All power to the regions!

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The Left Unity project is as ambitious as they come, a work in progress that will never be completed as long as there are those willing to fight for a new kind of politics. Our party is attempting to do away with the outdated and the archaic defunct structures of the past, structures which ultimately have existed to keep power in the hands of a few while at the same time robbing it from the many. In this past year we have come along way, we have had many ups and downs but the relentless assault on the people continues, regardless of what we do and in that vein we shall continue marching on! We can only operate on trial and error, if we wait for the perfect party or the perfect structure or the perfect time, then we will be waiting in vain.

Our greatest strength are the people, it is how we organise on the ground which is key to our success, and this is why it is my belief we should be doing everything possible to empower our existing organisation and expanding our structures to accommodate a bottom up power model. These things do exist in some capacity, but as with all things they can always be improved, as we are attempting to create an atmosphere where a social movement can spring up much in the vein of Greece and Spain we should be doing everything possible to achieve this. Within the article I will discuss how we can empower regions and branches so that we are more accountability and doing politics in a less hierarchical and thus in a more open way.

Here are a list of suggestions

  • One principal speaker per region (elected by that region)
  • Region specific policy making
  • policies which are detrimental to a region or branch can be adapted or in some cases removed from that specific region/branch (regional veto)
  • Disputes handled at regional level, appeal handled at national
  • Regional NC reps being from throughout the region (no branch concentration of power)
  • Remove all form of delegate based conferences and meetings
  • Conference and regional votes should follow direct democracy with region and nation (end to the tyranny of the attendee, party-wide referendums)
  • Branches have further autonomy enshrined in the constitution

Some of these things are a lot easier to implement than others, and arguably some exist in theory or on paper, but have yet to be implemented. It is my belief that Left Unity national should exist as a mediator, facilitator and promoter for regional and branch development, as we work at building a network which forms our national identity. If we are to have any hope of creating a mass movement, it is imperative it comes from below, the top down approach has failed many a time, and it is my concern we are in danger of sliding back into the traditional methods of organisation which have a proven record of failure. Our main aim should be giving the tools to party members and the public to shape our party as they see fit.

We need to bolster and improve regional powers so that there is more accountability, more variety and ultimately more power in the hands of members. We want an environment which promotes participation and interest through having an atmosphere where people, their actions and their beliefs actually matter, where they have an impact. These things have been lacking from mainstream politics and unless we start looking at ways to engage, people will switch off with us too. Hence region specific policy making, regional principal speakers, regional veto and regional disputes as all these measures can act as the fertilizer for a more robust political party and in turn movement. We are trying to reshape society, we cannot do that if we cannot reshape ourselves.

Regional NC Representation at present can be concentrated into one branch, regional reps should be representative of the region and not only a single or a select few branches. This ensures regular communication and co-operation between regional areas but it protects against a single branch representing a region in an unaccountable fashion. We have a pretty autonomous branch structure as it stands, the worrying part however is a lack of branch rights included in the constitution. Just what, how and when can our branch act, what rights do we have in case of disputes? I think how we have it at the moment in terms of branch autonomy is pretty good, but we need to be enshrining it in the constitution and working out how we can ensure branch autonomy is here to stay, how national can support it and where we can improve it.

Delegate conferences are a thing of the past, we should be looking at how Podemos conducted their conference and seek to emulate that. This means internet participation and utilizing all forms of technology available to us, but more than that it means an end to the tyranny of the attendee – why should the pressure be on members to get themselves to this place or that when voting can be done online? We need to be as accessible and as open as possible, this means accommodating people and their busy stress filled lives. Fact is if you’re a single mother living in York it is going to be very difficult for you to attend something taking place in London. All members votes are equal, that single mothers vote is worth just as much as someone who lives there and can attend easily. Our party does not represent its members views if the majority of them cannot vote on our policies.

To conclude the kind of party we should be building is one that is adaptable, varied, representative, accountable to the lowest level and one that empowers all its members. In my opinion the best way to achieve that is to empower structures like the regional assembles and branches so that we can improve the bottom-up model we are trying to build. This should not end there and should include conferences, members from all over the country should be included and we should be looking at ways to be as inclusive as we possibly can. The debate on what kind of party we are building should never end, we should never stop looking at how we can improve what we have and how we can empower people, because our party like the universe is always in motion. When we have groups like Podemos, Occupy and Anon who have radically different approaches for our inspiration, there is just no excuse.

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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.