Time for grassroots Labor action

Dear friends

For those of you who attended the rank and file meeting last weekend, thank you for making an important statement to Labor members, our MPs, millions of ALP voters and the people of NSW. This report represents initial thoughts from two members of our branch, it is not intended to be definitive or the end of the subject. In fact, we hope that this will be the start of an ongoing conversation between rank and file members that will reinvigorate the party at the grassroots and reconnect the party with our common pledge to democratic socialism, progress and social justice.

In solidarity

Marcus Strom, secretary, Summer Hill ALP

Meeting of rank and file ALP members

December 12, 2009

Report from Summer Hill ALP

This meeting arose from an initiative by the Summer Hill Branch of the Party whose members, incensed by the recent activities of our state parliamentarians, called an emergency branch meeting and subsequently resolved to authorise its executive to organise a meeting of Party members in order to give the rank and file a voice among the chaos.

Over the past 20 years, the role of the rank and file has gradually been reduced to a point where branches are lucky to receive receipt of correspondence from ministers, let alone have any real input into policy and the political direction of the Party.

We are expected to be foot soldiers and let others do our thinking for us. With our state MPs putting their careers and factional interests above the broader membership and our millions of supporters, we felt enough was enough.

The rank-and-file meeting was organised with just four days' notice, competing with Christmas shopping, family commitments at this busy time and the important Walk Against Warming during the events at Copenhagen.

In the event the ABC reported 175 in attendance and there were dozens of apologies received. This amounted to representation from at least 58 branches from as far south as Narooma, north from Armidale and west from Lithgow. There were many from the Hunter and electorates with imposed candidates were well represented. Clearly our call had touched a nerve within the Party.

Those attending represented a cross section of fair dinkum, ordinary, concerned and aggrieved members of the NSW Branch who feel ashamed and alienated by the activities of our parliamentary representatives. The meeting was not instigated at the behest of any powerbrokers or factional mandarins. The invitations to attend were made available to any party unit for which a contact could be made.

The meeting was chaired by Naomi Parry from Katoomba branch.

Michael Johnston, President of the Summer Hill Branch, opened proceedings with a reference to Laura Tingle’s article in the Financial Review (“NSW Labor outdoes Liberal shambles” AFR December 11) in which she posed the issue: “People you don’t want to be as 2009 ends: Tiger Woods; a moderate in the federal parliamentary Liberal Party; a rank and file member of the NSW Labor Party”.

Michael gave two instances of rank and file alienation in the party from recent times: the sidelining of rank and file opposition to electricity privatisation and the removal of Premier Rees from office after he exercised the authority he had sought and obtained from the most recent State Conference to deal with the destabilising, disloyal and unsavoury characters who have brought the Party into disrepute.

Marcus Strom, Secretary of the Summer Hill Branch, proposed a resolution of protest and action aimed at restoring rank and file influence within the party. The resolution ignited considerable discussion and more than 20 speakers took the floor to amend it, support it and suggest ways forward. The final resolution is attached.

The meeting also resolved to reconvene early in the New Year after additional attempts are made to contact party units.

Our action does not stop here. We are urging the members in the regions call local meetings to consider how we can consolidate the voice of ordinary members in the Party.

The fight to regain the soul of the Party so that ordinary activists can once again take pride in the NSW branch will take tenacity, courage and vision, but it is a fight from which we can not step back from.

Friends, these are the issues as we see them.

We suspect there are even greater numbers of Party members who feel aggrieved and alienated by recent events. Some are unfortunately resigning from the Party in protest, while others are questioning their renewal of membership.

We share your pain but urge you to retain your card and support this grassroots movement to reassert rank-and-file influence within the Party. We ask you to take a stand, send your contact details so we can create an ‘e-list’ and establish online social networks to enable inter-unit communication, debate, discussion and formulate policy initiatives.

We look forward to working alongside you in solidarity and common purpose.

December 19, 2009