Labour manifesto – what the grassroots membership demands

Labour’s full manifesto is expected next week, but it is not clear to what extent the party leadership will honour the decisions made at the party conference earlier this year. Hanna Gál summarises the demands of the grassroots membership.

An aerial shot of the stage at the labour party conference in 2019
Photo: labourlist.org

Labour’s 2019 election manifesto is expected to be published sometime in the next week, while the party leadership are meeting this weekend to finalise the policies included. Earlier this year, at the annual Labour Party conference in Brighton, we have seen an unprecedented progressive shift in the party, with several policies about defending and extending freedom of movement, rapid decarbonisation, large-scale investment in social housing and affordable homes and a shortened work week without loss of pay passed with overwhelming majority. Unfortunately, the party leadership have since backtracked on some of these, especially in regards to free movement.

As the election campaign launched, Labour members were encouraged to fill out a consultation form about what they wanted to see in the manifesto. Several grassroots Labour groups, such as Labour For A Green New Deal and Labour For Free Movement have come together on a platform called Labour Campaigns Together, uniting to ensure that the party leadership is accountable to the membership and the progressive policies will actually make it into the party’s programme. The campaign’s demands are the following:

• A just transition to a decarbonised economy by 2030
• Build 100,000 social rented council homes a year
• Transition to a 32‑hour working week with no loss of pay
• Protect and extend the rights of migrants
• End all forms of criminalisation of rough sleeping
• Free our unions: repeal all the anti-trade union laws
• Integrate private schools into a high-standard public education system
• Implement a comprehensive coordinated strategy for mental health

Migration and freedom of movement

Anti-racist initiatives and defending the rights of migrants have been a key issue for many members of the Labour Party this year. In 2018, the group Labour Against Racism and Fascism was formed to enable and encourage the party membership to participate in anti-racist and antifascist movements in a coordinated manner. They were the first to bring forward a motion earlier this year demanding the closure of immigration detention centres and freedom of movement. It was a pleasant surprise that the motion which passed at the September party conference was an even more progressive one than their initial proposal.

The current demands on migration include the closure of all detention centres, a guaranteed right to family reunion, an end to the hostile environment and to ‘no recourse to public funds’ policies, and the right to vote for everyone who is a resident of the UK. These, while of course not going as far as the socialist demand for open borders, are showing a very promising direction as well as illustrating the success of grassroots anti-racist campaigning. It is vital, however, that we keep up the pressure on the party leadership to honour these democratic demands – it wasn’t even 24 hours after the motion passed in September that Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, publicly spoke against the policy, and earlier this week, Emily Thornberry promised ‘managed migration’ after Brexit in a statement.

Climate change and just transition

Earlier this year, arguably due in large part to various mass-scale campaigns such as the YouthStrike4Climate and Extinction Rebellion, the government declared a climate emergency. Since then, however, rather unsurprisingly I’d argue, they have been largely inactive or even hostile to most policies addressing the climate breakdown. The current government aims for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, a deadline way too relaxed to meaningfully address the issue, and have imposed – as what many argue is a mere campaign ploy – a temporary ban on fracking.

The Labour Party, on the other hand, endorsed a programme that aims to deliver net-zero emissions by 2030, a target much closer to XR’s demand of decarbonisation by 2025. The conference policy, brought about by the campaigning of the activist group Labour For A Green New Deal and other climate activists, promises just transition to a decarbonised economy through unionised green jobs, a mass investment in reducing emissions in housing and transport, and an internationalist vision of supporting the transition globally. It is unfortunate, however, that much of the party’s environmental policies continue to be predicated on economic growth, which is not an achievable aim along with rapid and complete decarbonisation, as well as some of their concrete promises, such as loans for electric cars, one which would require aggressive mineral extraction in countries of the Global South, opening yet another chapter of imperialism.

Trade unions and work

The September party conference decided to repeal all laws restricting trade union activity. The recent news of Royal Mail using a High Court injunction to suppress the strike action planned by postal workers and the CWU – one which was balloted at a 76% turnout, far exceeding the required 50% turnout by the most recently passed anti-union law, and 97.1% voted in favour – shows the absolute necessity of this motion. The recent climate strikes, where large unions were exceptionally careful in advising their membership on solidarity actions with the students on the grounds that work stoppages not ‘directly’ related to working conditions are unlawful, although not illegal, further illustrates this.

The conference also endorsed plans to introduce a 32-hour work week without loss of pay, providing many workers with significantly increased free time and therefore better quality living.

Housing

The ever-deepening housing crisis calls for solutions that radically transform the housing market. The motion unanimously passed at the Labour Party conference demands the building of 100,000 socially rented homes per year with a £10 billion per year housing grant allocated to deliver them and an end to right-to-buy.

They also call for repealing all legislation criminalising rough sleeping, the introduction of a Homeless Bill Of Rights, and more public investment into ending homelessness through non-punitive measures.

Healthcare and schools

The conference also called for the integration of all private schools into a properly funded public school system, effectively abolishing the system of private schools.

They also demanded a comprehensive strategy to tackle the crisis in mental health provision with policies on multiple fronts such as: ‘expanding sex education, to introducing Mental Health Education into schools, to reforming and expanding CAMHS, reforming the Mental Health Act, making schools a friendlier place for LGBTQ+ pupils and rolling out 24/7 universal crisis care’.

Campaigns from outside the Labour Party

Other campaign groups outside of the Labour Party have also encouraged their supporters to get involved with pushing the upcoming manifesto on a progressive track.

Community Action on Prison Expansion, a grassroots prison abolition campaign collective, recommended the submission of the following text to the consultation, targeting the mega-prison project ‘Prison Estates Transformation Programme’ and the previous party pledges to increase police numbers:

The billions proposed by Boris Johnson to build ‘mega-prisons’ and increase incarceration should instead be invested in community-led services, education, the NHS, and infrastructure that our communities desperately need – Building safe and healthy communities – not prisons.

It is imperative that Labour pledge to enact an immediate moratorium on prison construction and prison expansion. This must include:
* An end to the already delayed and multi-billion pound ‘Prison Estates Transformation Programme’, ensuring there will be no plans to develop mega-prisons in Wigan and Rochester, and a commitment not to tender contracts for Glen Parva, Full Sutton or Glasgow.
* A commitment to end the development and contracting of secure schools, mega detention centres and women’s residential centres or community custody units, or incarceration by any other name.
* An end to any other plans for internal expansion within existing prisons.

Further, it is integral that Labour scraps its pledge to replace the 21,000 police officers cut and act in line with research, which shows that over 80% of police call-outs are now social service-related calls. Labour must instead pledge to create thousands of community and mental health first-responder jobs as well as enact a commitment to investing in social and community services.

Several housing activist groups and renters unions, such as Generation Rent, London Renters Union, ACORN, Tenants Union UK, Renters’ Rights London along with the New Economics Foundation jointly released a Renter Manifesto. This document is aimed as a list of comprehensive policy demands to address the crisis of unaffordable rents and the lack of tenants’ rights. It calls for open-ended tenancies, the end to Section 21 evictions, rent controls, a national database of landlords and rents and the public ownership of privately rented homes if landlords decide to sell.

Conclusion

The consultation on the Labour Party manifesto has now closed, and it is not until some time that we will see how the party leadership implemented the demands of members.

While it is important for us to understand that solely electoral solutions will never be sufficient, we must also support the movement for a progressive Corbyn government practically, but with the long term vision of continuing the struggle beyond the election. The most positive outcome of Corbynism, as we can see, is a growing network of community campaigners with an explicitly socialist agenda, which we must ensure, eventually continues to build way beyond electoralism.

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