Momentum Youth & Students Conference – a step forward for the left

Secretary of the Socialist Network Ed Potts attended the inaugural conference of Momentum Youth and Students on Sunday 5 June. He was elected to the new national committee.

Over two hundred people met in the University of Manchester’s Student Union to found the Youth and Student Section of Momentum this weekend. The day was a success, with the outcome considerably better than might have been expected from a look at the agenda going in.

The organisers did well to book an all-female panel for the opening session, with speeches from Rhea Wolfson (leftwing candidate for Labour’s NEC), Rebecca Long-Bailey (MP for Salford and Eccles), and Caroline Hill (Chair of Young Labour). The opening session was chaired by Hannah McCarthy, outgoing campaigns officer at the University of Manchester Students’ Union, who gave conference an inspiring report of the recent victory for the university’s catering staff in their industrial dispute.

Rhea Wolfson gave the speech with the most perspective offered on the tasks ahead of us, especially transforming the Labour Party. She noted that Momentum is not, and cannot be, the “Jeremy Corbyn fanclub” – this is an important lesson that all of the current leadership’s supporters will have to learn in the coming months.

The conference then split into various workshop sessions. I attended the Trade Union workshop and spoke about the challenges I face working in a heavily-unionised workplace, but where the union is not affiliated to the Labour Party. This seemed to resonate with other members of the audience – I counted members of the NUT, UCU, and NAPO among others.

A basic constitution was agreed. The first two amendments were well-meaning calls for trade union groups to be able to affiliate to the new organisation, and for committee meetings to be broadcast online. Both of these were withdrawn without rancour after various practical objections were raised.

The third proposed amendment could only be described as a wrecking attempt, which would have hobbled any democracy or accountability within the organisation. Its proposal for a measly two representatives (rather than a full committee) would more or less have caused the organisation to be stillborn. Fortunately, it was withdrawn in the face of some considerable disquiet.

The constitution which was endorsed (after some wrangling) is a very spartan, functional document. It does not specify any aims and principles separate from those of Momentum itsellf – this was a conscious choice on the part of the drafting committee. Of course, that does not preclude Y&S from passing and implementing its own policy later on. It remains to be seen what friction this may cause between Y&S and the mothership, especially if the political dynamics in the youth section produce a more radical (and/or less palatable) set of conclusions about how to reshape the Labour Party and society in general.

Two activists from the Socialist Party spoke from the floor. It was politely but firmly noted that they were not eligible for membership of Momentum. This led to a slightly fractious atmosphere with hints of hostility – however their subsequent report in their newspaper alleging a “witch-hunt” blows the incident out of all proportion, to say the least. They stand candidates against Corbyn’s Labour Party, and so their claims to “support” him ring rather hollow in the present context.

Over thirty members put themselves forward for the block of 15 directly-elected spaces on the National Committee. The successful candidates come from a range of backgrounds, with political tendencies including the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL), Socialist Appeal, and of course the Socialist Network all represented. Some new committee members are currently school students, which is a welcome development for those of us who experienced the very broad participation in the movement against student fees in 2010. LGBT, BAME and Disabled caucuses also elected their own representatives, and will be joined in due course by two reps for each region.

Marcel Golten and I produced a joint leaflet setting out a basic platform and encouraging people to vote for us. The main planks of this were:

  • socialist policies, i.e. a plan for breaking with capitalism rather than trying to run it more fairly;
  • urgent steps to correct the growing democratic deficit within Momentum;
  • demanding unity around the leftwing policies of the majority, rather than a fake ‘unity’ to appease the right;
  • democratic control over the Labour Party’s selection processes, to ensure that socialists are represented.

The leaflet was distributed and seemed well-received. It also achieved some notoriety both during and after the conference on Twitter, with Ian Austin MP brandishing it as proof that Momentum was demanding deselection of rightwing MPs.

On the whole it was a very successful day. I look forward to fighting alongside comrades old and new for socialism.

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