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To defend the left, Momentum must change

MATTHEW HOLINSHEAD explains the rationale behind the new campaign started up for the Momentum NCG elections

THE Starmer leadership’s threat to extinguish Momentum and Socialist Campaign Group MPs is a threat to the whole of the left.

If Momentum is too weak and disoriented to defend them, MPs like Zarah Sultana, Richard Burgon and Diane Abbott will be kicked out of the party.

There will be no unapologetic champions of workers’ interests in Parliament, and few figureheads to rally to the cause, as Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell did in the 2010s when opposing austerity, and the likes of Bell Ribeiro-Addy are doing now when it comes to the right to protest. 

As the hopeful tide of strikes and labour militancy rises, and Starmer’s Labour pushes a “pro-business” agenda, the survival of a socialist bloc in Parliament and a mass socialist organisation in the Labour Party is vital. 

Likewise, Momentum’s ability to support social movement struggle in communities is dependent on our survival within Labour.

If Momentum continues its financial and political decline, or is proscribed — if our membership falls apart and with it our finances — then we won’t be able to support anyone.

Unfortunately, far from sounding the alarm and organising to tackle this crisis, Momentum’s leadership have seen no need to change course.

Nor has their campaign for re-election, “Your Momentum.” Their suggestion is that the organisation can continue on as it is: downplaying our weakness in the party, pretending we can do everything at once, and ploughing on straight into the iceberg. 

Something has to change — that’s why we’ve launched Momentum Organisers, to focus our resources on defending the Labour left’s position, and where possible strengthening it.

We have begun to lay out our plans for shifting power to the left within the party, and will do so in more detail in the days ahead.

But no-one should be mistaken: organising to ensure our survival in Labour doesn’t just mean narrow work in the party, but requires working in coalition beyond it. 

The question is not if Momentum relates to trade unions and social movements, but how. 

Momentum does not have limitless resources, but in the past two years it has tried to be everything at once without a clear understanding of its own role in a wider movement. We’ve been a jack of all trades — and master of none. 

Vague promises that Momentum can foster trade union and social movement struggle, then, are meaningless without concrete proposals to back them up.

The few attempts that have been made by Momentum’s leadership, such as the Evictions Resistance campaign, have fallen flat.

This is precisely because they tried to duplicate the work of existing renters’ unions in a confused, top-down national campaign rather than focusing on what Momentum is uniquely placed to offer.

But we can’t just give our critique. Here’s our plan for how Momentum can meaningfully and concretely work with our allies to rebuild a weakened left.

First, we must bring together our forces nationally to defend the left. That means convening Labour left groups, left-led trade unions and Socialist Campaign Group MPs to actively plan for and respond to the leadership’s attacks.

At this point, failing to prepare for the worst is inexcusable. 

Momentum should also work in unity with these groups on joint campaigning priorities, especially in the run-up to conference.

If it is going to win the totemic battles to come, the working class must be organised, and it is getting so — but it must be unshackled from 40 years of restrictive anti-trade union laws.

Supporting strikes and marrying them to a political demand for a (Green) New Deal for Workers is essential, as is pushing demands, for example on energy, to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.

This collaboration should take place both at the level of planning, and of pooling resources, including Momentum’s formidable digital media operation.

But co-ordination across the left will be ineffective if it only comes from the top — it’s vital that we work together at the grassroots too.

So as part of our organising programme, we’d work with Momentum local groups, yes to get members on picket lines in solidarity, but also to to map out their area and the trade union and community struggles taking place — and develop concrete organising objectives together. 

If we’re to help community campaigns win, though, we need to do more than turn up at the picket lines or protests. We need power. 

For that, we want to build on the successes we’ve experienced on the ground as organisers.

A strong Momentum presence in local government has given us a platform from which to build winning long-term local coalitions in working-class communities. 

This has included supporting Acorn in Oxford to win changes to licensing in the private rented sector, working with Unison to deliver a £19 million pay rise for care workers in Salford, and in Haringey stopping the biggest sell-off of public housing assets in British history dead in its tracks.

All this was dependent on the Labour left holding public office, positions from which we could act in solidarity.

It also demonstrates the importance of responding to struggle on the ground.

So in a time of constrained resources, we’d end the imposed, top-down, NGO model of campaigning encapsulated by the Evictions Resistance campaign.

Instead, we’ll concentrate our forces where they matter most. 

On this, we are clear — our strength within Labour is the acorn from which our power grows.

Our ability to support trade union and social movement struggle flows from our bases in the party.

If Momentum carries on with an ill-defined, abstract notion that it can do all things and embody the entire British left, we face permanent defeat.

We’re building a programme to focus and re-energise Momentum so we can once again rise — get involved.

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