Members over Money

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A new kind of politics and doing politics differently, two slogans we have been using within Left Unity, but as the saying goes: actions speak louder than words. In Left Unity Northampton we put a motion to the NC for allowing free membership to young people and homeless people, this is only just the beginning as we believe we need to radically change how we interact with the wider public. We are attempting to build a party that is for the downtrodden, that is run by the oppressed and we are trying to do that during hard economic times, where the people are suffering untold amounts. Ultimately If your benefit gets sanctioned, do you want the added stress of party contributions? Within this article I am going to explain why the kind of party we need has to change how members contribute if we are going to have long lasting success. The benefits of having a more inclusive membership process is self evident, more people will be open to committing time and energy to the party if they do not have to submit to a monetary commitment right off the bat, people who are weary of politics will be able to dip their toe in the water and membership will inevitable rise.

Austerity Britain, a slogan we hear on a daily basis, while we recognise that there is money available because the rich continue to grow their wealth off the hardships of the poor, the suffering of the people is something however which is very real. Money is tight for us all and as a party we should not be adding to the financial burdens of our members, we should not be putting pressure or in some cases shame on them in the form of monetary obligations. Members are not cash cows to be milked for the expenses of the party, this way of thinking belongs in the 20th century, it is not a new kind of politics. Ultimately the party we want to build will be choc-a-block full of the oppressed masses, why should they give up the limited amount of money they have in order to pay fees for an organisation where they get nothing in return. Do we feed or cloth our members, do we provide them with shelter, electricity, gas? All these things are far more important to someone struggling to get by than paying a membership fee, however these people unable to financially commit still deserve a political voice.

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” is a saying that needs no introduction to the majority of the left, well how about we have: “from each according to his circumstance, to each according to his contribution.” Take Podemos for example, a party which in a short space of time has reached out to hundreds of thousands of people. Podemos has no membership fees at all, it crowdfunds for the money it needs and all receipts are made public. While I am not suggesting this is why they have grew so fast and so quickly, I believe it is however a factor. We are asking people to give us something for nothing, this is in a climate where people don’t have a lot to give, but even worse than that, it is in a climate where politics is a dirty word. We need to break out of this two dimensional way of thinking, where money Is more important than peoples time, dedication and commitment. If we want a party which is inclusive and accessible to the largest amount of people in the country, then we need to value and welcome them with open arms and say your contribution matters much more than the change in your back pocket.

A party however much like an army, marches on its stomach. We need money if we are to have shiny meeting areas, challenge elections and fight it out with the big boys, but money isn’t our only resource and arguably not even our most important, that would be people. Membership fees are not the only way to raise funds, there are an untold amount of ways to raise money and the only limit to how we get revenue is our imagination. We could crowdfund like Podemos, which seems to be working fine for them. We could say to members they can contribute whatever they can in a more voluntary system, or operate off of donations alone, paying as and when able. Branches could be charged an operating fee, instead of the contribution falling on individuals. We could also operate using traditional fundraising methods. Each one of these has pros and cons, and the suggestions are by no means extensive, we could even just tweak our current membership rules to exempt certain groups of people. The more inventive the way we can be inclusive and still operate effectively, the better and the only thing stopping us is the limit of the debate we have.

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Why I’m standing for local government, and why you should too

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Lets not beat around the bush things are bad, we feel disconnected from our political masters in Westminster, we feel let down and betrayed by those that proclaim to represent us, we feel we are losing out, we feel powerless, we feel hopeless but most of all we feel like we cannot make a difference. Our money isn’t going as far as it used to, we are struggling to get by, our communities are being stripped of all their character, our lives are being dictated by how much profit this or that corporation is making, at the end of the day we are that tired and stressed out worrying where we are going to get the money for this bill, or the next. Not a day goes by where we do not hear more lies either coming directly from the mouths of politicians or in the media, as they clutch at straws to justify our suffering, while they get to live in luxury. Well enough is enough, things do not have to be this way, we can make a change, we can make a difference, we can take charge of our communities. What is stopping us?

I love my community, It is the place I grew up, it is where I went to school and it is where my family live. In the twenty years of living here, I have seen things change, not for the better but for the worse. We have lost untold amount of employment opportunities, and we have lost untold amount of services, the bank and the cricket ground were the first to go in my memory and more recently we have seen the stain on our landscapes which have come about on the George and Club sites. At the same time of losing all these, we are getting more houses, the majority of which are not affordable, but homes which are there to profit a small amount of individuals. We need to put the community at the heart of these decisions, are decisions being made to benefit the community or are they being made to benefit self interest? I look at the future of our village and I think unless we do something things are going to get worse, that is why I’m standing, not because I want to, but because I need to, we can all moan about how things are going but unless we actively try to change them, what is the point?

The people are the beating heart of any community, I do not want our community spirit to die out and become a shell of itself, if we work together there is no limit to what we can achieve. I am standing because I want to do a new kind of politics, a politics that puts people at the heart of the decision making process, a politics that builds communities from the bottom up, a politics that is engrained in the community, a politics which is there to help not hinder. That is why if I’m elected I will be doing things very differently to our current representatives, who got in unelected at the last election. Ultimately our democracy only works when power rests with the people, everything being in the public domain, the people should have a say in how and what their representative fight on, they should be approachable and accessible, but most importantly our representatives should inspire us to get involved in politics ourselves. This community is ours and its future is our future, what kind of future do we want to build?

The more people that stand on principal and conviction with a desire to improve and help their communities, the healthier our democracy will be. Participation doesn’t begin or end at the ballot box either, there are untold amount of ways to fight for what we want, and fundamentally that is the only way we will ever change things in our favour, if we fight for them. This change has to come from below because there is not the political will for it at the top, the top 1% have the same combined wealth as the bottom 50%, and the only people that know what is best for the community, is that community it self. By having local representatives who live, breath, eat and sleep in their communities, we can begin to effect change at a local level and in the long term we can transfer that to regional and national platforms. Without an active and engaged local level of participation, we have a democracy that does not function, a top heavy regime which implements things not to improve, but to profit. Ultimately who should decide what is best for us, the people who live here, or the people that don’t?

State of the enslaved

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We look to states steeped in sacrifice
built with the blood of countless millions
we look to them for our security
if you ask me that is utter lunacy

All that they protect is our suffering
while enforcing our inequality
all that they protect is their own interests
remember kids they know best

If I’m free why am i bound in servitude
enslaved to the kings of cash
If I’m free why am i locked in routine
our future is foreseen

Our shouts are seen in the silence
We doth protest too much!
Our shouts are met with violence
In this land of surveillance

Oh Why!

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I didn’t choose this system
Why should I have to suffer?
I didn’t choose my country
Why should I be proud?
I didn’t choose war
Why can’t we live in peace?
I didn’t choose minimum wage
Why should we go without?
I didn’t choose to get sick
Why should I be forced to pay?
I didn’t choose to lose my job
Why should my family starve?
I didn’t choose for summer to end
Why should I have to go cold?
I didn’t choose to lose my house
Why should I live on the streets?
I didn’t choose for my family to die
Why should I be thrown in care?
I didn’t choose to be born
Why is life not fair?

Left Unity: In Principle & In Practice

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Left Unity was and still is a very ambitious initiative which sought to not only unite various strands of the left but to spread the left message to the massive chunk of people not engaging with the left, or politics in general. We have had some degree of success in this regard, bringing in members from ex-Labour, the far left, and general activists. What do we do now to move the project of Left Unity forward, where do we go from here?

As it stands presently Left Unity has members who are involved in other political projects and other political organisations, these people have put their toe into the water but have yet to take the plunge. We should be looking at why, and how we can assimilate not only them, but their organisations within our ranks. This is imperative not only for the success of Left Unity but for the success of the left in general.

The system we have in place now was fine prior to our becoming a party and standing in elections, but the organisation has moved forward, we cannot have such an overlap between groups, not only is it confusing but it leaves Left Unity open to infiltration and a situation could arise where we are left with mud on our face, we can be brought into disrepute. At the moment groups can freely take part in Left Unity, with all the benefits going to their organisation but what do we get in return? Absolutely nothing.

There are various ways how we can remedy this situation, I will list them here before going into more detail, these are:

  • LU can open up talks with organisations and groups to discuss what we can get out of allowing their members to organise within our ranks.
  • We can expand on our internal structure to allow these groups to come within the Left Unity structure and operate officially as extensions of Left Unity, in a similar fashion to tendencies.
  • These groups can become amalgamated into Left Unity ceasing to exist.
  • Becoming a member of Left Unity means members have to renounce membership to previous groups/organisations

As a member of Left Unity and only Left Unity, I feel like our internal democracy can be subverted by outside organisations who can all lump together to impose their organisations will on our organisation. As a member of Left Unity, I have no say, or knowledge of what their organisation gets up to, yet they know everything about us. Even worse than this, as a member I have no say over what organisations can do this, there is no policy in place to ensure this process is two way. At the moment we are giving everything, and getting nothing in return, that is why we could open up talks with the groups involved with Left Unity and work at how they can organise within our party, and how the membership can hold these organisations and their representatives within Left Unity to account. This could range from something as simple as a democratically agreed list of “affiliate organisations” to something much more in depth.

As it stands we have a very rudimentary way to allow groups to form within the party in the form of tendencies, we could expand on this structure so that pre-existing groups can become part of Left Unity, retaining most of their individual identity. This can improve our internal democracy, it means that members of various organisations can be held accountable to the membership of Left Unity, it ensures that we cannot be put into disrepute by groups of people who are part of this group and that organisation. It will also promote lively debate within Left Unity, as various tendencies operate officially within our structure to promote their views, instead of doing this from the outside and from within. We could accommodate them expanding what rights tendencies have, fleshing out how they operate within the party while promoting healthy democratic debate.

Amalgamating the various organisations of those involved would be something similar to what historically happened to the Labour party, and would definitely make the left a lot stronger than it is. At the moment we are like a hundred people all pulling in different directions, if we united under one organisation, we would be one hundred people pulling in the same direction. However Left Unity are still the new kids on the block and how successful we are going to be is still being decided by the jury, one thing is for certain we will be as successful as those committed to Left Unity make us. There is that age old workers maxim, unity is strength and this holds as true today as it did one hundred years ago, the left is in a mess because of its disunity, Left Unity exists to remedy that. Everyone involved must want some form of left unity, or at least recognise the need for it.

Making members renounce political affiliation to other organisations, would cause a lot of work for Left Unity. First and foremost our membership would drop slightly, secondly we would come under attack by these organisations. All of which will distract us from our real concerns, fighting capitalism and helping those feel its effects. However it isn’t all negative, it would ensure that the people left are committed to Left Unity and Left Unity alone, we would be free from internal distractions brought about through various outside influences, and we would all be working towards the improvement and betterment of Left Unity. This would therefore empower the membership who are left to have full control over the organisation, the only problem would be just how many activists we lose and the danger of LU falling into the trap of sectarianism.

What path Left Unity should take, I am not one hundred percent sure, one thing is for certain though this debate needs to be had, and it needs to be resolved sooner rather than later. We are leaving ourselves open to attack from within and while this may not be a massive problem at the moment, as we grow it will become a much bigger possibility. We need people who are taking Left Unity seriously, and are committed to the project wholeheartedly, we need to work at improving our grassroots structure and our democracy, empowering the membership to take Left Unity on the journey they want it to. It is very bizarre that we can have people not involved with Left Unity at all, in a completely separate organisation influencing our policy through having their members in this position, or voting on that motion. In the long run this leaves us as members completely powerless over our own destinies. The first step in finding a resolution to this, is Left Unity having this debate and discussing what kind of party we truly want this to be. We can hold a meeting with all these organisations, get their input, get your input as a member, this is our party, lets ensure it succeeds.