Liam Cooper looks at the growth and development of the Left Unity branch in Lambeth, south London.
The Lambeth branch of Left Unity has been meeting since March 2013. In the year since we began, it has grown from having meetings of around 5 members to meetings of between 15 and 20, with several new members attending recently. I think there are a variety of factors that have allowed Lambeth not only to maintain and increase its membership but to become an effective actor in local campaigns. I will attempt to outline what I think these factors are, and to indicate areas where our branch can improve, in the hope that this may benefit Left Unity branches elsewhere in the UK.
One factor that has certainly acted in our favour is the involvement from an early stage of activists from local trade union branches and anti-cuts groups (namely Lambeth Unison and Lambeth Save Our Services). Having this influence in the branch has made it a lot easier for us to identify significant centres of struggle in Lambeth than it otherwise may have been.
Another crucial factor that has contributed to our growth is effective branch organisation. We decided at an early stage to move from monthly to fortnightly meetings and this had the effect of making sure that actions suggested in meetings are followed up on, and that members are kept regularly informed of developments in both the national organisation and the local campaigns we are participating in. An agenda is sent out on our email group in advance of each meeting and minutes are taken and distributed to all members afterwards. Generally we have tried to make time for a political discussion in each meeting, in order to prevent them from becoming too administrative. We have also used our meetings to elect delegates to Transitional National Council meetings, rotating this position around the branch as much as possible.
Most of our activity has been oriented towards pre-existing campaigns in Lambeth. We have supported actions taken by Lambeth Housing Activists around the sell-off of cooperative housing and the criminalisation of rough sleeping in the borough, as well as the Save Brixton College campaign against the closure of a local further education college. One area we definitely need to improve is in coordinating our support for these campaigns as a branch: at the moment what tends to happen is one or two members attend on an individual basis and report back. Whilst this is definitely valuable, I think we will need to find a way of making our support more visible in future.
We have held public meetings on issues relevant to the campaigns mentioned above, such as the housing crisis and neoliberal education reform. We also called a protest at the Metropolitan Police consultation meeting in Brixton in early February, part of a series of meetings taking place across the boroughs. Our protest was framed around three key demands: an end to deaths in police custody, an end to police harassment through stop and search, and no water cannon on our streets. We held a planning meeting with representatives from supportive organisations and produced a leaflet containing the demands and details about the demo, which was distributed in advance. Although the protest itself was small, many of those who attended made an effective intervention into the meeting itself, challenging the Deputy Mayor for Policing, Steven Greenhalgh, on issues such as the police monitoring of the Lawrence family and the violent practice of ‘Hard Stops’.
Our plans for the coming year include producing a manifesto for the local elections. Although we doubt that we will have the resources to stand a candidate, we nevertheless are intending to participate in hustings and put demands to the Labour councillors. Another significant area of upcoming local activity is the campaign of workers at the Ritzy cinema in Brixton for a living wage. The workers are now balloting for strike action and several of our members were present at the formation of a strike support committee. There is a possibility that this committee could also play a role in a broader unionisation drive for other retail and service sector workers in Brixton. Left Unity Lambeth will need to be at the forefront of this movement.
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