ReportsCathy Augustine

Chris Williamson: On the road again!

ReportsCathy Augustine
Chris Williamson: On the road again!

CHRIS WILLIAMSON was suspended by the Labour Party on 27th February 2019. For over four months, out of respect for the Labour Party’s disciplinary rules, he was unable to defend himself while he was defamed on an almost daily basis as an “antisemite” in the media.

On 26th June, Chris's suspension was lifted by a disputes panel of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee. However, Chris was ‘re-suspended’ by the party on 28th June and referred to the party’s National Constitutional Committee, to consider whether to expel him. With a heavy heart and after months of personal distress, Chris has been forced to take legal action against the party that he has dedicated his life to and is challenging his ‘re-suspension’ as unlawful.

Despite the toll of this tortuous process, he has continued to give talks around the country with his customary energy. Some of these events have been threatened with cancellation, others have had major sponsors withdrawing and facilities refused. But at all of them, Chris has been greeted with support and solidarity from grassroots members who recognise and embrace him as a genuine socialist, anti-racist and vocal supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s transformational agenda.

Merseyside Left Alliance

At the beginning of August, a number of Labour Party members from Wavertree and Riverside CLPs called a meeting to form a Liverpool Labour left group. Over 250 Labour Party and trade union activists showed up to hear speakers including Chris Williamson MP, Lesley Mahmood, a former councillor and now an activist with the Campaign to save Liverpool Women’s Hospital and John Davies, a member of Riverside CLP, whose suspension from the party has just been lifted following due process.

The enthusiastic discussion focused on the need to support comrades against unjust smear campaigns, advance more radical left wing ideas in the labour movement and to campaign for improved levels of democracy within the party. A suggestion to broaden the reach of the group and create a Merseyside Left Alliance. This was agreed by the overwhelming majority of the meeting, which also agreed to sign up to the Appeal for a Labour Left Alliance.

200th anniversary commemoration of the Peterloo massacre

Despite the council refusing a power supply, and some organisations withdrawing their support, speakers and presence when Chris Williamson was announced as the keynote speaker, this event was a huge success and overcame all logistical obstacles. The most obvious impact of organisations pulling out with little notice was that the panel lost its gender balance and we didn’t hear the voices of the women they had put forward to speak. This was a shame because women played such a significant part in the events 200 years ago.

Marches started from ten assembly points around the city, reflecting the routes that demonstrators would have followed in 1819 - with one contingent marching all the way from Bolton to join the rally in a crowded Albert Square. The square filled with banners and drummers and over 4,000 people in an upbeat mood. Against the backdrop of the imposing town hall, speakers, singers, historians, campaigners, poets and trade union leaders addressed the crowds from the top of a fire engine, provided by the Fire Brigades Union.

In the face of such solidarity and numbers, the attempts of a small group of far-right activists wearing Tommy Robinson shirts to disrupt the rally were quickly seen off with little incident.

Speeches from a wide variety of campaigners and trade unionists including Ian Hodson, General Secretary of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, Mark Rowe, FBU North West regional secretary and Pete Middleton, National Education Union regional secretary, reminded us of the importance of solidarity; and of tapping into the courage of our socialist forebears, the Diggers, the Peterloo and Tolpuddle Martyrs, to continue speaking truth to power, demanding equality and real democracy; reclaiming and preserving the NHS; and working in the face of smears and attacks to ensure a Corbyn-led socialist government.

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Chris was met with cheers and applause and gave a rousing speech that demonstrated his passion for justice, equality and solidarity and his unwavering support for Jeremy Corbyn. “We have a socialist leader of the Labour Party probably for the first time since Keir Hardie. And it will be through our strength of purpose, our mass movement, that we will ensure that we carry Jeremy Corbyn across the threshold of 10 Downing Street and sustain him when he gets there.”

Support and solidarity

Chris has also spoken at a recent meeting of around 100 people in Nottingham on the need to oppose the government's austerity policy, followed by a discussion on Modern Monetary Policy. At the Durham Miners Gala, Chris marched with the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign. He spent the Saturday of the Tolpuddle Festival attending panel events and joined a meeting to discuss establishing the Labour Left Alliance. And with Tosh Macdonald, Chris has also relaunched the Democracy Roadshow with the message that “The Labour Party belongs to its members, and the economy should work for everyone, not just a privileged few.”

 

Wantage CLP and Unite member.