In the first six weeks of this academic year Sheffield Labour Students (SLS) society at the University of Sheffield has experienced mass-resignations from their left-wing committee and cancelled an event involving Chris Williamson MP. Now less than half of the committee positions are filled and SLS are in danger of a Blairite resurgence.
The reasons for this crisis are manifold, yet the most prominent feature is the resigning members’ inability to argue against or challenge the bogus charge of anti-Semitism against Williamson raised by the leadership of the Sheffield Jewish Society (SJS).
Back in April, a group of activists who were involved with the student-worker solidarity campaign during the UCU strikes and the occupation in Sheffield were put together on a left slate to take over the Labour club from Blairites at the society AGM. The slate was successful, and the take-over was viewed as a success by the wider group who promoted the slate.
After a summer of lacklustre activity from the committee and one resignation, SLS had a poor Freshers’ Fair. Then just 4 weeks into the term, SLS were already holding their 2nd EGM to fill several positions including a new co-chair and secretary. The EGM managed to elect some new first-year members to fill empty positions, but these members are yet to express any substantial political positions.
The Events and Publicity officer (EPO) and the Political Campaigns officer had helped organise a talk on ‘Why we need an anti-war government’, which had Williamson and Steven Bell (Stop the War) as speakers. Once a letter was received from SJS stating that they saw Williamson as a “threat to Jewish students on campus”, the EPO immediately capitulated and then opposed the event they had organised.
The soft-left-wing committee members voted to postpone the event with only three members voting to continue with it, including a Jewish Voice for Labour comrade on the committee. Despite them being able to postpone the event, several of them resigned under pressure from the SJS leaders. A co-chair from SJS rescinded their Labour Party membership in protest at the event.
The mass resignations have left room for the right-wing in the society to mobilise and re-takeover the committee. An EGM is to be held this week with members elected to mandatory positions otherwise SLS will be forced to fold by Sheffield SU rules.
The cancelled event was finally held on Thursday 8 November with the original speakers. The meeting was re-organised by Sheffield Labour Left and they had planned to host it at a hotel but had to relocate it to Sheffield Labour and Trades Club after “anonymous threats” were sent to the hotel.
What has happened to SLS should serve as a warning that unless you are able to fight on a class basis you won’t get very far. Unfortunately, the student activists who launched the take-over of SLS capitulated to identity politics and right-wing pressure, instead of basing themselves firmly on socialist politics in the interests of the working class and standing up to lies and smear campaigns.
Most importantly, the fiasco in SLS reflects the ongoing struggles within Labour Students and the Labour Party, for the supporters of Corbyn. The cynical smears and attacks on the Labour Party are the product of the fear of a left-wing Labour government. All this demonstrates is that our fight for socialist ideas in the Party must continue with renewed vigour. There are still people within the Party who don’t support Corbyn or socialism, even though the vast majority of us do. This minority is trying to undemocratically sabotage events like this one. We urgently need to democratise the Party, starting with the automatic right of local parties to reselect parliamentary candidates – something that Chris Williamson has been consistently arguing for in the recent period.
Only with a Party that is united in its commitment to a fundamental socialist transformation of society can the problems faced by ordinary people today be solved.
by Stan Laight, Sheffield Hallam CLP and Sheffield Marxists