A packed Friends Meeting House in Brighton, and an overspill crowd outside, heard from an array of leading MPs and trade union leaders, together with grassroots members and campaigners, at the LRC’s fringe meeting at Labour Party Conference. The atmosphere was hugely positive and confident, reflecting the obvious dominance of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters in the wider Conference Hall.
Our Honorary President and Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, kicked off proceedings, by paying tribute to the work of the LRC in keeping the socialist flame alive in the Labour Party against the prevailing wisdom of the Blair years. The LRC project, he argued, was about recruiting people into Labour to argue and organise for a socialist perspective to mount a fightback to take back our Party. We succeeded in a much shorter time frame than anyone could have predicted!
Now the LRC still has a key role - in training and organising new members to build our influence, making sure that left-wingers have the confidence to stand for public office and ensure selections take place fairly; to take out the ideas in the Manifesto and activating them through engagement in our workplaces and communities; and, by campaigning with workers not yet organised in trade unions, like the new ‘precariat’.
PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka made a passionate call for coordinated action to deliver an above-inflation pay rise for all public sector workers across the board. With the active support of the Labour Party leadership such a move would also inspire private sector workers, young people and others in the community to bring down Theresa May’s government and force an election which would return a radical Labour government.
CWU leader Dave Ward agreed, suggesting that unions shouldn’t wait for the TUC to call a general strike, but should take as much action as they can and work together. BFAWU President Ian Hodson paid tribute to the importance of the historic strike taken by McDonald’s workers demanding a decent living wage, an end to zero hours contracts and the right to join a union. The meeting also heard from Sarah Walker from the English Collective of Prostitutes on the importance of extending legal rights and protections to sex workers.
MPs Laura Pidcock and Chris Williamson gave solidarity to the meeting, and expressed their determination to deliver a socialist Labour government which delivers for working class people. Each has faced a barrage of media hostility, but received huge applause for their stand in openly backing Labour’s transformation into a Party led by the members.
News broke half way through the meeting that panellist Emine Ibrahim had swept to a landslide victory in the National Constitutional Committee elections, along with Anna Dyer on a left wing platform.
Seema Chandwani, elected along with Billy Hayes to the Conference Arrangements Committeee, spoke of the importance of democratising Conference business and Party structures, whilst also praising the work of delegates from Tottenham in moving the condemnation of the transfer of £2bn of public assets, including thousands of council homes, into private hands. NEC member Claudia Webbe also spoke of the progress being made in terms of taking back control of the Party structures.
LRC Chair Matt Wrack reminded us that just months ago MPs were saying that if Corbyn wasn’t removed Labour would go down to certain disaster! “Has a perspective ever been proved so disastrously wrong?” he asked. But whilst it’s good to see MPs now falling into line, we shouldn’t be too quick to forget the disgraceful actions of some in the Party in trying to undermine the democratically elected leadership. It’s right and proper that MPs are held to account and that all Labour’s candidates at the next election should be selected democratically by CLP members. Speaking alongside Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, who had welcomed the packed-to-bursting founding meeting of Jewish Voice for Labour, Matt argued that we should continue to fight unfair expulsions and witchhunts.
The spirit of renewed confidence, unity and sense of purpose has made this one of the best Labour Conferences in decades, and this positive mood was fully reflected in the LRC’s fringe.