by Nick Wrack
Yesterday there was an informal meeting of members of the Momentum National Committee (NC) in Birmingham, following a call from FBU general secretary Matt Wrack and several other NC members.
It was a meeting to discuss recent events and find a common way forward to help make Momentum a more effective campaigning socialist organisation. It was not to set up a rival NC or to entrench divisions within Momentum. Far from it. No one really wanted to spend a day discussing problems in Momentum when we have so many campaigns to build and so much work inside the Labour Party to carry out. We are all committed to building Momentum and are involved at local level.
All those who attended did so with the best interests of Momentum in mind. We have a unique opportunity to build Momentum as a massive socialist force in the Labour Party, which can turn out to recruit new members and turn in to the Labour Party to effect change from top to bottom. No-one wants this opportunity to be squandered.
The meeting was called to discuss the decisions of the Momentum Steering Committee (SC) on 28 October to cancel a long-scheduled NC meeting which was to take place on 5 November, and to hold the February national Momentum conference on the basis of OMOV (one member, one vote).
These decisions caused a lot of consternation across the country with four regional meetings (London, Eastern, South East and Northern) passing motions of censure on the SC over the weekend of 29/30 October.
On Wednesday 2 November the SC met and unanimously agreed a very good statement that went a long way to acknowledging that things should have been done differently and allowed Momentum members to breathe a sigh of relief.
Eighteen members of the NC and three members of Momentum Youth and Students’ group who had been delegated specifically to this meeting attended. There were apologies from three other NC members. A further thirteen observers were present, from Manchester, Yorkshire, West Midlands, East Midlands and London. Had the SC not issued its 2 November statement other members of the NC would have attended.
The meeting began with a discussion about recent events. Steering Committee members Jill Mountford, Michael Chessum, Jackie Walker and Matt Wrack all commented. There was general agreement that the democracy within Momentum’s leading bodies needed to be dramatically improved, and urgently. The criticism voiced was directed at a small number in the leadership, not at the staff and volunteers who, it was felt, do a great job but are poorly managed and directed.
Room for improvement
We then discussed proposals for how things could be improved. Among the suggestions put forward were:
- The need to restate that the NC is the highest body in Momentum, not the SC.
- A new SC should be elected at the next NC (which is on 3 December).
- The main officers of the SC should be elected by the NC, rather than by the SC.
- Local groups should be the basis of Momentum.
- Every member should be encouraged by the national office to join a local group.
- The national office should assist in setting up new local branches where they do not currently exist (the recent mapping exercise carried out by the office to see where the members live shows that 33% of members are not in a local group).
- We need to complete the mapping exercise.
- It should be made easier to establish a local group. There are too many hurdles to jump over before a group can be ‘verified’.
- There should be a page on the national website to set out the various proposals about structures.
- We should have a conference based on local group delegates.
- There should be clearer ‘routes of communication’ between the office and the members.
- We need to take a serious look at the Momentum companies’ structures and consider ways to democratise them. There was a concern about who controls the data about members and supporters.
- There should be a Momentum Rule Book.
- We need clear lines of accountability. Who is responsible for what?
- The role of the staff and volunteers should be better defined, with the elected leadership responsible for decisions taken and directing the staff on the basis of decisions taken by the SC and NC.
- The SC and NC must produce and circulate minutes. There should be an identified member of staff responsible for administering the running of the SC. Every decision should have identified the person who will implement the agreed action.
- Decisions about money and resources have to be taken democratically by the relevant officer/committee and those responsible must be accountable.
Structures: what sort of democracy?
Lastly we discussed the issues of OMOV and delegated democracy for the conference. There was a range of views. No one argued for a complete OMOV system. It seemed that most were in favour of a delegate based conference but quite a few argued for a mixed delegate/OMOV system. However, it is difficult to assess the merits of OMOV or of a mixed system without them being set out in black and white. We urgently need proponents of the varying systems to write them down for consideration.
I am strongly in favour of a delegate based conference, for the reasons set out in my article, but I am still open to persuasion. I argued, however, that those of us who want a delegate conference and a Momentum based on local groups cannot just insist that our proposals are right. We need to persuade patiently by careful argument and example.
In my opinion we need a constitution, structures and a conference that put primacy on creating activists who will turn out to campaign on issues affecting the working class as well as working to create a bigger, stronger and more effective socialist Labour party. That means going to ward and constituency meetings.
The meeting was a positive contribution to the building of a democratic and socialist Momentum and I hope that some of the ideas raised will feed into the NC on 3 December and the national conference in February.
The meeting raised £109 to assist three people with their travel costs.
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