Sunday, August 11, 2013

Merseyside Bedroom Tax Federation: After The Storm

Despite Federal tensions, neighbourhood resistance has continued to grow
During the spring, the Merseyside Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Groups was formed, following weeks of frenzied activity. Neighbourhood-based groups from all across the region sent delegates to meetings in Liverpool town centre, and amidst a buzz of excitement, an anti-oppression motion was unanimously agreed.

But the trouble began when it became clear that one local anti-bedroom tax group - based in Knowsley - had strong links to notorious local fascists. Knowsley sought to join the Federation, and anti-fascists tried to raise the alarm. But at the next Federation meeting, the Knowsley application was steamrollered through by the chair, who refused to allow antifascists permission to air their concerns. The next moment I received a tweet from a jubilant Knowsley admin, threatening to take me to court for my "lies" (I'm yet to hear anything further, by the way). Following this, the Federation Twitter account published statements attacking "the anarchists", aimed at covering up the chair's undemocratic actions.

At a special meeting called to look into whether "the Federation [had] been brought into disrepute", Knowsley's affiliation application was withdrawn, and no-one from that group has attended any further meetings. In the meantime, local groups have continued doing some excellent work, but the issue of what happened at the 1st June meeting has been the elephant in the room at a federal level.

Yesterday, over a tense and very emotional hour and a half, delegates had it out. This was prompted by a motion from one of the local groups, which called for "The activists who have made public statements attacking the Federation" (a reference to those who had called-out the behaviour of individuals within the Federation) to "withdraw them". Further, "all groups agree not to make public statements attacking the Federation or members of the Federation", and later on, "concerns or disagreements to be put in writing and discussed at a full Federation meeting and to agree with the democratic decision at that meeting".

There was lots of back and forth about the merits or otherwise of what antifascists had written in their whistleblowing blog posts, but when one speaker described the motion as "top down", and another characterised it as "policing" what individuals are doing when "we're not the state", it was agreed to amend the resolution to the following:

"The Federation is to unite in practise whenever possible and assist all groups to become bigger and stronger in fighting the bedroom tax and cuts in welfare benefit.

"To agree to a Code of Conduct. Differences should be respected, and all members have a right to express their positions and discuss in a frank, open and respectful way.

"Members should not make personal attacks. The Chairperson to pull members to order when personal attacks are made and if the person persists they be asked to leave the meeting."

The amendment was backed by a majority of three, out of eleven voting delegates. While such a margin shows there are still tensions and suspicions within the group, there was a sense that the air has been cleared somewhat, and hopes that the Federation will be able to put the infighting behind us, so we can get on with the urgent work of challenging the bedroom tax. With fascists unable to spread their divisive poison anywhere near affiliated groups, we can proceed with some confidence.
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