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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
• 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.
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.
Sex and Power Relationships
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.
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
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?
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
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
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.
• 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
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Sat 2 Mar, 9.30-17.00
Confronting the Rise of the Far Right, European Conference
Organised by Transform UK.
Bloomsbury Central, 235 Shaftesbury Ave, London WC2H 8EP.
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