conference of Labour Students, and the first democratic conference of Momentum Youth and Students.
The Labour Students extraordinary conference on Saturday 4 June is ostensibly organised to introduce a new voting system of One Member One Vote (OMOV). However, the proposed constitution, presented as “take it or leave it” with no opportunity for parts and amendments, represents a pre-emptive attempt by the Blairite incumbents to shore up their position in the event of a pro-Corbyn surge breaching the ramparts.
OMOV is only the cover. According to a Scottish Labour Young Socialists (SLYS) critique, party staff have only booked the venue for an hour and a half. In this time, a constitution will be discussed which introduces new aims and values to Labour Students, including an obligation to “secure support for Labour Student candidates standing in Students’ Union and National Union of Students Elections”. This is at a time when, according to SLYS, “candidate selection for NUS elections remains unreformed and undemocratic.”
These new aims and values are to be enforced by an Executive Committee with beefed-up powers to suspend members and clubs who don’t comply with its interpretation of the rules. A clear target could be leftists who wish to support candidates in NUS elections who are left-wing Labour members but not “official” Labour Students’ candidates. Or socialists who are deemed insufficiently “democratic socialist.” It is a recipe for the arbitrary and authoritarian exercise of power. The new constitution should be rejected, both on its own merits and in objection to the lack of democratic procedures at this conference.
Any new constitution should be subject to full discussion, and members given the ability to amend it or vote on it in parts. Momentum Youth and Students (MYS) is holding its first democratic event on Sunday 5 June. The conference, which for the first time will ratify a set of structures for the new organisation, democratically elect a committee and decide on MYS’s key campaigning priorities, is a big step forward.
Previously, MYS existed only as a social media vehicle, and was used to put together a slate for the Young Labour national committee elections. It had no grassroots democratic life nor any accountable structures. Some of this was perhaps inevitable given the level of improvisation in establishing new structures for the vibrant Momentum movement. In any case, the conference now provides a great opportunity to move on and consolidate MYS as a functioning democratic organisation, allowing young Momentum members across the country to link up, campaign together and transform both Labour’s youth structures and the party more generally.
One amendment has been submitted to the conference to remove those parts of the constitution establishing a committee and setting out its size and composition. Instead, it proposes that the conference elect only two people, who will be empowered to liaise with the Momentum National Committee. This amendment would in effect scrap the committee, preventing the organisation effectively taking decisions between conferences. It would hugely reduce MYS members’ ability to get involved in the organisation and should be opposed by anyone hoping that the conference will establish a more democratic youth movement for Momentum. Workers’ Liberty will be arguing at Momentum Youth and Students conference for a democratic MYS, and we will be advocating the class-struggle socialist politics we believe necessary to transform the labour movement to fight effectively for a workers’ government and a socialist alternative to capitalism.