I’ve been thinking about Momentum’s radical motions and from a socialist perspective I have some points to make.
Will this make me popular? No. Should I have done it? Most likely yes.
The first thing to say is that these motions are entirely about policy for a Labour government. The problem with this is it is the same old electoralism and parliamentarianism as Labour has always done.
In the motions presented there is not a single call to action for party members, trade unionists or campaigners. There is nothing that we can do. It is all about getting policy for politicians to enact in government. Now of course we need thart – but without a clear call to action for what we can do between now and the next election then it is just same-as-it-ever-was Labour.
There is also the issue, repeated by others, that these motions came out of the blue – Momentum never said they were looking to do this so they didn’t put a call out for motions, they just issued their ‘radical policies’ and asked us to put them forward. Is it beacuse a lot of the campaigns motions (LARAF, Labour for a Green New Deal and Labour for a four day week) either have organisers working in the Momentum office or are friends with the Momentum organisers. Now very democratic or accountable but then I guess that is par for the course with Momentum.
Now onto the motions…
Labour for a Green New Deal
The LGND operation is very well run and proving to be quite dynamic. A number of CLPs have passed the motion already to go to conference.
My concern with the motion is that it simply isn’t anti capitalist enough; “expanding public, democratic ownership as far as necessary for the transformation” as far as necessary? A democratically planned economy based on workers control needs the vast majority of the economy out of the hands of private profit making interests. Crucially for the kind of massive shift in the economy that will be required to decarbonise within a decade then control of the banking and finance sector as well as expropriation of all the energy companies will be absolutely front and centre.
I also think the debate online about “zero carbon by 2030” or “net-zero carbon by 2030” needs some more thought. I understand that people are weary of ‘net zero’ formulations because it might be used as an excuse for cap and trade style offsetting or Britain buy the ‘right to pollute’ by paying a poorer country to plant some trees – but surely the point is that our country as far as possible should be carbon zero.
I am also not sure that we will be able to have a completely carbon free society by 2030. The technology doesn’t exist yet for completely carbon free economy, though I imagine we will make some great strides forward (we have to). Surely a degree of carbon offsetting is going to be required, so long as the offsetting is environmentally sustainable and not used as an excuse for inaction?
There is also an interesting tension around tackling the structural issues (the 100 most polluting companies) asnd the individual choices that we make every day as consumers. There is a slight tendency on the left to ‘blame capitalism’, but we are all consumers within capitalism, we are part of that system. Walmart is one of the most polluting companies on the planet – why? Because they are making and distributing stuff for people to buy. People are still buying these products, driving polluting cars, going on foreign holidays twice a year. At what point do we have to tackle the actual material aspects of how embedded carbon emissions are in every aspect of our lives?
Four Day week
The motion calls for a reduction in the working week with no loss of pay. It is a very positive campaign to be fighting around for millions of workers. But the motion is missing something – the key thing in socialist demands to reduce the working week is to ensure there is redistribution of the work. The danger is that if the motion is promoted as ‘good for business’ by boosting productivity we have to be very aware of how that is happening. In Marxist economics, capitalists boost profit by either increasing the rate of absolute surplus (the length of the working day/week) or relative surplus value (through increaing the work rate or reducing wages). The key point is to ensure that the companies don’t make workers work harder for four days to give them a longer weekend.
Even if we accept that as a good thing it is also only applicable for some workers, mainly in white collar jobs. Restaurant workers or transport workers won’t be able to boost their productivity in such a way. So the question becomes, will the 4 day week be forced on companies even where it impacts on profits? At the moment it is being sold as good for everyone, bosses and workers. The motions emphasis on productivity (“share the benefits of increased productivity for the many and not the few”) reads very strangely from a socialist perspective.
And there is always the danger of corporatism, an approach of ‘something for the bosses and something for the workers’, but a tripartite approach between government, workers and bosses for the benefit of everyone. Ultimately though it keeps the profit flowing for the capitalists.
Inclusive Ownership Funds for a fairer economy
This is an odd motion in the sense it has already been announced by John McDonnell in September 2018. Are we confirming something our leaders have already agreed? I for one would like a motion to conference asking how come policies just get announced by senior MPs without any input from the membership, in this case until a year later!
There is lots to say about this and no doubt more will be written but as it is unless there is more clear depth to the policy then arguably all it will do is incorporate workers into the profit making functions of capitalist enterprises. It is a corporatist proposal, not a socialist one. Indeed in terms of making workers shareholders and giving them a bigger state in capitalism, this idea was floated more recently by Nick Clegg in 2012, calling for a “John Lewis economy”. (link)
People who back this as a policy are quick to point out that workers getting up to 10% of the shares in a company will make them the largest shareholders in most companies and give them huge control over the direction of the enterprise. Well, we will see. I imagine the other 90% of share holders might have something to say if the workers use their 10% shares to try and boost their wages or reduce their working time (to less than 4 days a week!).
Companies that are already giving their workforce shares include BT, Richer Sounds, Deliveroo (the permanent staff anyway!) privatised Royal Mail, Unilever, Asda and Walmart.
As an article in Personnel Today explained, the benefits of employee shareholders are; “From an employee relations angle, providing share incentives could be a much more effective tie-in to the business than salary and bonuses, while also ensuring that long-term interests become aligned with you as a shareholder. Shares also reward employees for generating sustainable long-term growth in value, as opposed to achieving shorter-term targets.” (link)
I have been told by people in the know that actually the proposal is far more radical than that, in which case I guess I am waiting to see more information but from where it stands at the moment I have to say it isn’t as radical as it sounds.
End immigration detention: restore human dignity and fight prejudice
This motion from LARAF is a classic example of looking good on paper but if you dig a little deeper or think that it leaves out then it is actually quite bad, considering what is at stake on this question.
Clearly the detention system is inhumane and must end. But the detention system is only one part of the entire immigration system and the system of deportations that the British uses to police the borders. Let’s not forget that Labour is still committed as of the 2017 manifesto to increase border guards by another 5,000 – unless we challenge the entire racist immigration system and not just one aspect of it then those border guards would be used, even under a Labour government, to track down ‘illegals’ and put them on planes. Deportation under workers’ control?
The main issue is that the “Conference calls on” part is so vague it could mean anything. A community led response for migrants instead of detention? Ok – what does that mean. Turns out it means expanding a trial that has already been taking place by Detention Action (https://detentionaction.org.uk/community-support-project/). The inspiration is something along the lines of what they are doing in(https://idcoalition.org/alternatives-to-detention-in-sweden/). But Sweden is still a country that is hunting absconded asylum seekers whose claims have failed and arresting and deporting ‘illegal’ immigrants.
In LARAF’s key arguments document they emailed around (some of it which seems to be taken from a Parliamentary report in 2015 they specifically argue against broadening out the motion because they just want to focus on detention as one part of it. They also take a swipe at people campaigning to end the Hostile Environment legislation around No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) which was specifically included as a measure for a future Labour government in the 2017 manifesto. It is a real disgrace that Labour policy was to not just continue NRPF but to extend its provision – “We will replace income thresholds with a prohibition on recourse to public funds.” (link). Since NRPF is intended to starve people out of the country it is particularly horrific to find it in a Labour Party document.
LARAF initially argued in a totally incoherent way that NRPF is actually the name of a campaign to improve access to services (wait, what?) but thankfully they removed that when it was pointed out to them.
Instead they now say “The trials for community-led alternatives which have all allowed those migrants at risk of detention access to public services and funds, have so far been largely successful, proving that alternatives are both cost-effective and implementable.”
So now abolishing NRPF is included as an automatic result of the community led alternatives to detention? The motion doesn’t say that so we will have to assume it will be included in any policies going forward. Fingers crossed.
LARAF also explictly say they only want to focus on detention as it is already hugely unpopular and can help shift the terrain of the debate around immigration. Well maybe, though in the much adord Sweden where apparently these alternatives are so popular anti immigrant views have escalated dramatically in recent years. You can read more about the tightening of rules around immigration and the increase in racist rhetoric here https://www.thelocal.se/20180626/in-depth-the-shifting-sands-of-swedens-immigration-debate.
End the war on Yemen
Good motion and glad someone is talking about it, though the recent court decision to ban weapon sales to Saudi Arabia because they are using them in Yemen means the bulk of the motions raison d’être has already been fulfilled.
(I’m getting bored now so going to rattle through these ones)
Community Wealth Building to create wealth for the many
More Keynesian measures. For a motion on local government frankly I would like to see a fight at conference over full restoration of local government funding at 2010 levels (taking into account inflation). The last Labour manifesto promised to only stop austerity for local government, not reverse it. The Preston model is good for Preston but is not a solution to the near collapse of local government for every municipality.
Public services to transform society
Good but pretty standard Labour stuff. More of an emphasis on how residents and citizens can have a say in public services is good, a bit of an Alternative Economic Strategy vibe. More genuine workers control in the public sector and fewer corporate models of running services (e.g with a big chief executive fat cat at the top) would be great.
Conference Motion on Venezuela
US Imperialism out of South America! I would hope that for a Corbyn led government this would go without saying but I guess good to get it down on paper.
Implement the Good Friday Agreement
I’m baffled by this motion, implement the GFA in full? Which parts haven’t been implemented? Also the GFA was a historic compromise agreed by Blair, shouldn’t we be trying to go further, like supporting a united Ireland for instance?!
Shadow Defence Diversification Agency urgently needed
Not as catchy as “not a penny or a person for the imperialist war machine” but I guess a step in the right direction.