Ruth Cashman, co-secretary of Lambeth Unison and Labour for a Socialist Europe convener, is standing for the Momentum National Coordinating Group after she nominated in the Forward Momentum primaries as part of the Momentum Internationalists slate, but was bureaucratically barred from standing. She sent us this statement.
I’m standing for the Momentum National Coordinating Group as a trade union activist with a wide range of experience in a union branch and local left that have organised numerous struggles, in workplaces and the wider community, around a range of issues – from cuts to management racism to the right to strike. I’m standing to say Momentum needs to become an organising centre for labour movement activists – instead of seeing the trade unions as a support group you relate to through their general secretaries.
More broadly, as a socialist who wants to develop socialist ideas and working-class consciousness and struggles.
We need the largest possible number of democrats and socialists on the NCG – but probably the key importance of the NCG election isn’t winning control of Momentum. That may or may not be possible given the structure. The most important thing is the chance to engage with the Momentum membership, which is smaller than it was but still comprises many thousands of people who want to see a left-wing Labour Party and some form of radical left social change.
We need a discussion about how the left gets its act together for the period ahead, which is going to be very challenging, and what demands and ideas and struggles we need.
That includes very immediate demands, like the ones Safe & Equal is making about isolation pay and sick pay. But a bit further down the line we’re going to face much bigger challenges – there are estimates we’ll see a quarter of all jobs go, and so huge attacks on the terms and conditions of those still in work. Look what British Airways has already announced. We need a vigorous campaign for a four-day week and sharing out he work so that we don’t end up with millions overworked to the brink and beyond and millions unemployed. We need a shorter week for everyone on decent pay – which might also help fend off a deep slump.
The BA job cuts made me think of the crisis around Tata and how the Corbyn leadership failed to make the case for public ownership and link that to creating new, more sustainable industry and jobs. Everyone talks about the Green New Deal but it’s rhetoric if it has no connection to how we actually respond to the crisis and attacks on the working class and how the economy is going to be reshaped.
Our central message should be making the rich pay and taking control of their wealth to reorganise society. Aggressively campaigning for public ownership, including of the banks and finance, is crucial.
The Labour left has been incredibly hesitant even about demands that would have been bog-standard before Corbyn – the most glaring example being repeal of the anti-union laws, which is even more essential in the situation we’re in.
To take an even more immediate example, we express solidarity with protesters in the US, but what do we advocate to challenge the police and the prison system here? Corbyn’s Labour called for more police – Momentum supported this, and much of the left remained silent. We really need to get to grips with that problem.
Similarly in terms of internationalism, there is a minority of the Labour left that has adopted flatly nationalist positions, but a much wider layer that talks about internationalism but in practice tails the nationalists. A majority of the Labour membership has internationalist sympathies, for instance on Brexit and free movement, but the internationalist left has been too weak to develop that into a force. We need to regroup.
Neither Momentum Renewal or those who run Forward Momentum have really got to grips with these political problems. Nor with the need for a genuinely bottom up, lively, grassroots movement, like we had to some extent in the early days of Momentum, but which is perhaps something which some even in Forward Momentum are quite nervous of.
That fear of genuine, uncontrolled democracy also explains why I was banned from the Forward Momentum primaries. Very few people on the left set out wanting to suppress democracy. They set out with good intentions but start to worry about things getting out of hand, about people making what they regard as the wrong decision. It was the same with Jon Lansman in Momentum. People come under pressure, external or in their heads, to start to cut the corners of democracy. That’s also why you get people who know red-baiting and witch-hunting from the Labour right and the Stalinists is wrong, but don’t want to face it down and inevitably start reproducing it themselves.
I’m standing to contribute to radically changing this culture.