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From The Socialist newspaper, 18 November 2015

Report: 'Labour Young Socialists'

How can young people organise to support Jeremy Corbyn?

Young Jeremy Corbyn supporters, photo by Paul Mattsson

Young Jeremy Corbyn supporters, photo by Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

Young Socialist Party members

The raging civil war within the Labour Party and the Blairite offensive against Jeremy Corbyn formed the backdrop to the 'Labour Young Socialists' rally on 11 November. But the approach of the meeting's organisers - in the main people allied with small group Workers' Liberty - failed to live up to the seriousness of the situation or to offer a way forward.

The meeting was around 100 strong - showing that there is a thirst for political ideas and organisation among young Corbynistas. We had expected to hear from John McDonnell, but he was unable to attend due to other commitments.

Instead, the agenda consisted of an item on the new higher education green paper, a discussion on the witch-hunts and exclusions taking place in Labour and a general conversation on 'what we should do practically'.

Attendees were also informed by the chair that this 'wasn't a decision making meeting' and that therefore nothing could be voted on or agreed. Socialist Party members challenged this and argued that there should, at the very least, be an opportunity for the meeting to vote indicatively on proposals.

Education

The first discussion, introduced by two leading members of the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts, outlined the seriousness of the attacks on education the Tories are preparing.

But they put forward little strategy, either for organising on campus, or for addressing the question of Labour's policies for universities and education generally.

Socialist Students national organiser Claire Laker-Mansfield spoke in this discussion and raised the importance of Jeremy Corbyn's support for free education in him winning the enthusiastic backing of so many young people.

She pointed out the systematic attempt of Labour's right-wing parliamentary party to undermine the policies Jeremy Corbyn won such a huge mandate for.

In light of that, Claire proposed that the meeting take a vote to re-affirm its support for free education as well as its intention to fight against any potential retreat from this pledge.

This was applauded and clearly had support in the meeting. But unfortunately the chairperson refused to allow any vote to take place.

The discussion then moved on to the question of witch-hunts, purges and exclusions. Another small group, Socialist Appeal, had circulated a motion beforehand, calling for the re-instatement of Corbyn's aide Andrew Fisher, who has been victimised by the right on the supposed grounds that he had supported a candidate standing against Labour at the last election.

But Socialist Appeal's statement did not challenge the whole, illegitimate basis of Andrew Fisher's suspension, as well as the expulsions of other Labour left-wingers and anti-cuts councillors. Instead it gave far too much ground to the right, conceding that "no members of the Labour Party should give support to other political parties".

In practice, this argument means that loyalty to the Labour rule book, inherited by Jeremy Corbyn from Tony Blair et al, should come before loyalty to working class people.

Cuts

Socialist Party member Sarah Sachs-Eldridge pointed out that in areas where Labour councillors have taken a stand to defend local jobs and services by voting against cuts, they have been expelled from the Labour group for doing so.

Where these councillors have stood for re-election, they have had to do so either as independents or under the umbrella of another party or organisation, in many cases that of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

Indeed, in the vast majority of areas in last year's elections, backing an anti-austerity candidate necessarily meant supporting someone standing outside of Labour.

What's more, these were among the grounds on which over 50,000 - mainly Corbyn supporters - were excluded from voting in the leadership election in the first place.

Social media statements supporting anti-cuts and TUSC candidates, or even tweets backing community campaigns, were used by the right-wing Labour machine to show people did not share the party's 'aims and values' and thus strip them of their right to vote.

Rather than conceding ground to the Blairites, Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters must instead go on the offensive. They must demand an immediate end to the attacks on socialists and Corbyn backers, and the reinstatement of all those excluded on these grounds, starting with anti-cuts councillors.

Indeed, as Sarah pointed out, to wide applause, it should be pro-austerity, pro-war and anti-working class MPs and councillors who have to worry. Labour members and trade unions should be given the democratic right to re-select them and replace them with genuine class fighters.

Again, the chair refused to allow any voting to take place on the circulated statements or on the issues generally, meaning no decisions could be taken.

Clearly keen to move the discussion on from the more 'difficult' political questions, Michael Chessum, a former president of the University of London Union and an ally of Workers' Liberty, spoke. He argued that there was no need for further political debate and that we should instead move on to a more 'practical conversation about what to do'.

But what should have been the most concrete discussion was actually the most directionless part of the meeting. Members of both Workers' Liberty and Socialist Appeal spoke to generally encourage people to attend Labour party meetings, and make vague suggestions of raising 'left-wing motions'.

But there were no clear ideas as to what these motions should contain. Neither was there suggestion for what Labour Party members should do if, as in many cases, there are no ward meetings held in their area, or where a right-wing local party leadership is attempting to prevent democratic discussion from taking place.

What's more, these contributions completely ignored the fact that many socialists are unable to attend meetings because they have been directly excluded from the party, as we had been discussing earlier.

Lambeth Socialist Party member Laurence Maples described the fact that in his borough, a huge campaign is being organised against devastating cuts to local libraries that are planned by the Labour council, with library workers currently balloting for strike action.

Clearly there should be no question of socialists 'getting behind and supporting' axe-wielding councillors like that. Indeed, Jeremy Corbyn has himself urged Labour councils to stand together against the cuts, which means refusing to implement them on behalf of the Tories.

Urgency

Clearly there is an urgent need for Corbyn supporters, both inside and outside Labour, to be organised to counter the right and take the fight against austerity forward. Students and young people must be a big part of this.

But the format of this Labour Young Socialists meeting was undemocratic. And the meeting showed an unwillingness among its current 'leaders' to address the central questions of how we build the kind of movement necessary to transform Labour into a party that can consistently act in the interests of working class people.

These factors mean that, unless there is a significant change in its direction - as the Socialist Party argues there should be - the 'Labour Young Socialists' is unlikely to play a significant role in this process.

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In The Socialist 18 November 2015:


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