January 28, 2019

Background: the decision in 2018

At the SWP’s Annual Conference in January 2018 the following statement from the Disputes Committee, supported by the Central Committee, was passed unanimously.

The SWP opposes, and fights actively, against all forms of oppression. Any oppressive behaviour is completely unacceptable.

“The recent revelations about sexual harassment at every level of society, the immensely positive speaking out about harassment and the #metoo movement, need a response from all organisations.

“As the CC says in pre-conference bulletin 3: ‘This foregrounding of issues around oppression based on gender and sexuality is hugely positive. The greater openness about harassment, sexism and abuse of power means that many more people are challenging their own ideas and behaviour, and are more willing to challenge others. But it’s also true that the common sense politics of today tends towards privilege theory and patriarchy as explanations for gender-based oppression. This means that discussions which begin with structural oppression quickly end up with individual solutions. Therefore socialists have a lot to contribute to the discussions about oppression – not least asserting that ending oppression which is deeply rooted in class society means a broader, united struggle against the ruling class which benefits from it and perpetuates it every day.’

“The Disputes Committee (DC), with the support of the Central Committee (CC), sets out the following expected behaviour.

  1. The SWP has zero tolerance of sexual harassment or other forms of oppressive behaviour and strives to make this a reality in all areas of its work.
  2. We encourage anyone who experiences or has experienced any such treatment to raise it with the party at branch or national level as appropriate. This is often difficult. People may feel confused about what has taken place, and society makes people believe that they are often responsible themselves for the harassment they have faced.
  3. We hope to achieve, and will continue to work for, an environment where everyone can feel able to talk about these matters and then see appropriate action by the party. Everyone is entitled to operate in an environment free from harassment and intimidation in a culture of openness and be fully aware of how the party will deal with any transgression. The party has a set of formal procedures for such action.
  4. However good the party’s processes and practices, it is inevitable that the oppressive and coercive behaviours created by capitalist society are sometimes reflected in the actions of party members. At every level we should be aware of this and reflect on the way we all act towards each other.

We further believe:

  1. Formal procedures are not enough, but they are important. The party has been operating a new set of DC procedures since December 2013. We believe that these have proved robust and have served us well. But after four years there are some changes which should be considered. The DC and the CC should examine these. The DC and the CC should look at the results of the Labour Party’s review of its procedures, and other reviews that are taking place. If there are ideas we could gain from, the DC and/or CC should discuss this in the pre-conference bulletins and present a motion to the next conference. 
  2. All new members of the party, along with the other materials they receive, should be sent a document with points 1 to 4 (in bold above) when they join together with details of the role of the DC and a method of being able to contact the DC in confidence. Delegates should make this whole document part of their report backs after conference and it should be published as part of the post-conference bulletin.
  3. We are aware that other organisations will be issuing or updating their own codes of conduct in the near future. The expected behaviour noted here should be used by the party for now. But it may need to be updated or improved. To this end five comrades, plus one from the CC and one from the DC, should look at whether such improvements are necessary and what they should be.

The five should be elected at the next National Committee.

This group should make recommendations to the next conference or, if they feel it is necessary to do so more quickly, the National Committee.

Since conference 2018

In accordance with point 3 of ‘further believes’ above, a Committee was elected to review the Guidelines on Expected Behaviour in the Handbook. It asked for submissions from members and received 17 written responses. It met as a group three times and, in October 2018, produced a document for discussion.

After debate and amendments, the following proposals were passed at SWP conference January 2019

Guidelines for behaviour in the SWP

The clarification of ideas, through political debate and discussion that is sometimes robust, is encouraged throughout the party. It is all members’ responsibility to ensure this happens in a safe and stimulating environment. Members should feel supported to ask questions, develop politically, gain experience and contribute fully, without feeling put down if they make mistakes.

Comrades should avoid any language that reinforces negative stereotypes of oppressed groups. The language we use towards each other should be respectful and not abusive. Bullying behaviour and threats of physical violence are not acceptable within the SWP.

Below are outlined some examples of oppressive behaviours we regard as unacceptable.

Sexual misconduct

Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature. It has the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of another person, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.

Something can still be considered sexual harassment even if the alleged harasser didn’t mean it to be, nor does it have to be intentionally directed at a specific person.

Domestic abuse refers to abuse that takes place within private and intimate relationships that is one or more of the following: physical, sexual, financial, emotional or psychological (including coercive control).

Consent has to be at the heart of all sexual relations, and should always be freely given. If someone is incapacitated due to alcohol or drugs, or feels under pressure from someone, then they are not able to consent. Consent on one occasion does not imply consent in the future.

We recognise that the party is not a microcosm of the future communist society. We are all shaped by capitalism, though we strive collectively to overcome this. The pressures of the larger society mean relationships entered into voluntarily by comrades can be unequal, and this can lead to oppressive and unacceptable behaviour.

We always regard sexual misconduct as serious misconduct, and such concerns should be discussed with the Disputes Committee (see below). Suggestions of organisations that can support victims of domestic and sexual abuse can be found on our website.

LGBT+ Oppression and Transphobia

We respect everyone’s sexual orientation, and every individual’s right to self-identify their own gender. Where there is uncertainty over how to address someone, just ask and respect their choice.

We oppose all forms of homophobia and recognise that while there is overlap between homophobia and biphobia, bisexual people can face distinct forms of discrimination, such as in the suggestion that a person is ‘confused’ about their sexuality and is in fact either gay or straight.

We respect every individual’s right to self-identify their own gender and we accept the validity of non-binary identities. Everyone should be mindful that the period of transitioning can be a difficult one.

Racism

We oppose all forms of racism including discrimination against a person or group of people based on their ethnicity, religion, skin colour or place of birth. This includes opposition to all forms of Islamophobia and antisemitism.

Islamophobia, discrimination, prejudice or hostility towards Muslims, because they are Muslims, is one of the most prevalent forms of racism in current western society.

Like all forms of racism it comes from the top of society, but this does not preclude individuals at all levels of society from behaving in an Islamophobic way.

At present, this mainly takes the shape of attacking the right of women to wear the hijab. The decision to wear the hijab/niqab/burqa should be left to the individual and it is Islamophobic to assume someone does this because it is imposed on them by men or because of patriarchal attitudes.

Antisemitism consists in prejudice, hostility or hatred towards Jews as Jews.

It may take the form of prejudice-based behaviour including verbal or written statements. Examples include the claimed existence of a powerful but secret Jewish cabal that controls the world. Such manifestations draw on stereotypes – characteristics which all Jews are presumed to share.

Criticising Zionism or Israel as a state does not constitute criticising Jews as individuals or as a people, and is not evidence of antisemitism.[1]

Disability discrimination

The term disabled people includes people with physical impairment, sensory impairment, learning difficulties/disabilities, life-limiting chronic illness, people who are neurodivergent and people living with mental distress.

Oppressive behaviour towards disabled people can mean, but is not limited to, using offensive language or behaving in such a way that excludes disabled comrades from activity. Every effort should be made to make our events fully accessible. We should seek where possible to support comrades experiencing mental distress.

The definition of disability used by disabled peoples’ organisations is “the disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by contemporary social organisation which takes little or no account of people who have impairments and thus excludes them from participation in the mainstream of social activities.”

Psychological distress, mental health problems or mental illness are terms used by mental health practitioners and by some users of mental health services to describe a range of symptoms and experiences of a person’s internal life that are commonly held to be troubling, confusing or out of the ordinary.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment can include

  • Written or verbal comments of a sexual nature, such as remarks about someone’s appearance, questions about their sex life, offensive jokes and use of sexist language;
  • Displaying pornographic or explicit images;
  • Unsolicited emails or use of social media with content of a sexual nature;
  • Unwanted physical contact and touching;
  • Sexual assault.

What can comrades do if they experience or witness unacceptable behaviour?

Every member needs to feel both entitled and empowered to raise a concern if unacceptable behaviour occurs, including unacceptable behaviour by members in leadership positions, and including such behaviour on social media.

Our branches and fractions, the key places where comrades meet to discuss politics and organise, would normally be the first place where we can try to resolve issues of inappropriate behaviour through informal approaches (such as talking to the individual concerned), unless the concern is of a serious nature. If this fails, complaints should be raised more formally using the links and contacts below.

All comrades must take seriously any such concerns raised and can refer to the Disputes Committee (DC) or Central Committee (CC) for advice.

Any disciplinary or potentially disciplinary issues (serious misconduct which could result in a change of status of membership or disciplinary sanction) should always be referred to the DC or CC.

  • The current Disputes Committee Procedures can be found here: https://www.swp.org.uk/terms-reference-and-procedures-swp-disputes-committee
  • The Disputes Committee can be contacted at dc@swp.org.uk
  • For the Central Committee the current joint national secretaries are Amy Leather amyl@swp.org.uk and Charlie Kimber charlie@swp.org.uk
  • The Party should progress plans for a day-school on sexual oppression to cover topics raised by both the Review Group and in Pre-Conference Bulletin 2.

A comrade who is not sure what they or another has experienced may find it useful to talk it over with a trusted friend or trained adviser, who can respect confidentiality, to help define what has happened and support them in deciding what they want to do.

Useful information and guidance about domestic abuse and coercive control can be found at http://www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support

Concerns about sexual misconduct should be discussed directly with the Disputes Committee.

Specialist support organisations on domestic and sexual abuse

This list offers suggestions but is not exhaustive and alternatives may be found locally and nationally.

  • Rape Crisis. Go to rapecrisis.org.uk for details of local Rape Crisis helplines and services in England and Wales. Freephone 0808 802 9999 noon-2.30pm and 7-9.30pm every day of the year
  • Rape Crisis Scotland 08088 01 03 02 Every day, 6pm to midnight
  • For men and boys who have experienced sexual abuse: #5MillionMen National Male Survivors Helpline: 0808 800 5005
  • For LGBT+ people www.stonewall.org.uk/help-advice/criminal-law/domestic-violence
  • Victim Support 08 08 16 89 111. Call or go to the website for local services
  • Survivors Trust. thesurvivorstrust.org/find-support, Advice and Info – 0808 801 0818
  • The National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 2000 247 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

[1] These definitions and examples are taken from a document produced by Jewish Voice for Labour and Free Speech on Israel

Category: Procedural