This is the latest draft of the proposed Left Unity safe spaces policy, as distributed at our conference in March 2014. It is being placed here for easier reference.
Procedure for considering this document
This document is the result of contributions from many different members of Left Unity.
It has been much discussed and this is the 10th draft.
It is produced in recognition of the difficulties that have been faced in keeping members, and groups of members, safe in many organisations including those of the Left, and the difficulties in organising that face many oppressed sections of society.
Safeguarding policies are now routine within voluntary organisations.
It follows the great scandals of abuse of power in the last decade in British society.
It is part of Left Unity’s commitment to publically oppose violence against women and girls, and the oppression of different groups within this society.
We do not want to set up a rigid set of rules about personal behaviour.
We will strive to ensure Safe Spaces procedures are never used as part of political power plays between different political viewpoints within Left Unity. To this end this will be largely locally run.
The document will be submitted for discussion at the next Left Unity Conference. Between then and now it is hoped that this document will be discussed at all branches.
If you wish to amend it please send your amendment to firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to Left Unity/ Housman’s 5 Caledonian Road, London N19DX or text short messages to 07864968185
Please give the page and line number for any amendment or deletion.
Please suggest a page and line number for any additional material.
Feel free to send less formal suggestions too.
If you wish, you may submit an alternative document. If you oppose the whole concept please speak and move against it at conference.
Left Unity wants to develop a safe and vibrant, socialist, feminist and environmentalist organisation. Fighting for liberation and against oppressions and discrimination is at the heart our organisation. Many different struggles will, we hope, fight together in Left Unity. Such struggles meet the political realities facing people in the age of austerity.
People should be free to speak at and intervene in our meetings. People will come to our meetings angry at injustice and worried by personal circumstances. We want to hear their case in their own words and feelings. 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.
We do not want to set up a rigid set of rules about personal behaviour. We will aim never to use these procedure as part of political power plays between different political viewpoints.
Safeguarding policies are now routine within voluntary organisations.
To achieve the aim of establishing safe spaces to campaign, organise and learn Left Unity will require well chaired meetings, accessible meeting places, respect for the different experience and attitudes of our varied membership, shared understanding of the prevalence of oppression and of violence against women and clear fair and effective procedures.
Well chaired meetings. Fair and effective chairing is essential to democracy, to hearing all the different voices and opinions, 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
Shared Understanding of the need to resist oppressive ideas and actions.
Left Unity needs a shared understanding that there is no room for violence, bullying or oppressive discrimination of any kind in Left Unity Left Unity understands that oppression and violence are built into this society. Behaviours that come from this background can be deliberate or they can be unconscious and unintentional. We oppose the behaviours and not the person; “Respect the person; challenge their behaviour.” Whilst a person’s behaviour may be problematic, everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.
This respect will apply to everybody signing up to Left Unity and attending meetings with the exception of anyone using or threatening violence or deliberate oppression
Left Unity is a collaboration of a wide 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 will always be an issue when trying to organise black and white people to work together; sexism will always be 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 can occur when different sections of working people work together.
The matter is complicated by the fact that we occupy more than one role at a time, and those roles can be contradictory. For example, one person could be the victim of sexism, but that same person could be the perpetrator of racism, or snobbery
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 campaigning against this government and trying to address these issues politically as well as organisationally.
Left Unity works for a society built to develop human communities where we work for the common good, and for individual fulfilment in that common good
The great evils of racism, xenophobia, sexism, gender based violence, disability hate crime, homophobia, Transphobia, prejudice,poverty and profound and structural discrimination against working class communities are inherent and foundational to capitalist society and are increasing with its crisis.
Those with physical and invisible impairments have borne the horrifying brunt of the attacks from the Coalition government. Discrimination against and neglect of the interests of people with visible and invisible impairments have always 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.
Left Unity understands that carers are at the sharp end of welfare cuts and need to be involved in campaigns. Left Unity commits itself to learn from Carers to understand the complexities of Caring, the losing out on the things we would otherwise enjoy as part of a normal life, without firstly making sure the needs of the disabled/infirm person are prearranged. Carers become isolated, creating unintentional health problems. Left Unity will campaign for universal respect and recognition for carers and a wage that meets the needs of all genuine cases. However Carers can have particular difficulties in organising, in attending meetings and or or attending regularly and in accessing resources for campaigning.
Violence against Women
Two men each week kill their partners and many more abuse women and girls in gender related violence against women and girls.100,000 named women are, by police records, at risk from named partners or ex-partners. Men and boys are also affected by abusive men.
Our whole community solidarity is damaged by patriarchal violence 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. Capitalism requires that our community solidarity is shattered so the wealth of the communities can be diverted to the market. Yet the virus of misogyny and sexual violence can affect all sections of society. Our movement is not immune to it. Left Unity will be implacable in its opposition to sexual violence and to 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. Scandal has followed scandal on this issue.
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 from the government or those affecting the internal life of the party or other external policies that make life worse for children
As a party, as an organisation we aim to defeat these great social ills.
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 of working people and their communities, and to 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.
Left Unity has accepted 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.
Left Unity recognises that law, within the capitalist system, is often discriminatory and ineffective in defending the oppressed. Further some people are at particular risk from law enforcement and the Criminal Justice system.
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 and exacerbated this 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.
Meeting places and procedures
We will aim for all that 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.
Where possible there will be a supervised quiet/safe space room available at every event.
During meetings 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, if it is moved from the floor and agreed by the meeting.
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.
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, to 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.
We will attempt to monitor all power structure developments and ensure effective local and national democracy because we recognise that some such offences and violence have occurred within unaccountable structures of political parties.
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 organisation that are normal within the well unionised working environment.
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. a disabled person tells the ‘rep’ that a meeting place is inaccessible, the ‘rep’ is then responsible for working with organisers in sorting out an alternative venue, the onus therefore is on the organisation not the individual.
Bullying can be distinguished from other forms of giving offence because it is part of a repeated or overall pattern and It involves the abuse of power. This power may reside in position, status or the in balance between oppressing/oppressed groups.
Bullying can be physical, emotional or institutional (e.g. demoting someone without good reason) private or public and can be conveyed extremely obviously ranging right through to very subtly, especially when the bully has extensive knowledge of the victim. It can be inspired or exacerbated by oppressive stereotypes.
There are ways of using technology and social media to bully people.
Bullying can occur within every relationship in which power is unequal. This means we need to to examine oppressing/oppressed relationships when complaints are made
Bullying can cause physical harm – including the physiological changes associated with repeated experience of threat – as well as emotional damage. If bullying is not dealt with quickly and effectively, it can destroy groups.
Whilst that bullies have their own problems that lie behind their behaviour this must never be used to excuse or negate the fact of the bullying. Left Unity will not ask the victim to excuse the bully or accept their behaviour.
Whilst offering support to change, we should is make sure the bully understands that they must never repeat the behaviour and that if they do, they will be suspended from or excluded from Left Unity
Some of those driven to bully, will seek to blame the victim, or suggest that in fact they themselves were being bullied. In these cases, we must ask
Since evidence is crucial, we would encourage anyone who witnesses what they believe to be bullying behaviour within Left Unity, to act on this and report it. The victim needs support from the organisation.
Reconciliation of disputes
When a dispute occurs, the aim of the ‘reps’ should be to attempt reconciliation except
What to do
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.
The details of your complaint will be treated as private and given due confidentiality.
The process will be dealt with as expeditiously as the situation allows and in accordance with agreed time limits. It would be expected that in the most serious cases, that the matter may be referred to the legal system.
Anybody who has been named as a perpetrator of these or other violent and serious abuses will also be offered a ‘rep’ and will not enter meetings or post messages while the process is on-going. The rep will keep the suspended member informed. The rep should try to allow political views that might otherwise not be expressed in meeting s to be expressed; eg by facilitating postal resolutions.
Complaints not involving violence or sexual abuse will be dealt with through the Conflict Resolution 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.
Left Unity will attempt, within the limits of its resources, to keep to levels of security 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.
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.
We hope to create a space where we can robustly disagree with each other in productive and mutually respectful ways.
It’s not the policies or the procedures that keep people safe; it’s implementing the politics behind them, day by day. These structures 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. 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.
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 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 may be unwittingly acting out these roles towards one another, but that we can change.
Change happens more easily when the people concerned do not feel blamed or judged .
If I find that there is a problem how do I use these procedures?
You should feel free to speak up for yourself without fear, and to support others in doing so for them.
Left Unity will 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
Safe spaces conciliators will consider as part of their procedure the conflict matter is a safe spaces issue or a significant political disagreement. Political disagreements should not use safe spaces as adjudicators. The final decision on this is with the complainant
The group should elect or agree the appointment of ‘reps’ for this policy. Each member on joining should be given the email of that ‘rep’. In the meantime email of the local secretary or, if needs be, contact people nationally
The complainant will be offered confidentiality for all complaints and given the opportunity to nominate trusted members of the party to mediate for them in any process that follows (though complainants 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(s).
Procedure after an incident
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 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;
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.
Conciliation process starts. (Or the matter is referred to law).
The offended person should be given good care. How do we keep the people involved safe and make them aware that Left Unity is working with them on this matter?
Does anyone need any kind of emergency care? Little things matter in such circumstances. Are they so shaken up they need a lift home?
Following up an incident
The branch should appoint two people as a conciliation team to look into the incident and do follow up. If the branch is small it may refer this to regional or national sections. This will include speaking to the aggrieved person and the person accused and any witnesses and gathering statements if people wish to make them.
Each person should be offered a rep and each person may request a national rep also.
Questions to consider after an incident
What happened? How did different people feel about what happened?
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?
What did the person accused of such behaviours intend by their behaviour?
What affect did it have on the victim?
Drawing up reconciliation statements
Before advancing to reconciliation statements (or at any stage in the proceedings) we need to make certain decisions; is it within our remit? If the complaint relates to violence or sexual abuse should our advice be to refer this to law?
If it is borderline as to the law being involved, would complainant be safe if law was involved? A decision on this must be made and acted upon within 1 week of completion and agreement of summaries. Advice must be taken. List of potential advisors on such matters should be drawn up.
Reps may also need to be looked after In case of serious violent or sexual abuse particularly, but potentially in any situation.
Face to face Meetings with conciliators should be arranged.
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.
Those dealing with complaints of bullying or other offences, may, using anonymized information, seek advice and information from members of relevant liberation caucuses within Left Unity, e.g. the disabled people’s caucus, as well as seeking evidence from witnesses
Both aggrieved and accused may well need space to vent with the conciliators.
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.
The parties to the complaint will be expected to respond to these proposals for conciliation within 1 week of receiving them.
If accepted by both and no further action required, matter ends
A short pro-forma to review the proceedings (not the issues) will be circulated; results sent to national committee.
Branches to send depersonalised annual reports of all incidents and outcomes to national committee.
If Reconciliation document is not accepted, the matter moves to Resolution.
Second Stage: Resolution procedures
Reconciliation teams should to send a report to the branch (or to a special committee of the branch if one has previously been set up. It should not be set up just to deal with the case. (Such a committee should be set up once the branch has more than 20 activists,)
The committee will hear presentation first; appeal is to the full branch or to the national body
Each party to the complaint or their representative, may make representations (written or verbal) to the branch or the designated committee, if they wish, or the reconciliation team report will be considered if they do not. This should take place within 1 month of the reconciliation team report being received by the branch/sub-committee.
Personal interest should be declared, representations from the reconciliation team regarding members personal interest may be taken; people declaring an interest should not take part vote. In case of dispute on this, the meeting is to decide.
The branch/ committee votes on the reconciliation report, whether to
b) Not Support
Sanctions against the person against whom complaints are upheld.
Warning (to remain 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.
These should coordinate with and be complementary to national disputes procedures
The Appeal process may be initiated by either party to the complaint.
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,
Where the dispute was first heard by the branch, and not a sub committee, a national appeal is the person’s only recourse.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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
Review of the process.
A short pro-forma to review the proceedings (not the issues) will be circulated; results sent to national committee.
Left Unity should consider “Can we redress the damage?”
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?
A national safe spaces advisory group will be elected at conference
Felicity Dowling on behalf of Safe Spaces Contributors; the ideas are from many women and men, the typos are all mine.
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