70 members turned up the 2014 Annual General Meeting of London Young Labour (LYL) last weekend, reflecting the fact that young people in general feel fundamentally disengaged from the policies of the Labour Party. Only with revolutionary socialist policies can the Labour Party hope to attract the radicalised youth of today to their banner.
70 members turned up to the 2014 Annual General Meeting of London Young Labour (LYL) last weekend, to have their say and vote on policy they would like to see Labour put forward in their bid to win the election this coming May.
Many people during the weekend questioned why such a small number of young people had turned out from a regional body boasting 7,000 members. There was the suggestion that the recent organisational problems LYL has had caused the low turnout. While, no doubt, the lack of notice members had been given for the announcement of the agenda and other organisational matters were a factor in attendance, the key reason must be that young people in general feel fundamentally disengaged from the policies of the Labour Party.
Disengaged and disenfranchised
The question was asked several times, “How can we get more young people involved in the Labour Party?” There are some obvious answers to this question. On the one hand, the Labour leadership has been hanging onto the coattails of UKIP on the question of immigration in recent months. Instead of fighting the real cause of job and housing shortages, strain on the public sector and low wages – i.e. mass privatisation, and big business and their use of parasitic employment agencies – the Labour leaders have pandered to Farage’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.
On the other hand, opportunities to discuss concrete alternatives are strangled by the Labour apparatus. For example, there were ugly scenes at the AGM, in which a regional constituency officer tried to block the proposal of a motion for free education on a false technicality. It is not hard, therefore, to see why so many young people feel disenfranchised from the party.
In spite of the usual plethora of identity caucuses dominating the agenda, the young people who were at the meeting took every opportunity to raise substantial political questions. Those who weren’t part of the Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) caucus, for example, who were instead supposed to be lectured about racism, quickly turned the session into a discussion into how to fight UKIP by raising class questions and putting forward a socialist alternative.
Questions asked by Socialist Appeal supporters in this vein seemed to find an echo among others at the event: asking why Labour weren’t putting forward bold policies for nationalisation; about the contradiction between the number of homeless people and the number of empty homes in London and getting affordable housing for people on the basis of need and not profit; and arguing that the way to bring together oppressed groups in society was on the basis of the largest group of all – the working class. These questions found an echo among fellow members, who acknowledged the standout presence of Marxist ideas as a real positive from the sessions of the conference.
The limits of reformism
In addition to LYL members, GMB President and veteran of class struggles Mary Turner pushed the agenda towards the need for socialism, giving us an insight into the struggles of the past as a lesson to be learnt for the future. She talked about gains that had been made, particularly for working women, on the basis of struggles that she had been involved in; legal gains which are now being rolled back by a Tory government intent on leaving workers to the mercy of zero-hour contracts and exploitative sub-contracting agencies.
We must be at pains to point out that such gains are only ever temporary and extremely fragile under capitalism. The only way to guarantee the rights that have been fought for in the past is to overthrow a state run in the interests of big business and replace it with workers’ democracy. Our generation must use the heroic struggles of the past as inspiration to fight so that this time, we can guarantee our futures with socialism.
Reverse the rightward shift! Fight for socialist policies!
The general mood of the conference was expressed in the policy session, in which motions were debated and voted on. A motion for a mandatory BAME quota in the bloc committee was narrowly voted down, suggesting that for young members identity politics are no longer the priority. What people looking to the Labour Party want is access to quantifiable things: jobs, universal healthcare, education, and even basic provisions such as affordable housing which are now under threat. Most members at the meeting were conscious of the need to fight for these things by unifying the working class. As such, motions for free higher education and for a reversal of the recent rightward shift of the Labour leadership on the question of immigration were passed by large majorities, in spite of attempts by the bureaucracy to block their proposal.
A motion proposed by members of the Marxist Student Federation for solidarity with the protests for the disappeared students of Ayotzinapa Teaching School in Mexico was also easily passed, demonstrating a sense of affinity with the working class internationally felt by members at the event. Such an affinity is essential to the victory of any mass party of labour: the protesters in Mexico are directly taking on the full force of Mexican capitalism; if we are to fight the rampant austerity of British capitalism we need all the help we can get from comrades around the world.
Overall at LYL AGM 2014, there was a clear consensus that the Labour Party needs to do much better in terms of policy if it is to have any hope of recovering the ground it continues to lose in the race for the general election. The only chance the party has is in turning to the ideas of Marxism, and applying them through socialist policies. This weekend there was a considerable sympathy felt for these ideas and policies; the task must be for LYL to use them to grow their regional body, for its members to take them out to their constituencies and encourage young people to fight for their futures. If the Labour Party adopted these policies nationally, instead of manoeuvring against any genuine politics, we would have been sitting in a much fuller room, at a much livelier event, this weekend.