Safe Spaces draft policy

 

 Felicity Dowling has pulled together this latest draft of the Safe Spaces policy but many others have made proposals and suggestions which have been incorporated

Left Unity wants to develop a safe and vibrant left and socialist organisation. Fighting for liberation and against oppressions and discrimination should be at the heart our organisation.  This policy meets the political realities facing people in the age of enforced austerity. We are there to struggle together

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time.

But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

 

People will come to our meetings angry at injustice and worried by personal circumstances. We want to hear their case in and feelings their own words. We want everyone who comes to our meetings to be welcome, to speak and to be listened to and heeded. We want free and open speech.

if you have come to help

Left Unity understands that oppression and violence are built into our society.

Left Unity is a collaboration of a huge diversity of people who have signed up to a common project of creating a new political party ‘left of Labour.’ This will inevitably bring together people who have been conditioned by the oppressive society to treat each other unequally, without full awareness of the other’s needs and sometimes disrespectfully. For example, racism can be an issue when trying to organise black and white people to work together; sexism an issue when men and woman come together in a common endeavour, and, ablism when those with impairments and those without try and work together. Snobbery and discrimination are real factors when different sections of working people work together.

One of the main tasks of our new party will be moving our behaviours closer to our principles and beliefs, but this will not happen without ‘struggle’. Struggle here means engaging directly in trying to address these issues.

  • Well chaired meetings are essential to democracy and to keeping members safe,
  • Accessible meeting places are essential to the right to take part.

Left Unity commits itself to actively oppose all forms of bullying, discrimination and oppression within its organisation and campaigns. We oppose the  oppressive actions and attitudes and not the person; “Respect the person; challenge their behaviour.” A person’s behaviour may be problematic, but each person deserves respect.

Back ground

The great evils of racism, xenophobia, sexism, gender based violence, disability hate crime, homophobia, Trans phobia and prejudice, profound and structural discrimination against working class communities are inherent and foundational to capitalism in capitalist society and are increasing with its crisis.

Impairments.

Discrimination against and neglect of the interests of people with visible and invisible impairments have been a feature of capitalism but this has intensified to a terrible level by this government’s policies.

Carers

Discrimination against those with caring responsibilities is long standing but made much worse by this government where 75% of cuts hit single parent families.

Violence against Women

Two women a week are killed by their male partners and many more are abused in gender related violence against women and girls.  Men are also affected yet the scale of violence against women is qualitatively and significantly different. That is the world in which we as a party will operate.

Sexual violence is a feature of life in many countries, not least in the UK. Our movement is not immune to it. Left Unity will be implacable in its opposition to sexual violence and victim blaming. Women are vital to our movement and by vehemently and ostensibly proclaiming our stance on this will we 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.

Children

The poverty inflicted on children and the sexual abuses of children are real and present issues. Power structures have supported and extended this abuse.

Damage to children is built in to the current benefits and low wage system, where many of our children go hungry.

We will stand firmly against any policies affecting the internal life of the party or external policies. that make life worse for children.

 Class  denigration

The media and education systems denigrate and dismiss the talents of working class people day in and day out. It is our responsibility to reflect the power working people and their communities, and develop a vehicle for working people’s struggles.

Whilst we cannot be immune to problems inherent in capitalist society, we intend to create an organisation committed to consciously and publicly overcoming these issues within our organisation, as well as in society at large. The inspiration for this Safe Spaces policy comes from different organisations and groups; we thank them for it. Left Unity applies this approach to all our disparate membership.

As a party, as an organisation we aim to defeat these great social ills.

 

 

 Caucuses

We will accept the formation of caucuses of any “liberation” group, for black people, people with impairments, LGBT people and women as well as for young people at whatever level of the organisation such groups want to organise.

We recognise people’s rights to freedom of religion and belief. We would not, however, expect the party to be used for recruiting or proselyting for any religion or belief

Law

We recognise that law in this capitalist system is often discriminatory and ineffective in defending the oppressed, and some people are at particular risk from law enforcement and the Criminal Justice system. However, good intentions alone cannot outweigh the force of oppression and discrimination in the society within which we operate. Institutions ranging from the Catholic Church to left political parties have been seen to perpetuate or excuse abuse by operating outside of the legal system.

We cannot and will not set ourselves up as being above or beyond the law. When transgressions occur that are within the reach and scope of the legal system, such issues may be referred to law unless the victim decides otherwise.

Meetings

Venues

•             We will aim for all meetings to be  in accessible buildings and such access needs as members require will be made available to the very best of our ability.

•             We realise sometimes children will be present at our meetings, and we will aim to provide childcare or assistance with child-minding fees in all meetings.

  • Where possible meetings will be held at times that recognise members caring responsibilities.

 solidarity mother jones

Conduct of meetings

This safe space policy is designed to ensure that meetings take place in a considerate and relevant manner, without participants being undermined for discriminatory reasons.

  • A well chaired meeting is essential to keep everyone safe promote discussion and to progress business… All members are asked to respect the chair and all members chairing meetings are required  to be inclusive and democratic.
  • Give each person the time and space to speak. Listen and don’t prejudge them.
  • In large groups, or for groups using facilitation: use the recognised hand signals to indicate you wish to speak. These hand signals will be clarified at the start of each discussion.
  • Members organising for the party will be expected 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 inflicting real harm on  working class communities or individual working class communities
  • Tolerance of other habits and norms will be expected – for example, The Youth and elders might make more noise!
  • Transgressions will not be ignored. nor situations where transgressions occur.
  • Discrimination of any kind is unacceptable and will be challenged.
  • Respect should be give to  each other’s physical (and emotional) boundaries.
  •  Members are asked to 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
  • If a member who has to fight  a particular oppression in this society, 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.
  • Left Unity endeavours as much as is feasible to ensure that meeting spaces are as accessible as possible to the widest range of people.
  • Where it is possible, there will be a supervised quiet/safe space room available at every event.
  • If there has not been an access break in the previous 90 minutes, or if the atmosphere of a meeting has become counter-productive to reasoned discussion, then an access break of no less than 10 minutes may be taken by everyone.
  • 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 times.

Power structures

  • We recognise that some offences and violence have occurred  within unaccountable  structures of political parties. We will therefore attempt to monitor all power structure developments and ensure effective local and national democracy.

Sex and Power Relationships

  • People’s sex and personal lives are nothing to do with the party, unless position within the party is used to secure inappropriate or abusive relationships. We will expect members to keep to rules on sexual conduct within the  meetings of the  organisation that are normal within the well unionised working environment.
  •  There should be no use of political position, power, resources or political pressure to help secure relationships.
  •  Responsibility to be shown towards the youth. Young members will do as they choose in time honoured fashion however it is particularly important that our youth are safe in Left unity. This document will be referred to a youth caucus for further comment.

Representation in disputes

Once Left Unity is fully established, each new member joining the organisation should be offered a longer serving member as a ‘rep’. The purpose of the ‘rep’ is to ensure that the new member becomes well acquainted with the workings of the organisation and to act as a point of contact on matters of personal safety and the democratic workings of the party.

E.g. ‘if a member tells the ‘rep’ that a meeting place in inaccessible then it’s the reps responsibility to work with organisers to rearrange the venue’, the onus therefore is on the organisation not the individual.

 

 Disputesspeak up for yourself

When a dispute occurs, the aim of the ‘reps’ should be to attempt reconciliation except

•             In matters where it should be referred to the law.

•             Where the offence is very grave within our movement; e.g. associating with known fascists to the extent that the security of activists is compromised. In such matters the presumption of reconciliation will not exist.

•             Where the offence to one member is so great that both being present in a meeting is intolerable.

•             Complaints/Reconciliation should initially be at branch level and informal (a separate document and procedure on conflict resolution will be produced).

•             Formal proceedings should be used if this has not been effective

•             A national safe spaces group will be elected to hear cases that cannot be resolved locally

what to do  if there is a problem

 

 Left Unity will attempt, within the limits of its resources, to keep to  levels of security  and confidentiality of documents normal in a unionised workplace.  Confidential matters will not be the subject of chit chat and papers will be safely stored transported and filed. The papers will not be used for any other purpose. Secret complaints though cannot be accepted; the complaint can be kept within a small number of people agreed by both parties

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

Online discussions

We hope to create a space where we can robustly disagree with each other in productive and mutually respectful ways.

Our aim here is to foster a constructive and open conversation on the left about where we go from here. We aim to moderate comments with a light touch.

Personal abuse or excessively abrasive posting can act to kill discussion and debate, creating a toxic space, where many people will be put off from commenting. Sexist, racist, oppressive comments, or comments otherwise inappropriate within the remit of the safe spaces policy, may be deleted or edited, when necessary. Those who are ‘repeat offenders’ may be removed from participation.

 

 

It’s not the policies or the procedures that keep people safe; it’s implementing the politics behind them, day by day. These safe spaces policies and procedures  though, support us all in doing so.

It is essential action is swift, impartial and seen to be so, recognising the need to support all members.

There has never been a system yet set up that has not been used more against oppressed groups than by them, so supporting both sides through a transparent system is crucial. This procedure will develop over time, as lessons are learned and integrated into the system. 

We must not pretend we can make everything better or provide retribution or revenge. We will though, demonstrate respect, care and concern. Our stated aim is reconciliation

Speedy intervention stops bad practice and bullying developing and becoming systemic; the simpler the intervention the better; one shout of “order” from the floor can stop bad practice in its tracks, with little damage done to all.

How do I enact the policy?

  • You should feel free to speak up for yourself without fear, and to support others in doing so for them. When an incident occurs, an offended member should raise this immediately with the individual or structure concerned. If the individual or structure recognises offence has been given inadvertently, an apology should be given, note taken of the cause of the offence, and the matter closed.
  • If you feel unsafe in one of our meetings conferences or other spaces due to somebody else’s behaviour, you are encouraged to raise the matter as quickly as possible. Seek a resolution. Ask for help if needs be.
  • If you continue to feel unsafe you or a friend should contact a Safer Spaces volunteer on <phone number/e-mail>. The Safer Spaces team will initiate a process to deal with the behaviour. There is no guarantee that we will easily find effective solutions to these problems, but Left Unity is committed to support and promote the safety of members from all kinds of oppression and discrimination.
  •   If you wish your complaint will be kept confidential and discussed within a limited number of people. Secret complaints are not manageable.

Procedures

Complaints not involving violence or sexual abuse will be dealt with through the Conflict Reconciliation procedure, and both/all parties will be encouraged to communicate their concerns in constructive ways – with mediation if required – with a view to restoring the ability to work together effectively in a Space Safe for all concerned. If the issue is more serious, or impacts on more than one individual, the complainant may decide to raise the complaint at Branch level. If so, the following happens;

1.    Offended member complains directly or via Rep. Complaints should normally be made within three months of an incident; however, in case of serial incidents, or violent or sexual abuse, this requirement should be waived.

2.    Written or dictated and agreed accounts requested, with witness accounts within 1 week of complaint being received.  These documents to be treated confidentiality.

3.    Conciliation process starts. (Or the matter is referred to law). 

4.    Conciliators should then be approached and meeting with each person separately with conciliators should be arranged.

5.    The parties must be given a chance “vent” or personally explain their case safely with reps. This is to  demonstrate that the complaint is being taken seriously. Notes should be taken and each person’s summaries agreed with them.

6.    This process should be completed within 2 weeks of being initiated.

7.    Decisions; is it within our remit? If the complaint relates to violence or sexual abuse our advice should be to go to the police, but the decision is the complainants.

8.    Left Unity understands that the law is far from perfect. Involving the law has greater impact on a complainant from one of the oppressed groups If the law is involved Left Unity will continue to support members within its limited resources  through the process.

9.    Reps may also need to be looked after In case of serious violent or sexual abuse particularly, but potentially in any situation.

10.  Reconciliation meetings should take place, within 2 weeks of completion and agreement of accounts of the incident(s). Each party will be supported by their rep., speaking for themselves or through their rep.

11.  Conciliators must make notes and discuss possibilities for reconciliation whilst trying not to re-open wounds. Conciliators send the reports to the two people for comment within 1 week of the meetings with the parties to the complaint.  Conciliators should aim to be impartial

The parties to the complaint will be expected to respond to these proposals for conciliation within 1 week of receiving them.

12.  If accepted by both and no further action required, Report complaint to be closed

13.  A short pro-forma to review the proceedings (not the issues) will be circulated; results sent to national committee.  

14.  Branches to send depersonalised annual reports of all incidents and outcomes to national committee.

15.  If not accepted, the matter moves to resolution. Reconciliation teams to send a report to the branch (or to a special committee of the branch if one has previously been set up). It can’t be set up just to deal with the case. Advice: Such a committee should be set up once the branch has more than 20 activists, the committee will hear first presentations; appeal is to the full branch. (Taking the situation outside the special committee or bringing to open discussion is akin to gossip and must NOT be tolerated. Members of the committee may though consult in confidence and without identifying the situation, branch or persons involved. A record of the consultation must be made)

16.  The reconciliation team report will be considered  or, if they wish, each party to the complaint or their rep, may  make representations (written or verbal) to the branch or the designated committee.

The options open to the committee are

 a)   Support

b)    Not Support

1.    Sanctions against the person complained about are;

•     Warning (to in force for 6 months, an upheld complaint of repetition of the incident within this time period to result in suspension). Warnings shall be in force pending appeal.

•     Suspension (for a period not less than 2 months, not longer than 6 months, an upheld complaint of repetition of the incident within this time period may result in Expulsion). Suspension shall be in effect from the failure of an appeal, if one is made.

•     Another sanction acceptable to both parties

•     Expulsion. Expulsion shall take effect from failure of final appeal.

 

The process will be dealt with as expeditiously as the situation allows and in accordance with agreed time limits..

Anybody who has been named as a perpetrator of violent and serious abuses will also be offered a ‘rep’ They will not enter meetings or post messages while the process is on-going

Your group should elect or agree the appointment of ‘reps’ for this policy. Each member on joining should be given the email of that ‘rep’.

You will be offered confidentiality for all complaints and given the opportunity to nominate trusted members of the  party to mediate for you in any process that follows (though you are also welcome to speak for yourself directly if you prefer).

Complaints involving physical violence, rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment will be dealt with through a survivor-led process, and need not involve any one who the survivor(s) have not nominated as their representative

Appeals

1.    The Appeal process may be initiated by either party to the complaint.

2.    Local Appeal should be normal in the first instance, unless in the case of serious accusations relating to violence or sexual misconduct, when the choice may be made by the person appealing to go straight to a national appeal, or where the dispute was first heard by the branch, and so a national appeal is the person’s only recourse. 

3.    Different people from those who heard the cases initially must hear the appeal. Reports for both sides circulated with the reconciliation report and in the case of national appeals any branch appeal minutes circulated.

4.    Appeal meetings must take place within 1 month of the first hearing. The two parties or their reps have the right make a presentation to the Appeal meeting.

5.    In the case of a national appeal, first to a complaints committee with delegated powers to resolve the dispute. The complaints committee will elected at the first meeting after annual conference The Appeal meeting will vote on whether to uphold the appeal or not.

6.    Final appeal in the case of Expulsion only is to next national conference. Expulsion will take effect from the date of final appeal. Conference will vote on upholding the previous decision or not.

 Appeals committee, in the case of National Appeals, or cases relating to serious violent or sexual misconduct shall be required to report on the political lessons to be learned

At the end of the proceeding only  an agreed minimal record be kept in national records in a closed file.

Review of the process.; A short pro-forma to review the proceedings (not the issues) will be circulated; results sent to national committee.

Commentary

•             We are all victims of society’s conditioning, misinformation and hurts, but we are also good people trying to reach for something better.

•             We need to acknowledge the oppression of human being is endemic in capitalism, and to admit the fact that we will be unawarely acting out these roles towards one another, but we can change.

•             Change happens more easily when the people concerned do not feel blamed or judged as this tends to trigger defensive behaviours instead.

We need to ask the following questions when there has been an incident

•             What identities the people concerned feel they have? (Disabled, woman, working class etc)

•             Who has the more powerful role in relation to the other?

•             What behaviours caused the ‘hurt’ or offence?

•             What made these behaviours unacceptable within the LU group? (e.g. is swearing unacceptable or just a cultural/class difference?)

•             What did the person accused of such behaviours intend by their behaviour?

•             What affect did it have on the victim?

•             What would the complainant like people to know about how their oppression works ?

•             Is there any need to change the way the  Left Unity group is organised to stop these things happening again?

•             What have the people concerned learned from the process?

•             Is there any learning which might be useful for a wider discussion on our policies?”

    24 09 13

 

 

 

 

 


7 comments

7 responses to “Safe Spaces draft policy”

  1. TimP says:

    Without commenting on the detail, I am immensely heartened by [Left Unity]’s Safe Spaces policy. Perhaps acceptance of it should be an explicit membership criterion?

  2. peteb says:

    will need to read through again but there is the danger that interpretation of these rules will be guided by an assumed shared morality. according to composition of the meeting group that morality may not in fact shared.
    there are also many dangers that people from different cultures may be seen as being rude or acting against safe space policy by people from different cultures.
    by creating safe space officers we may be creating a caste of experts when what is attempted should be collective education.
    even just the formulation of respect for the chair where the conflict could be with the chair of the meeting. policy should detail how chair can be respectfully challenged, standing orders etc

  3. Newky says:

    Appears ‘commonsensical’.

  4. Geoff Halliday says:

    I must go to bed soon. But on first reading, it looks good. There were issues I had with the first draft; although I recognised the good intentions, there were a few details I was uncomfortable with. This one seems sound. Well done.

  5. Ashleigh says:

    A really positive contribution, that clearly lays out the problems faced by oppressive groups in the society in which we operate within and cannot deny the implications of. With a clear set of guidelines on how we can start to fight such oppression within our movement.
    Also incredibly refreshing to see the issues regarding ‘power play and political positions’ in regards to young members acknowledged.

  6. Sam says:

    It is so refreshing to see a serious attempt to integrate these issues and from the outset strive to make a new political party a safe space to be for everyone. Thanks Felicity for having the courage to initiate this hugely important discussion.

    What this looks like to me is the starting framework for a Left Unity Safeguarding policy. Language is important so we can communicate important ideas and have a shared common understanding about what it is we are talking about. Many people coming in to Left Unity may have heard about safeguarding issues at work or through their own experiences, family, friends. In the aftermath of Savile and other celebrity abuser cases, along with parallel situations in political parties across the political spectrum, there has been a proliferation of victim-blaming myths circulating. It is vital Left Unity gets this right from the start.

    What we are talking about is making sure that every single member of Left Unity knows that they have the right to feel safe from abuse in all it’s forms and that they are committed to supporting other members’ rights to feel safe from abuse too. How we all make judgements about what is harmful or abusive or not is informed to a large extent by our upbringing, our attitudes and beliefs – which are as diverse as we are. It would be good if we could spell out what forms abuse takes (physical, sexual (contact/non-contact), emotional, neglect, financial, discriminatory, institutional), how it can impact on people from diverse experiences/identities and the different barriers to disclosing/reporting that people face. While it is undoubtedly true that more women and girls are survivors of rape and sexual abuse, it is also undoubtedly true that a significant minority of men and boys, and a large proportion of trans* people also survive rape and sexual abuse. We need to take care to reflect that reality when we write our policy and talk about these issues – or it feels to those excluded that it’s not safe to raise their different experience.

    Not only do members need to know who they can speak to if they themselves are experiencing abuse, but we also need to be alert to the potential abuse of others in and around Left Unity. Children, young people and adults can all be at risk, especially at a time of feeling so powerless in the face of austerity. Abusers and bullies will exploit those opportunities wherever they can and it is EVERYONE’s responsibility to safeguard against this.

    Every branch should have a safeguarding officer and there should be a national designated safeguarding officer too. There may be rare situations where a victim’s own personal wishes not to report to police (for many valid reasons) might need to be balanced against a serious risk of harm to them, a child or another person. We need to have a clear process for making informed accountable decisions if/when these issues arise. Inevitably this will involve a party commitment to training a network of safeguarding officers so that this understanding can be embedded at a grassroots level.

    These are just my first thoughts … would be good to take this discussion forward and will probably have further thoughts later.

  7. Jane S. says:

    I appreciate all the work that has gone into thinking about the question of how Left Unity can be made a comfortable place for all to be politically active. But I think this document is rather chaotic and needs radical reorganising into some clearly different sections or possible better into several different texts.
    There needs to be an explicit recognition by Left Unity that the oppressions and discriminations that exist in society will also exist inside even a progressive organisation that stands for combatting them. This leads to the support for the right to caucus.
    I’ll just say in passing that as being young is a stage everybody goes through and everybody moves out of as a general rule I think there has to be a different approach to allowing young people to be politically active together (notably in movements/campaigns etc that are mainly composed of young people), as the most effective way both of increasing their self confidence but very importantly for shaking up the party and keeping it in touch with what’s going on.
    Another question is general standing orders for meetings (chairs, timing, speaking lists), as well as for circulation of information and online discussion.
    How to ensure new members find a place in the organisation and don’t feel that they are coming into a group that has already fixed its ways of functioning where everytbody knows each other etc is important, I’m not convinced by the proposals for “reps” which
    it seems to me could be felt to be a rather patronising set up.
    Then there is the very complex questions of how the party can deal with incidents of unacceptable behaviour (a very broad term). The procedure laid out here, and possibly in an over-detailed way, only seems to be thinking about disputes that could be called “inter-personal”. Although there is one reference to consorting with known fascists as a possible dispute it is not said what would be the procedure in such a case, or of other political problems, disputes, or stealing/embezzling from the party etc etc. There should be at least some indication of what procedure should be followed in such cases. However my own feeling is that all this very detailed procedure is inappropriate to vote on at this stage (if ever).
    By the way this sentence “Tolerance of other habits and norms will be expected – for example, The Youth and elders might make more noise!” is actually menaningless in the context of what you are trying to do as other habits and norms will NOT be tolerated as this sentence two lines later says: “Respect should be give to each other’s physical (and emotional) boundaries.”
    One tolerates the youth making a lot of noise (a pretty stereotypical idea) or the youth must respect the physical boundaries of others (presumably the middle-aged) who don’t want their eardrums broken?


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