Lewes Labour Women have combined practical solidarity with political campaigning and policy discussion in taking on the issue of violence against women.
Six months into lockdown, we asked Labour members in Lewes constituency to donate clothes, toys and other items for our local women’s refuge. We knew that lockdown had made domestic violence more common, leaving an abusive relationship more difficult, and refuges unable to meet demand. Driving round our patch of East Sussex collecting donations also meant talking with members about the need for political campaigning. We had no intention of plugging the funding gap left by Tory cuts without also challenging those cuts!
So we asked members to take part in Women’s Aid’s online campaign against cuts, and passed a resolution at our Lewes Labour Women’s branch meeting setting out the devastating effects of underfunding. The resolution asked for Labour’s manifesto for the then-approaching East Sussex County Council election to include a clear pledge to reverse the Tory council’s 20% cut to its funding of the county’s four women’s refuges made in 2016. The Constituency Labour Party passed the resolution unanimously, but no-one was quite sure what the process was for getting the pledge into the manifesto. Many enquiries and phone calls later, we got a version of it included in an election leaflet. We also submitted the resolution (tweaked to make it relevant nationally) to Labour Women’s Conference, where it was composited with others, passed, and chosen to go forward to Labour Party conference.
Labour does not allow its branches to meet in the two months before an election (for reasons that do not convince me), but we wanted to carry on discussing violence against women, so we set up a discussion group, which met online.
Our local refuge was delighted with the great piles of donations we passed on, and we topped this up with the money raised by selling the rest of the donations at a boot sale.
We will continue to do our best to call clearly for Labour councils to reverse cuts to refuge funding. It is important that concrete acts of resistance like this are not drowned out by appeals to law-and-order from the leadership.