Movers of this motion surprised conference by presenting a last-minute composite with the ‘solidarity guide for Left Unity’, which was initially ruled out of order but had been allowed back on the agenda by a conference majority. They have added the three worst points from the solidarity guide (though nobody at conference knew where this is supposed go in the ss policy document). A number of people in the debate are referring in particular to point 3:
1) Organising to rid our society of the scourge of capitalism is difficult and often discouraging work. We encourage our members and supporters to show a positive, patient and co-operative spirit.
2) Members who do not abide by the LU constitution may, following fair and transparent internal LU procedures, face suspension and/or termination of their membership.
3) Members who bring LU into disrepute e.g. by subjecting other LU members or supporters to violence or intimidation or who steal party property, will be subject to suspension and /or termination of their membership. Any police agents, racists, fascists, misogynists, or homophobes discovered in our ranks face automatic termination of their LU membership. We take seriously the security and the protection of LU and all of its members.
The safe spaces document lost to the CP’s proposed “code of conduct”.
Safe Spaces Policy
Proposed by Felicity Dowling, Terry Conway, Anna Fisher, Marianne Cramp-Jukes
Seconded by Liverpool branch, Susan Pashkoff, Merry Cross, Brigitte Lechner, Beverley Keenan
Left Unity Safe Spaces Policy: Promoting a Culture of Inclusion
Left Unity aims to be a safe and vibrant socialist, feminist, anti-racist and environmentalist organisation. Fighting for liberation and against oppression and discrimination is at the heart of all we do and we want to create a culture in which people from all backgrounds can work and organise together towards these common aims. Many different struggles will, we hope, come together in Left Unity to meet the political realities facing people in the age of austerity.
People should be free to speak at and intervene in our meetings. People will come to our meetings angry at injustice and worried by personal circumstances. We want everyone to be welcome, to speak and to be listened to and heeded. We want free and open speech so that we can hear what people are experiencing in their own words and feelings. We do not want to set up a rigid set of rules about personal behaviour or to use these procedures for power plays.
- Resisting oppressive ideas and behaviour
There is no room for violence, bullying, discrimination or oppressive behaviour of any kind in Left Unity. However, we recognise that oppression and violence are built into this society as such that these behaviours may not be conscious and may be unintentional, as well as intentional. We oppose the behaviours and not the person: “Respect the person; challenge their behaviour.” Whilst a person’s behaviour may be problematic, everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.
Left Unity is a collaboration of a wide diversity of people who have signed up to a common project of creating a new political party ‘left of Labour. We have been conditioned by our oppressive society to treat each other unequally, without full awareness of each other’s needs. This sometimes leads to disrespectful behaviour. For example, racism is an issue when black and white people work together; sexism is an issue when men and woman come together in a common endeavour, as is ableism when those with impairments and those without try to work together. Snobbery and discrimination can occur when different sections of working people work together.
The matter is complicated by the fact that we occupy more than one role at a time, and those roles can be contradictory. For example, one person may be the victim of sexism, but that same person may be the perpetrator of racism, or snobbery.
One of the main tasks of our new party is moving our behaviours closer to our principles and beliefs, but this will not happen without ‘struggle’. This involves not only engaging directly in campaigning politically and organisationally against the brutal neoliberal system but also an internal and emotional struggle. We need to support each other in this and to accept that we are at different points on our own personal journeys. We need to have patience with each other, but also to expect and demand that we engage with this struggle.
Left Unity works for a society built to develop human communities based on the common good and for individual fulfilment in that common good.
The media and education systems denigrate and dismiss the talents of working class people. It is our responsibility to reflect the power of working people and their communities, and to develop a vehicle for working people’s struggles.
The great evils of racism, xenophobia, sexism, gender-based violence, ableism, homophobia, Transphobia, prejudice, hate crime, poverty and the profound and structural discrimination against working class communities are inherent and foundational to capitalist society and are increasing with its crisis.
2.1 Disabled people
Disabled people have borne the brunt of the horrifying attacks from neo-liberal governments. The oppression of, discrimination against, and neglect of the interests of, disabled people have always been a feature of capitalism but this has intensified to a terrible level under austerity policies. Far too many lives have been ruined and there have been too many resultant deaths and suicides. We understand the need to be led by disabled people in efforts to erode all barriers to equal participation in party life and society, whether people have physical or sensory impairments, learning difficulties, or mental distress.
2.2 People with caring responsibilities
Discrimination against those with caring responsibilities is long standing but made much worse by this government where 75% of cuts hit single parent families. Many disabled people are losing benefits and the loss of DLA/PIP causes the loss of carers’ allowance, which can plunge the whole family into poverty. Left Unity actively seeks to involve those with caring responsibilities and to learn from them about how to best facilitate their participation in Left Unity activities and the development of the party at all levels. Being in the role of carer makes it hard to participate in activities that others take for granted. Carers are often isolated, which can cause health problems. Left Unity campaigns for universal respect and recognition for carers and a wage that meets the needs of all genuine cases. Carers can have particular difficulties in organising, attending meetings and accessing resources for campaigning.
2.3 Violence against Women
Two men each week kill their partners or ex-partners (http://www.womensaid.org.uk/domestic_violence_topic.asp?section=0001000
100220036§ionTitle=Statistics) and many more sexually, physically, psychologically and emotionally abuse women and girls. 100,000 named women are, by police records, at risk from named partners or ex-partners. Men and boys are also abused. This patriarchal violence damages our community solidarity, here and all over the world. The scale of violence against women is qualitatively and significantly different from that towards men. This is the world in which we operate.
Capitalism requires that our community solidarity is shattered so the wealth of the communities can be diverted to the market. The virus of misogyny and sexual violence affects all sections of society and our movement is not immune to it. Left Unity is implacable in its opposition to sexual violence and victim blaming.
Women are vital to our movement and by vehemently proclaiming our stance on this we will keep women safer and effect real education on this matter. When necessary we will take physical steps to ensure the safety of women as happened during the Egyptian revolution.
The poverty and sexual abuse inflicted on children are real and present issues. Power structures have supported and extended this abuse – scandal has followed scandal. Moreover, damage to children is built into the current benefits and low wage system, so that many of our children go hungry.
As a party, we aim to defeat these great social ills. We will stand firmly against any government policies that make life worse for children and we will consider children’s needs in all we do.
Left Unity is a secular party. People holding religious beliefs and those without religious beliefs are welcome. No one should attempt to proselytise while engaged in Left Unity activity. We will avoid organising major Left Unity events to coincide with significant religious festivals.
2.6 LGBTQ oppression
The oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people, like the oppression of any other minority group, is real, not a ‘middle class’ or ‘petit bourgeois’ deviation. LGBTQ people are often discriminated against in the provision of services and historically they have been excluded from work and paid less than their straight colleagues. One in five has experienced a hate crime in the last three years. Homophobia and transphobia have been used as a means of dividing working people against each other. They are therefore very much working class issues. Homophobia and transphobia, like racism and sexism, are not ‘victimless’ crimes. They have no place within Left Unity and members are expected to share the party’s commitment to LGBTQ rights.
Left Unity recognises that within the capitalist system the law and the criminal justice system are often discriminatory and ineffective in defending the oppressed and some people are at particular risk from law enforcement officers and the system itself.
Good intentions alone cannot outweigh the force of oppression and discrimination in the society within which we operate. Institutions from the Catholic Church to left political parties have perpetuated or excused abuse and have exacerbated this by operating outside of the legal system. When transgressions occur that are within the reach and scope of the criminal justice system, such issues may be referred to the legal system unless the victim decides otherwise.
- Meeting places and procedures
Wherever possible we will:
- a) Hold meetings in accessible venues and cater for the access needs of members and supporters.
- b) Hold meetings at times that recognise members caring responsibilities.
- c) Use IT (streaming, Skype, etc) to facilitate the participation of those unable to attend.
- d) Provide childcare or assistance with child-minding fees.
- e) Provide a supervised quiet room at large events.
- f) Have regular access breaks at all meetings.
- g) Circulate agendas and motions well in advance.
- h) Avoid overcrowded agendas, which tend to inhibit discussions.
Conferences, training events and workshops are alcohol and illicit drug-free. There shall be no consumption of alcohol in the venue during the specified conference, training event or workshop hours.
We aim for meetings to be well chaired so that all the different voices and opinions can be heard, business can be progressed, and everyone is safe. The chair must conduct the meeting in a democratic and inclusive way, ensuring that everyone has the chance to speak. Left Unity will provide training for chairing meetings inclusively.
All members should:
- a) Respect the chair.
- b) Give each person the time and space to speak. Listen and don’t prejudge.
- c) In large groups, use recognised hand signals to indicate you wish to speak. (The chair should clarify these hand signals at the start of each meeting.)
- d) Behave respectfully towards each other and try to consider other people’s needs (as would be normal in a well-unionised workplace).
- e) Be tolerant of different habits and norms – for example, the youth and elders might make more noise!
- f) Accept that sometimes we must agree to disagree.
- g) Reserve venom for those who would destroy our organisation and political actions.
- h) Respect each other’s physical (and emotional) boundaries.
- i) Try to be aware of the positions and privileges you may be conveying, including racial, class and gender privilege. Be aware of the language you use in discussion and how you relate to others.
- j) If a member of an oppressed group requests that you change your use of language, be respectful and change it. Feel free to ask for clarification.
It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that meetings and actions are safe and inclusive, to challenge unacceptable or discriminatory behaviour and language, and to support each other in this. It is easy to trivialise the challenges faced by people in oppressed groups. For example, until you accompany someone in a wheelchair on a journey, you are unlikely to notice all the obstacles and disrespect that they face day after day. Similarly, it is easy for white people to underestimate the challenges faced by people of colour, for men to overlook the challenges faced by women, and for those more fortunate to not understand how difficult it can be for those who have been oppressed to have confidence and to speak up, and so on. Sometimes all it takes is a gentle touch on someone’s sleeve or a shake of the head to indicate that something is unacceptable, although when it needs spelling out, we must do so. We should all strive to accept such challenges without undue defensiveness and to be open to learning from each other and firm in our commitment to grow and create a culture of cooperation, patience and mutual respect.
Left Unity does not tolerate violence, intimidation, stealing or abusive behaviour. Members who indulge in such behaviour may face suspension or expulsion from the party and referral to the police.
- Sexual and Power Relationships
Regulating people’s sexual and personal lives is not the business of the party, unless a member’s position within the party is used to secure inappropriate or abusive relationships. We expect members to keep to rules on sexual conduct that are normal within the well-unionised working environment.
In particular it is unacceptable to use political position, power, resources or pressure to help secure relationships and responsibility must be shown towards young people. Young members will do as they choose, in time honoured fashion, but it is imperative that they are safe in Left Unity.
Bullying can be distinguished from other forms of giving offence because it is part of a repeated or overall pattern and it often involves the abuse of power. This power may reside in position, status or in the imbalance between oppressing and oppressed groups.
Bullying can be physical, emotional or institutional (e.g. demoting someone without good reason), private or public, and can be conveyed obviously or subtly, especially when the bully has extensive knowledge of the victim. It can be inspired or exacerbated by oppressive stereotypes. Technology and social media are sometimes used to bully people and this can be as destructive to the person who is being bullied as any other form.
Bullying can occur within every relationship in which power is unequal. This means we need to examine oppressing/oppressed relationships when complaints are made.
Bullying can cause physical harm – including the physiological changes associated with repeated experience of threat – as well as emotional damage. If bullying is not dealt with quickly and effectively, it can destroy groups.
Whilst bullies have their own problems that may cause their behaviour, this must never be used to excuse or negate the fact of the bullying. Left Unity will not ask the victim to excuse the bully or accept their behaviour.
Whilst offering support to change, we should make sure the bully understands that they must never repeat the behaviour and that if they do, they will be suspended or excluded from Left Unity.
Some of those driven to bully, will seek to blame the victim, or suggest that in fact they themselves were being bullied. In these cases, we must ask:
- a) Where is the evidence?
- b) Who brought the original complaint?
Since evidence is crucial, we encourage anyone who witnesses what they believe to be bullying behaviour within Left Unity, to act on this and report it. The victim needs support from the organisation.
- Online discussions
Our aim is to foster constructive and open conversation in which we can robustly disagree with each other in productive and mutually respectful ways. We aim to moderate comments with a light but firm touch.
Personal abuse or excessively abrasive posting can kill discussion and debate, creating a toxic space where many people are put off from commenting. Sexist, racist, discriminatory, oppressive or inappropriate comments and images may be deleted or edited. Those who are repeat offenders may be removed from participation.
- Conciliation officers (COs)
Each branch should select a branch conciliation officer (BCO) to assist in the local conciliation of disputes and as a contact point for issues and matters of personal safety and the democratic workings of the party. For example, if a disabled person tells the BCO that a meeting place is inaccessible, the BCO is responsible for working with organisers to sort out an alternative venue. The onus is on the organisation and not the individual.
Similarly each regional council and the national council should select a conciliation officer (RCO and NCO, respectively). As with all other positions in Left Unity these positions will be open to job shares.
Left Unity will provide training for conciliation officers in informal dispute resolution and equality issues. Conciliation officers can also seek advice from the various caucuses, provided they make sure that they do not reveal any identifying details of the people concerned. For example, they can contact the LGBTQ caucus if they are uncertain whether remarks are homophobic.
- What to do when things go wrong
What to do when things go wrong varies according to the circumstances. Our aim is for reconciliation whenever possible but we recognise that sometimes this might not be appropriate. We all have a responsibility to raise issues or criticism promptly and not to let issues fester.
Many problems are caused by all that separates us and can be resolved by talking to the person involved and explaining what you feel and why. If you wish, ask a more experienced member or the BCO officer to accompany you. It may be cleared up with a chat, a handshake, an explanation, or, if appropriate, a hug.
If you feel unable to talk to the person face-to-face, or if you have tried that without a successful resolution, ask your BCO to initiate the informal process. Some problems, however, may not be suitable for an informal process – for example, if you feel that you are in physical danger or face serious emotional harm, or perhaps if branch, regional or national officers are involved. You should then approach the BCO with a view to initiating the formal procedure. If the BCO is themselves the subject of your concern, talk to another branch officer or contact the regional conciliation officer (RCO) – or the national conciliation officer (NCO) if a Regional Council is not functioning in your area. If the NCO is the subject of the complaint, contact the National Secretary. Details of the informal and formal processes follow.
If the complaint falls within the remit of the criminal justice system, it should normally be referred to the police, unless you decide otherwise. Ask the CO for advice and support. When COs consider whether a complaint should be referred to the police, the safety and wishes of the complainant must be paramount. For example, complainants of rape and sexual assault often report being deeply traumatised by their experiences at the hands of the criminal justice system. COs handling such cases should seek advice. Left Unity must draw up a list of suitable advisors.
9.1 Informal process
Generally the informal process will consist of the steps set out below. However, there may be occasions where a modified approach is more appropriate – for example, when the other person lives in a different region or you need someone to speak on your behalf. By agreement between yourself and the BCO, the process can be adjusted accordingly.
- a) You may want to prepare a brief written summary of your complaint and make sure you also keep copies of any relevant materials, such as e-mails and other documents.
- b) The BCO will meet with you to discuss your concerns and consider ground rules for the reconciliation meeting. The ground rules should cover the role of any supporters who will be present.
- c) The BCO will then meet with the other person to explain the nature of your concerns and ask for agreement with the ground rules.
- d) The BCO invites the parties to an informal reconciliation meeting. Both parties can, if they wish, bring a supporter to the meeting. The supporters must also agree in advance to the ground rules.
- e) At the meeting give your views respectfully and straight-forwardly. Explain how it has affected you and what you want – for example, an apology and/or a commitment to change. Listen to the other person. Remember that it is the behaviour and not the person that is the problem and that people can and do change.
- f) If you are the subject of the complaint, listen openly and try not to be defensive; understand that we all make mistakes and have blind spots; remember that there is no shame in admitting a mistake, even if it was unwitting at the time. What to you may be a trivial gesture might for the other person be the straw that (together with all the other insults and oppressions they have experienced in their lives) breaks the camel’s back and causes a sense of outrage. Understand that for an apology to be meaningful, we need to acknowledge the harm or distress that we caused, even if that harm or distress was not our intention.
- g) If appropriate, the BCO will draw up an agreement for moving forward and can arrange a follow up meeting after an agreed period to monitor progress.
9.2 Formal process
The formal process must be followed when more serious complaints are made or when the informal process has been attempted but failed.
- a) The CO handling the case will discuss the problem with you. If the CO considers the formal process to be appropriate, he or she will contact the CO at the next level – RCO or NCO. If the NCO is handling the case, he or she will contact the National Secretary. If the two COs (or CO and National Secretary) together agree that the formal process is appropriate, they will refer the matter to the Disputes Committee. In urgent matters, the matter should be with the Disputes Committee within 48 hours. If the two COs do not think the matter warrants referral to the Disputes Committee, you can ask your Regional Council (or the National Council if there is no functioning Regional Council) to refer it to the Disputes Committee.
- b) If you haven’t already done so, prepare (and retain) a brief written summary of your complaint and make sure you also keep copies of any relevant materials, such as e-mails and other documents. If available, contact witnesses to the events that are the subject of a complaint. The CO can provide assistance if necessary.
- c) In very serious cases, the Disputes Committee can recommend temporary suspension of the person or people you are complaining about from the party and branch activities.
- d) Once the matter is with the Disputes Committee, they will contact you and explain the process. If you need help with the process, the CO can assist you. The Disputes Committee can undertake a formal investigation and recommend solutions. If they find that someone has behaved improperly they can recommend sanctions, up to exclusion from the party.
- e) If the Disputes Committee is unable to resolve a dispute to the satisfaction of all parties, the dispute may be submitted to the Appeals Committee for final adjudication of the matter if either one of the parties requests that this should occur.
The roles of the Disputes Committee and Appeals Committee are defined in the constitution which is available on the Left Unity website (leftunity.org).
It is recommended that you do not spread your version of a dispute to other members of your branch or other members, including regional and national officers. Remember that when you communicate on social media, you may be communicating to the whole world.
A complaint made in bad faith or made to gain some political/personal advantage may itself result in a complaint being filed against the original complainant.