Left Unity and the Affaire Laurie McCauley.
Is this Working Out?
Left Unity notched up a success last week with its Homes Not Spikes campaign in London,
“The spikes are gone. Tesco buckled under the outcry after it was found to have put in ‘anti-homeless spikes’ outside a central London store, and the company was forced to remove them.”
The Tendance welcomes this result.
Left Unity has many good policies, and, unlike some of the inward looking UK left, resembles the rest of the (stronger) radical European left . These include calling for continental cooperation to ‘refound’ the EU on a social basis, backing for far-reaching democracy, feminism, and a ‘radical reformist’ set of domestic economic and social policies.
Left Unity has some respected and energetic activists and has inspired a wider audience.
These features outweigh the potential damage caused by the influence of one figure on its race policies, which look like a step backwards to 1980s and Left Unity’s confusing adaption to ‘intersectionality’.
While rightly opposing the deep-seated hostility to migrants and minorities, it treats “communities” as blocs. Indeed it falls victim to its own attack on hostility to “the representation of Muslims as a monolithic bloc” by defending ‘Muslims’ ….en bloc!
It is right to give priority to the racism of the government and parties like UKIP.
But without a strategy to build unity against the oppression that religious ‘communities’ can create Left Unity risks isolating itself from activists fighting for their own emancipation from “community leaders”. This misguided approach can be seen when Left Unity ‘defends’ community leaderships, distant from the left and the labour movement, in the Birmingham academies. The failure to see groups like Islamists as part of an international extreme right-wing movement, further weakens Left Unity’s politics
But I digress.
One area seems to have created rising tension is linked to the ‘safe spaces‘ policy.
The key contentious points include guidelines :
To behave decently toward each other and try to consider other people’s needs (as would be normal in a well unionised workplace).
Venom should be reserved as far as possible for those who would destroy our organisation and our political actions .
Tolerance of other habits and norms will be expected – for example, The Youth and elders might make more noise!
We will not ignore examples of oppression or of transgressions in matters of safe spaces, or situations where transgressions occur.
Discrimination of any kind is unacceptable and will be challenged.
Respect should be offered to each other’s physical (and emotional) boundaries.
Members are asked to try to be aware of the positions and privileges they may be conveying, including racial, class and gender privilege. Be aware of the language you use in discussion and how you relate to others
If a member of an oppressed group requests that you change your use of language, be respectful and change your use of language. Do feel free to ask for clarification on this.
There follows a section of Bullying.
The way out of any dispute is said to be through Resolution procedures” operated by “Reconciliation teams.”
These are real problems, shouting, screaming, bullying and harassment, are endemic in political parties of any stripe.
But will these guidelines help solve them?
Anybody with any political experience, or at least most of them, can see the potential for destructive disputes that could come from this policy. Choices of “language”, a call to be aware of “privilege”, “emotional boundaries” “tolerance ” of other people’s habits – all are open to exactly the kind of emotional manipulation (not to say intolerance) that they claim to “protect” people from.
Mike Macanir has unpicked this policy to death. He observes that, “the proposed method of addressing these issues of oppression – by mixing them up with party disciplinary/disputes procedures – has been tried and failed, over and over again, and not merely failed, but proved positively destructive.” “The method of ultimatums backed by prominently displayed anger – “speaking bitterness” – is clearly visible in comrade Dowling’s contribution and those of her supporters. It is inherent in tying together the equalities policy with the disputes/disciplinary procedure in the draft ‘safe spaces’ policy. It was unsuccessful and destructive in the movements of the oppressed in the 1970s-80s and it will be unsuccessful and destructive if we try it again in Left Unity”
Cde Macnair’s detailed argument against rules which encourage people to “speak bitterness” can be seen here.
The Affaire Laurie McCauley.
Now with the Affaire Laurie McCauley some people’s boundaries are being sorely tested.
According to the latest Weekly Worker Left Unity “have suspended Laurie McCauley from membership for having the temerity to write a “public article” in the Weekly Worker.1 Specifically his ‘crime’ was to include “personal attacks”, “breaches of members’ privacy”, “unreasonable attacks on our branch” – and other such outrages against socialist morality. Frankly, the comrades responsible for this move should hang their heads in shame.
Is it a straightforward matter of free-speech?
For those willing to go into the “Affaire Laurie McCauley” this is the offending article, Left Unity: What ‘Safe Spaces’ lead to. (22nd May).
I approach this short report with a certain amount of trepidation. Not because of concerns about ‘exposing’ Left Unity’s right wing here in Manchester, but because the levels of dishonesty and sheer lack of vision on show are simply embarrassing. Nevertheless it is important, as a service to the movement – and in the hope of rescuing the branch – that recent goings-on, culminating in the shutting down of the branch’s email discussion list and attempted censure of one member for comments thereon, are documented.
Left Unity was supposed to be different. A pluralist party, we were told, which could accommodate varied views within its ranks. The mistakes of the ‘old left’, of enforcing a false ideological unity that only led to splits, would be avoided. Openness and transparency were to be the order of the day.
Regular readers will know how quickly this has fallen apart in LU’s Manchester branch, where the email discussion list was shut down amidst the unedifying spectacle of one comrade – former deputy leader of Respect Dawud Islam – being demonised for the heinous crime of not coming to a snap judgement on the guilt or innocence of Steve Hedley.1Hedley had been accused of domestic violence by a former partner, but was found to have no case to answer by the RMT union and is not under investigation by the police. Comrade Islam declined to immediately sign an e-petition calling on the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition to withdraw comrade Hedley’s candidacy for the May 22 local elections. He explained, reasonably enough, that he did not know enough about the specific case, and also expressed his view that candidates’ politics are the most important thing.
Comrade McCauley now chronicles the response to this piece (19th June),
This triggered an avalanche of outrage, accusing him of at best not taking violence against women seriously, and at worst of defending those men who perpetrate such violence. Dawud refused to be hounded into signing, however, and restated his position. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was a two-line email from myself suggesting that “innocent until proven guilty” was a pretty progressive principle. This prompted Ian Parker of Socialist Resistance, who had initially posted the petition, to declare the topic “no longer suitable for discussion on this list” – an ad-hoc committee put the list under moderation tout court: all “political” and “personal” postings are blocked, with only banal organisational stuff slipping through the net.
Comrade Parker actually submitted a motion at the next meeting to censure Dawud for his comments – which were not even public statements, existing only on the branch’s internal discussion list – and refer him to LU’s disputes committee. At the most farcical point in this meeting, Ian proposed that comrade Islam actually put his own name to the motion! In the end, comrade Parker backed down after a pseudo-apology from the ‘accused’.
Incidentally, the dispute involving Dawud was resolved shortly after publication. But having the branch’s dirty laundry given a good airing in the pages of the Weekly Worker was clearly too much for comrades Parker and Keenan. Their appetite for cracking the bureaucratic whip was evidently only whetted by Dawud’s dressing down, as on June 8 two motions were circulated on the email list calling for myself to be referred to the disputes committee. The first motion claimed that comrades’ interventions in meetings and on email lists should be treated confidentially – hardly the model of transparency LU is supposedly committed to. The second called for my suspension from the branch, until the disputes committee had reached a decision on the case being brought against me. Both motions were unsigned, as if comrades had taken my description of Dawud’s experience as “Kafkaesque” as an encouragement.
And the case against me? The second motion condemned the “personal attacks” and “reports in public of our internal branch discussions” in my Weekly Worker article. The first point can be usefully translated as ‘criticising what someone actually said’. My report did not focus on a critique of comrades’ hairstyles or fashion sense, or anything else that could be remotely construed as a ‘personal attack’. Rather it was the politics – or lack thereof – that I had targeted. As for the second allegation, I have already made the point about transparency.
The second motion also contained nebulous and entirely unsubstantiated claims of “persistent oppressive conduct towards other members” and “persistent disruption of LU internal meetings”. No examples of this “oppressive conduct” or “disruption” have been given – nor had anyone previously pulled me up for such alleged misdemeanours. Anyone present at the meetings I have attended – or who has more than a passing acquaintance with me frankly – can only find these claims risible. I have volunteered to lead off two branch discussions, with no-one complaining. In fact the one time we had a genuine political newbie along was at one of these meetings, and we later learnt that she had decided to join her London branch of LU following our meeting.
For those still with the will to live after reading this, all we know from Left Unity’s site is that the June NC minutes record , “Report to executive on Leeds dispute, with call for Disputes and Appeals Committees to convene ASAP – Felicity Dowling – Endorsed.”
Not knowing the people involved we are not going to get bogged down in personal rancour.
Or in pub gossip.
One thing looks more than probable.
The charges relate to the Safe Spaces policy, even if apparently the Manchester Branch puts them down to behaviour that would not be accepted in any political party.
It could well be that this is not a free-speech issue, or one dependent on the rules we have discussed.
But for many it seem that this is involved, and is being used to settle scores not to end them.
The resulting row must surely exacerbate personality clashes.
It is not, as one Left Unity theorist might say, an aleatory happenstance.
It’s hard not to hope matters will be clarified, but things do not look promising.
There is already talk about another dispute erupting in Leeds involving Workers Power.
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