e: Because I thought about it and realized I could be more explicit, this post and likely the discussion in this thread will be triggering. If anyone wants anything removed from my post or something like a wording change, I will be more than happy to do so.
My OP is going to be largely talking about violence against women in left organizations with two specific examples. I feel like this is something that should be given a lot more discussion than it is getting right now, because while sexism is fought by organizations in theory, often it is ignored in practice.
I’m not sure if everyone has heard, but both the Progressive Labor Party and the Socialist Worker’s Party have had ‘important’ members accused of rape and had absolutely no action taken against them, with the SWP going so far as to proclaim that the incident involving a male Central Committee member never occurred. Links talking about these specific incidents provided below, and the SWP link includes a leaked transcript of the disciplinary hearing, revealing that the basis for their decision is nothing more than the testimony of the accused, a fellow CC member. Because of the possibility that the SWP transcript may be removed, I’m posting it spoilered below.
PLP LA – http://necessarymeansfight.blogspot.com/2012/12/progressive-labor-party-defends-rapists.html
SWP UK – http://socialistunity.com/swp-conference-transcript-disputes-committee-report/#.URWPwh08CSo
SWP UK Transcript
This is a transcript of the disputes committee discussion on [xxxxx] at SWP conference on Saturday 5th January 2013. It is a transcript because I have only a low-quality recording, given the difficulties of recording such an event, but was able to put together the text by combining it with my own notes. Where neither the recording nor notes were clear, I have written ‘inaudible’. I have also removed some small pieces of personal information, which are clearly marked.
I send this anonymously for reasons that are probably obvious, but why send it at all? For all the CC’s claims that they are not engaged in a cover up, in the ‘reporting back’ session of conference we were told that branches and districts should not be told any details of this discussion – “I would urge everyone not to go into the details of any particular contribution in the report back” – apart from saying “there were some criticisms”, with confidentiality as the excuse. However, as you will see, each speaker was careful to respect confidentiality in their contribution, so circulating it is not problematic in that respect.
I believe members of the party who were not at conference should have as much information as those who were – and I also hope that distributing this to the wider left and workers’ movement will put pressure on the SWP to sort out the serious issues contained within. I hope you will publish it in full.)
KAREN R: This is the section on the disputes committee. My name’s Karen R, I’m from Manchester and I’m going to chair this session. There are two items for discussion under this session. One will be a report from the disputes committee, and people will have the opportunity to challenge that, at the end of which there will be a vote on whether or not to accept the report from the disputes committee. The second part will be an election for a new disputes committee.
I understand that there are very strong feelings around the report of the disputes committee this year, and I think it’s important that we do try and explain some of the ground rules on which this debate will take place. Clearly we’re talking about very difficult issues and I think it’s important that we do understand that we do that properly and we take that seriously.
The first point is that people have an absolute right to challenge the disputes committee report and they can look at the process and the procedures that the disputes committee are presenting to you today. What we cannot do is re-hear any discussion that they’ve had in terms of the detail. We are not going to sit and listen to the detailed discussion, we are going to listen to the presentation that they present, and the challenges to the process and the procedure. Any attempt to introduce any evidence about what happened is not going to be acceptable in this hall because that’s not fair to any of the individuals who are involved. (applause) I’m (inaudible) that we do stick to that, and I will be making sure that we do stick to that, because people have rights within this process and one of those is the right to be treated with respect.
The second point that I want to make is that it’s not acceptable in this session, or in any session, to make personal accusations about any member of the SWP. We have a process for doing that and that process is very clear. If people have personal complaints and accusations they need to use that process to do it, not the floor of this conference, because that’s not going to help the debate.
The third thing is about the tone of the debate. I think it is important that whether you agree or disagree with what people say, it is important that people are listened to with respect and allowed to be heard. I am not going to tolerate disruption or any attempt to try and stop people being heard, regardless of what they say, as long as it is within those rules that we’ve established.
So saying that, I’m going to bring forward the first part of our agenda. Because there are people who have already informed us that they wish to challenge this report, they have been given space to do that and they have been allowed time within this debate to do thar. Therefore if you want to speak in this debate you can put a slip in, but there is only a very very small chance that you will be called, because a number of people have already expressed their right to challenge, and there will be the disputes committee who have a right of reply to those. So as I say you can put a slip in, but it is unlikely that you will be heard.
The way it will happen is that somebody from the disputes committee will present the report, and then there will be an extended speech from the first person who challenges, then we will move on to the debate with people who have three minutes each.
OK, so I’m going to introduce Candy U who’s from the disputes committee, who will make this report.
CANDY U: Firstly I want to explain who and what the disputes committee are. We thought that because you’ve heard so much about us you might like to see who we are, so this is the disputes committee. (Members of disputes committee stand up.) There are eight of us, we’re elected every year, and we are accountable to the conference.
We’re not a law court. We are here to protect the interests of the party, and to make sure that any inappropriate behaviour of any kind by comrades is dealt with, and we do that according to the politics of a revolutionary party. So, you know, we’re not just opposed to sexism and the abuse of women, we understand where it comes from and we’re actively involved in campaigning and challenging and fighting that, and understand how important it is to do that if we are going to change the system that we live under.
I want to give a brief summary of the three complaints that we’ve had this year.
Comrade Alpha from Bristol was expelled from the party for domestic violence. Comrade Beta was suspended for six months for fighting in a nightclub and abusive behaviour, and because he breached his suspension that was extended for a further six months. Those two have not been disputed by the comrades involved, so I’m going to concentrate on the third case, and I’ll read out a brief summary of the decision that we came to.
In September 2012, a comrade who we’ve called W, a woman, made a complaint of rape against Comrade Delta, a member of the party’s central committee. The CC immediately asked Comrade Delta to stop all activity on behalf of the party until the complaint had been investigated. The disputes committee met over a period of four extended days in October 2012.
We agreed to use the standard legal definition of rape, but to also widen the remit of what we investigated to include questions of sexual assault, harassment and whether the relationship as a whole was abusive.
The disputes committee found that the charges were not proved. We didn’t think that Comrade Delta raped W. And it was not proved to the disputes committee that Comrade Delta had sexually assaulted, harassed or abused W.
We found it difficult to rule on these issues, because the versions of events differed substantially and there were no witnesses. The disputes committee didn’t recommend any disciplinary action against Comrade Delta, and that final report was backed by six out of seven of the panel members.
The seven members who were on that panel, who heard that complaint, were Rhetta M from Manchester, Maxine B from Sheffield, Dave S from Glasgow, Pat S and myself from London. (Candy forgot to name the two CC representatives also on the panel, Esme C and Amy L.) We’re all experienced comrades who are active in the party and a number of us have experience of dealing with people who have experience of rape or abuse.
And because this is such an important report we’ve actually written it together. So bear with me, I may refer closely to my notes or read from them, because we thought that was important.
I want to say sometihng about confidentiality, because we always treat complaints in confidence, but in this case the woman concerned was asking us to preserve her anonymity, and we took that very seriously. People didn’t tell their partners even about this case. And it is because of that question of confidentiality that we’re not going to tell you the details of, of, er, of what we heard during the hearings.
I mean I guess it’s obvious to say, but we don’t have disputes committee hearings in public. And if the details are made public, it really is very unlikely that in the future people will feel that they can come forward with complaints like that, particularly those of an intimate nature.
A few general comments before I start on the actual process. We really, obviously, understand that comrades are concerned and worried this case, and I think the hardest thing was for comrades to hear that an allegation of rape had been made against a leading member of the party, and to hear it through rumour and innuendo, and not from the party itself. And I understand, we understand, why people are upset and angry about that. But we want to make clear why that happened, because it is isn’t actually our responsibility that that happened.
Unfortunately information about this complaint wasn’t kept confidential in the way that we had asked. In fact, people outside the party, such as Chris Bambery, members of Counterfire, members in Unite Against Fascism, who then told Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of PCS – all these people knew about the case within a week of the hearing, before we’d even finished our final report. Now that is obviously unacceptable, but it also, we understand, put comrades in an extremely difficult position, because they were having to defend something that they hadn’t heard about from the party.
And we also know that it meant that comrades have heard about this through rumour, they’ve heard half-truths, they’ve heard things that actually aren’t true being circulated. We do think that that is extremely regrettable, but I hope you understand that it wasn’t something that was under our control.
I really want to stress two things. One is that our request for confidentiality is not a cover up, comrades. We’re not trying to hide anything because of that. But we also believe really strongly that this report should be given to conference, and that that is the correct place for us to do this. I guess it is obvious, but you can’t deal with something like this through circulating an email report. It has to be done face to face.
But it’s also essential that we do this at conference because of democracy and accountability. If we were to do this report to the national committee or anywhere else in the party, then people who want to question or challenge the report won’t be here. We think it’s right that we do this in front of conference, who elected us, and that we should do it in front of the whole party.
Just one other general point, is that we did want to remind people what they were voting on here. Because this isn’t about the CC, alternarive slates, the factions, it’s not about the comrades who have been expelled, it’s not about a debate about feminism or women’s liberation. It is actually about – and I know it’s difficult because of all of the debates but I do think we have to separate them – it is really about whether we have carried out this process correctly, politically correctly, democratically, and that we’ve done that to the best of our abilities.
I want to move on to how we came to our decisions, and some of the questions that we discussed in advance. So we were asked by the chair to, if any of us felt that we were too close to any of the parties involved, or if we felt that we would be seen to not be objective in any way, to rule ourselves out. One comrade who was from W’s district did do that.
We then discussed the situation that we all knew Comrade Delta. We knew his important role in the party and on the central committee, and none of us knew W or knew her well. We agreed that we would have to be especially careful to take that into account in the way that we dealt with this.
We also discussed how difficult it is for women in capitalist society to be heard if they make a complaint of rape or harassment. We know how the courts and the police make women, you know, try to blame women, how few rapes are reported and how few of them are successfully prosecuted. And we understood how personally difficult it was for someone to come forward with a complaint like this.
So we considered how we could make that as supportive as possible, and not add to her distress if we could, and try to accommodate her wishes as much as possible. So we agreed – normally the person who the complaint is about would be in the room – but we agreed that Comrade Delta wouldb’t be there when either she or her witnesses spoke. And we would normally ask questions from all of the panel to the witnesses concerned. We didn’t think that was appropriate, so we proposed that the questions be asked just through one person that she chose. And she had a comrade with her to support her. And so in advance and during the hearing, we tried to make sure that she had whatever support we could give.
Then in terms of the process, we did discuss very carefully how to approach the question of rape, and we didn’t just want to use the standard legal definition, so we agreed to extend the remit in the way that the report summarised of what we investigated, so we also wanted to include questions of sexual assault or harassment, as well as whether Comrade Delta’s conduct was in any way abusive or the relationship as a whole.
We noted that the complaint concerned incidents that had taken place over a period of about six months in 2008 and 2009, which was three or four years before we met. We also noted that there had been an informal complaint about these incidents from the same woman in July 2010, which hadn’t come to the disputes committee, and at that time she complained of sexual harassment rather than of rape.
We were clear that there were a number of reasons why it might take a period of time for a woman to come forward with a complaint like this. And we also understood that there was a process whereby the woman might change how she perceived these incidents, which W now described to us as an issue of rape. We therefore agreed it was essential to investigate the complaint that was in front of us.
We looked at how the complaint was handled in 2010. She’d raised concerns of harassment, about these same incidents, with the central committee. Central committee members had met with Comrade Delta, who denied them. And at that time W was asked if she wanted to go to the disputes committee, but she confirmed that she didn’t want to do that. She wanted an apology, for her views to be recognised, and for the CC to be made aware of them. An informal resolution was reached which was agreed and accepted by W.
Now, she was concerned to preserve her anonymity then and the CC had insisted on that, but people may remember if they were at conference in 2011 that information about this appeared on the internet just before our national conference in January 2011, and as a result of this the CC made a statement to conference about it. And we agreed with the views of those who felt that this conference decision hadn’t been handled well, and we noted that the CC had acknowledged this after conference and subsequently had proposed a new protocol, which ensures that any complaints about CC members now, informal or otherwise, will be referred automatically to the chair of the disputes committee.
We also discussed how we should consider Comrade Delta’s role as a member of the central committee. We expect that CC members’ behaviour should be scrutinised more closely than that of other comrades, because of the role that they play, the elected position that they have, the responsibilites they have, and we entrust them really with the party’s wellbeing, so if their behaviour falls below standard, then it’s the party’s reputation that is damaged.
We also however thought it was important to be clear that the disputes committee doesn’t exist to police moral, er, bourgeois morality, so we agreed that issues that weren’t relevant to us were whether the comrade was monogamous, whether they were having an affair, whether the age differences in their relationahip, because as revolutionaries we didn’t consider that should be our remit to consider issues such as those.
In terms of the process of the investigation, and the questioning of the comrades who came before us, we tried to be as thorough and careful as possible in doing this, so we heard from W and from Comrade Delta, who gave us two very different accounts of what had taken place in 2008 and 2009. We heard from and questioned a number of other comrades. They were people who had been brought as witnesses, either by W or by Comrade Delta. However neither of them were witnesses to the actual events that had taken place at the time. We also heard from Hannah D, Charlie K and Alex C, who are the CC members who had handled the case informally in 2010.
After we’d heard from the witnesses, we called both W and Comrade Delta back in, and we had a long discussion about whether we should ask W any further questions, because we didn’t want to cause her any undue distress. We were also conscious of how the police and the courts put the woman herself on trial.
We’ve heard rumours have circulated about the questions we’re meant to have asked her, which included whether we asked her what she was wearing. And I can tell you comrades, we did not ask that question, it’s just not true.
We only asked questions around the issues that had been presented to us. As I said earlier, we had made clear that we were going to investigate not just the question of rape, but the broader relationship, the broader issues. We had said to both parties before we start that that would mena we might have to ask them some questions that we wouldn’t ask them if we were just investigating the question of rape.
So, coming on to our conclusions. We discussed all that we had heard over quite a long period of time very thoroughly. The conclusions we came to were that we were unanimous in our view that Comrade Delta had not raped W. In relation to the other questions, we considered how to weigh up the different accounts we’d heard very carefully. It was a difficult thing to do, and we tried to take into account all of the issues that might influence our views.
We decided that we didn’t believe that any of the allegations were proved, and that was why we didn’t find that Comrade Delta was sexually abusive or harassing, and therefore why we didn’t recommend any disciplinary action against him. If we had believed that he was guilty of any misconduct, then we would have either recommended his expulsion or his removal from the central committee, which would have been the two options available to us.
So that was the conclusion that we came to. We would like to stress that we’ve only had one complaint against Comrade Delta. But after we concluded the hearing, a woman comrade, who we’ve called X, wanted to give a report to the disputes committee which she believed was relevant to the case. She confirmed to us that she didn’t want to make a formal complaint, and we explained that we’d concluded our case. But we agreed to meet with her and to consider what she had to say. So we met with her, and with Comrade Delta.
We were clear that it didn’t change our view of the outcome of W’s case, the complaint that we’d heard. We would like to say that the issues that X raised didn’t include the suggestion that there had been any sexual activity that had taken place between her and Comrade Delta. She did subsequently contact us, and she said that she wanted to register that she was going to make a formal complaint, and that she didn’t want it dealt with until after this conference. We asked her to make clear what her complaint was, but we have not received that.
The other issue that I just want to raise before I finish is that we have received a deal of correspondence from comrades, making complaints about how other comrades have operated in this, since, since this case has happened, and especially about breaches of confidentiality. And we were also asked to investigate these by the CC. So the disputes committee will look at these after conference, and if there are any serious breaches of party discipline, we will investigate them. But in general, we do hope that the conference will make some political decisions that do allow us to move on, without the disputes committee sitting in permanent session.
To conclude, we are obviously – the seven of us – the only people who have heard all the evidence that was brought before us. Because we can’t go into the details, that means that you will have to take our report and the conclusions that we came to really on trust, that we did this correctly. All I can say, all I can emphasise really, is how seriously we took this process. We met over a period of four long days. We were as thorough and meticulous as we could be. And I would like to stress that if we had believed that Comrade Delta was guilty of any misconduct, we would have recommended disciplinary sanctions.
And as I’ve said, we discussed things really from every angle, politically, grounded in our belief in the poliics of our organisation. We are unanimous that we came to this with no preconceived agenda, that we used the best methods of the revolutionary tradition. We discussed, debated, considered, changed our minds, listened to each other, and then we came to the best conclusions that we could, to the best of our abilities, and it’s on that basis that I put this report to you and to the conference.
KAREN: I don’t really think applause is applicable in any of these debates or contributions. I think we should just listen carefully and give our judgment at the end of them. The next speaker is Viv Smith from Dalston branch. She’ll have five minutes, which is an extended contribution.
VIV S: I should make clear that I’m not speaking from Dalston, I’m just speaking as I was involved as a witness in the dispute. (Audience: Can’t hear! Mic!) Is that better? Comrades, I want to start from something I think we can all agree on, which is that we are very proud of the party’s politics and tradition in fighting women’s oppression, and I think we saw this in action this summer where the rest of the left really failed the test of the Assange case, getting the issue of imperialism wrong and on the issue of women’s oppression. I think George Galloway paid the price for that and Respect paid the price for that. We stand head and shoulders above any other organisation when it comes to fighting for women’s liberation.
It’s really because of this that we felt we had to come forward, because when things go wrong we feel they have to be discussed properly, and that’s why we’re raising this challenge.
Now people will have seen in IB3, as Candy’s talked about, some of us were involved in this disputes committee hearing in the summer. We’re very concerned about the way the hearing was conducted, and the failure of the report in our minds to explain the outcome.
The hearing as you’ve heard concerned an accusation of rape, an incredibly serious accusation which we think the committee did take very seriously, and Candy mentioned the fact that the woman had come forward a few years previously at a conference. And the CC did handle the case in the way that she asked them to. But I think it’s important to say that she felt she could come forward two years later because she – as she explained it to me when she rang me up and asked me to give evidence on her behalf – she felt able to actually confront the issues that she’d gone through and actually say that she felt she had been raped. She felt the way the party had handled the Assange case gave her confidence that she would get a fair hearing.
Unfortunately, although Candy’s put a very clear picture of the case, it wasn’t her experience that it went well. She’s incredibly traumatised by the hearing, and I think it’s fair to say that the witnesses are incredibly shocked by some of the things that took place.
I think the most serious for us – because Candy’s absolutely right, nobody as far as I know or as far as the woman has said asked her how she was dressed – but comrades, she was asked about past and subsequent sexual relationships, and she was pressured –
KAREN (interrupts): Could I ask you not to go into the detail of what was discussed, because I don’t think that’s relevant and that is one of the ground rules that we agreed. (Audience groans.) I think if we get into the details of the case – (Many audience members: Let’s hear it!) I did ask if people could not actually interrupt. We are attempting to deal with a very very serious issue, and I think it’s important that a guarantee of confidentiality was given. I think that then if we try and then hear this, hearing small elements of what took place and the detail of the content, then we’re actually moving to a different agenda to the one that we agreed. I suggest we attempt to stick to that.
VIV: Should I go on? Thank you. My point is that she was asked on the basis of gossip, that had apparently been relayed in a meeting, about a relationship with another male comrade. Now that’s not going into the detail of the case, that was an accusation that was made. I don’t think there is any place in the SWP in respect of procedure for us to question the woman, or anyone else for that matter, about their sexual behaviour in relation to a rape case.
But Candy, I think you also have to admit that there were other problems.
She wasn’t offered support – we asked for support. The woman had to ask the disputes committee if she could have someone in the room with her, she had to ask the panel so that she knew one person in the room. She knew nobody on the disputes committee panel.
And I think one of the most distressing things for her was that she was expected to respond immediately to the evidence that Comrade Delta was able to bring – she never got to see it in advance. He had her statement for weeks before she appeared in front of the panel. Some of the issues that were raised were things she had blocked out, and it was an incredibly traumatic experience for her.
And yes, I think Candy’s absolutely right to say it’s important that the comrades on the panel were asked about whether or not they felt able to take part in the hearing, but I think we do need to consider and think about very carefully – and this is not an attack on the individuals involved – that when five of the people hearing the case were either current or former CC members, and that all of the people had worked incredibly closely with Comrade Delta, which is going to happen when you’re dealing with a leading comrade, I think you have to acknowledge that it brings an incredibly huge burden to bear. I’ve worked with Comrade Delta for 12 years and it’s an incredibly difficult situation.
Shortly after the hearing Candy referred to, a second woman came forward with an allegation of sexual harassment, and she will speak herself in this session. I think it’s important to say that she’s been moved from her party job following giving that evidence, and that she’s been told her presence at the centre would disrupt the harmony of the office. I think this constitutes punishing her for making a complaint of sexual harassment.
The main concern for us is that two comrades have come forward, with an allegation of rape and an allegation of sexual harassment. I think the response of ‘not proven’ does not explain in any way, in any sufficient way at all, how those sanctions have been applied, particularly given that two years previously the CC had clearly taken some kind of discussion and action.
The way the CC has dealt with the situation subsequently has very much made the situation worse, by not giving details within the bounds of confidentiality to the NC, for example. And –
(Red ‘stop speaking’ light goes on)
I’m hoping for a little bit of extra time, because people did interrupt me.
KAREN: I’ve given you an extra minute, Viv, I’m afraid. (Viv and Karen talk over each other)
VIV: All I want to say is that it’s very important comrades are clear we are not asking for the disputes committee to re-hear the case. The decision stands. We’re asking that comrades reject the report in recognition that there were serious failings in the way the hearing was conducted, and that a decision of ‘not proven’ does not sufficiently explain how it is that two women can come forward and not be believed. And –
KAREN: No. You have to –
(Viv leaves stage to applause)
KAREN: (over applause) … not to applaud contributions in this session. The next speaker will be Rhetta M from the disputes committee.
RHETTA M: Everybody who sat on this DC sat as revolutionary socialists but also with our world experience. I’m going to come to that in a minute, but just to respond to a couple of things from Viv first.
As I think was said by Candy before, all the questions that the DC put to W were shaped by the complaint that the person, W, brought to us. First of all it was in writing. And there were weeks between us receiving that written complaint and us coming together to listen to her, and to investigate the complaint, but I have to say that the delay was – we basically met as soon as W was available to meet with us, around her other commitments etc.
And the other thing that I want to say is that, er, yes, there was one complaint, and it isn’t the case that two women came forward with complaints against Comrade Delta. That was made very clear, I hope, to you in the report. We heard a complaint, we concluded our hearing, we were unanimous in our findings, and some time after that a second person came forward and said they wanted to share some aspects of their perspective on their relationship with Comrade Delta with us. We still have not received any other than one complaint on Comrade Delta.
I just want to go back to the world experience, and I want to say a few things about myself, which I didn’t say to any of the comrades in the dispute committee when we sat. (inaudible) I was trained as a rape counsellor, and I’ve been doing that work, working with people surviving rape, ever since, through my working life. I also did a doctorate on rape and aid. (Some personal information removed)
When I received this complaint, my first reaction was to ring the chair and to ask straightaway, how are we supporting the complainant? I was reassured that this was offered to her, and she had said she had all the support she wanted from the DC and the CC. So because of that, as has been said before, I want to talk a little bit about process.
Because of understanding the need to be as absolutely supportive as possible, Comrade Delta was only in the room when he was questioned by us. He wasn’t in the room otherwise. We did everything we could to put our questions – and in this instance, in the chair requested, we were thorough and meticulous in our investigation.
KAREN: That’s time.
RHETTA: At the end of the day, we didn’t find that Comrade Delta had done anything wrong. Because of my experience, my background, I have no hesitation in saying to you that if he had done something wrong (inaudible)
KAREN (over Rhetta): Thank you. The next speaker will be Hannah D.
HANNAH D: I think comrades may know that myself and three other members of the CC – Ray M, Joseph C and Mark B – have expressed our reservations about the disputes committee report and the CC’s handling of the aftermath at a number of CC meetings since the DC reported. I wanted to request that we had the opportunity to bring this to conference, because we felt that we had a duty to be open to comrades about them.
Why? Not because this is a question of questioning the integrity of comrades on the DC, but because it is right that comrades are able to judge whether, especially in cases of this nature, the report equips them to feel confident that we have dealt with this issue in a way that is beyond repoach.
What are the issues at stake? They have been laid out by Candy. Our politics give us a common understanding of the enormous obstacles facing women who bring complaints of this nature, so we have to understand that no woman comes forward lightly. We have to do everything in our power to give them a sympathetic and supportive hearing. It is essential of course that we seek to establish the facts as well as possible, because that’s essential to do justice to all parties involved.
But because the DC is a political body, it also has to show how our wider politics of oppression were applied in the deliberations and decisions. That’s why the DC worked very hard to deliver a clear verdict on the rape allegation, as well as the wider questions of sexual harassment and conduct. And I think we have to say in relation to the question of conduct, there was clearly some disagreement on the disputes committee, with the comrades only being able to decide that the allegations were not proven, and the chair of the disputes committee reporting to the CC that he felt that the conduct fell short of a CC member.
The question of conduct is not about moralism – it’s to do with standards of behaviour. I think that when two women say that they felt a leading comrade’s behaviour was inappropriate, the question of conduct is entirely relevant. I think in hindsight that given the focuses of the divisions on the DC, and the not proven verdict, that the CC should have taken a clear position on the question of conduct, and given our reasons for accepting Comrade Delta’s resignation – because I think it would have helped mitigate against some of the polarisation that has taken place in the party over the last few months.
I think one of the most regrettable parts of it has been the rumours and speculation on all sides with unwarranted attacks on Comrade Delta and the disputes committee. I think it is of particular concern that the two women – the CC has received complaints about the way in which the two women involved in the complaint have been accused of having done it for a personal grudge or out of political malice, and that those who have been critical, including myself, in the privacy of the CC have been labelled as feminists, autonomists, or motivated by political disagreement. There is no place for these in our party, so let’s acknowledge them, and let’s rebut them strongly at this conference.
I think it would have been helpful to allow comrades to move amendments to the report, rather than giving delegates the choice (Karen talks over Hannah) – hold on, I’ll finish on this – the choice of accepting or rejecting the report. And I think it’s been made clear that if comrades reject the report, the complainants do not want to reopen the case. But I do feel it’s essential that any newly elected DC looks at these questions in order to develop a more effective response in the future.
KAREN: The next speaker will be Dave S.
DAVE S: I just want to make a few points because there’s a lot of speakers and there’s not a lot of time. I concur with some of the things that Hannah said – if people were attacked for bringing a complaint to us because of having political reasons, then we want to make clear that anyone’s got the right to bring a complaint. I think Candy tried to make it clear – it’s not about feminism or attacks on people or anything like that, anybody’s got the right to bring a complaint, and we wouldn’t want to be in a position where the disputes committee isn’t able to encourage people to bring a complaint without personal villification. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to maintain confidentiality and for us to bring the report to the conference that put us in place in the first place.
I’ve been in the party for 40 years, and I’ve had the misfortune, fortune, you can put it however you like, to have been on disputes committees on occasions over the years. (inaudible) This is by far the most serious and the most vexing I’ve ever been involved in. It’s also the longest running one I think that’s happened, and the most thoroughly investigated that’s happened. We took it very seriously.
And I think – I wanted to deal with a couple of points. I want to make clear that the committee unanimously, all seven of us, agreed that Comrade Delta did not rape W. On the rest of the very serious charges, it was very difficult to deal with incidents that happened three and a half years ago, and we never felt anyone was lying or making up (inaudible), I want to make that quite clear. But there were contradictions in what had taken place and how it had taken place.
There were no witnesses to the events, and there was nothing in terms of evidence and detail that would lead us to believe that Comrade Delta – that it was proved that Comrade Delta (inaudible)
We came to a compromise. The spirit of the ‘not proven’ was that. (inaudible) None of the speakers have said this – and I’d like to think Viv and Hannah – but there have been accusations made against the committee that we’ve acted as a whitewash for Comrade Delta, or as stooges for the central committee.
I speak for myself, but it applies to everybody else. I’ve dealt with disputes cases where I’ve been involved in expelling the full timer for the district, somebody that I’d worked with for years, who’d been a former CC member, who I’d built a friendship with. It was a painful experience, it damaged the district, I can’t say I’m proud of what happened, but we didn’t balk at that. We would have taken action against Comrade Delta if we thought it was merited. There’s more I wanted to say, but I’ve run out of time, comrades, thank you.
KAREN: The next speaker is Sadia J.
SADIA J: The first thing I want to say is that the complainant is this case frequently asked to come to this session, so she could be aware of what’s being said about her, because it is her case after all. She was prepared to speak out so that people could hear about her experiences and learn from what’s happened here, so that it wouldn’t happen again. But she was denied that right by the CC.
I want to talk about her experiences after she made the complaint. A lie that’s been frequently told is that she’s been manipulated by other people with their own agenda. She refutes this, which is yet another reason why she wanted to be here today.
She thought that if she put a complaint to the party that it would be dealt with in line with the party’s politics and our proud tradition on women’s liberation. Sadly her experience was quite the opposite. She felt that from the beginning – that there were problems from the beginning and she expressed them to Pat Stack. And I have to say that Pat has been really amazing with her throughout this whole process.
(inaudible) … be questioned in line with gossip. And again I’m sad to say that her experience really was the opposite. She feels that she was questioned in quite a reactionary way, and was made to answer questions on the spot as if she was the one on trial.
She was questioned about why she went for a drink with him, her witnesses were repeatedly asked whether she’d been in a relationship with him, and you know, she was asked about (Karen begins to talk over Sadia to warn about providing details) … she was asked about relationships with other comrades including sexual relationships. All this was irrelevant to the case.
We’ve got a proud tradition in the party of rejecting that line of questioning by the state. This is about consent. To date she hasn’t been told what evidence was presented against her by Comrade Delta and by his witnesses. She felt she was being interrogated and felt they were trying to catch her out in order to make her out to be a liar. She did not accept the line of questioning, saying ‘they think I’m a slut who asked for it’.
Rita, a comrade who is experienced in working with rape victims and was supporting her in the questioning – she had to actually go back into the room and have a go at the DC for their inappropriate questions.
Her treatment afterwards has been worse. She feels completely betrayed. No one on the CC has ever contacted her voluntarily, not even to tell her that Comrade Delta was standing down, and she feels she’s been treated as this non-person. The disgusting lies and gossip going round about her has been really distressing and disappointing for her to hear, and the way her own witnesses have been treated in Birmingham hasn’t been much better.
We discussed our concerns with Charlie and Amy before the Birmingham aggregate, and they both stated that they took our concerns on board. At our aggregate, the treatment of her witnesses was so bad that the CC received two formal complaints from comrades, and a formal complaint has been lodged with the disputes committee.
Recently the complainant wanted to attend a meeting and tried to talk to a local member. He told her that it wasn’t appropriate for him to speak to her and he walked away. What kind of message does this send out – that if you have a serious allegation to bring against a leading member, don’t bother because you’ll be victimised for doing so?
Is it right that a young woman has to plan her route to work avoiding paper-sellers, or that she comes away from a meeting crying because people refuse to speak to her? Is it right that her witnesses are questioned about their commitment to the party because they missed a branch meeting?
I’ve always been really proud of being a member of the party and I’ve been really proud of our tradition on women’s oppression. This isn’t about an attack on democratic centralism.
KAREN: You need to wind up.
SABBY: Disagreeing with the (inaudible) doesn’t make the complainant or any of us an anti-Leninist. We’ve always taken a principled stance on this issue. And we’re asking conference to reject this report, and to challenge an emerging culture in our party, so that this can never happen again.
KAREN: The next speaker is Amy L.
AMY L: I just want to explain – I think Candy missed it out by mistake – that on the panel that heard this case, there were two members of the central committee, myself and Esme C. That’s why I’m speaking.
Someone’s just raised the case about whether we considered conduct. I want to be very clear that the disputes committee did consider this. In fact our entire investigation was about conduct. Because Candy outlined, before we heard any of the evidence from anybody, we decided what we would actually investigate. We decided we wouldn’t just investigate the issue of rape that was brought to us, but actually we looked at whether there was sexual assault, harassment, or if the relationship had been abusive.
That really reflected our understanding of women’s oppression. We thought from the start it wouldn’t be good enough to say that there were things we were concerned about, but we didn’t rule on them because it wasn’t in our remit. So we made it our remit. So the whole investigation was actually about conduct, and we extend that to both parties.
Now also then, does that raise the issue of the (expected) conduct of a central committee member? We wouldn’t tolerate issues of rape, of sexism, harassment or abuse from any of our members. But for a central committee member, it’s not just about the personal behaviour, it’s about also damaging the party. It made us more conscious of that. (inaudible) At the end of that process, we did not hide those things that we laid out in our remit.
The other thing was this idea that ‘not proved’ leaves it open. I want to be clear – it was unanimous on the disputes committee, the main charge of rape, we didn’t think Comrade Delta did this. But perhaps not proven left open the other allegations, that he’d done it maybe, maybe not? This was not what was meant and not what we thought.
I have to say, the real concrete proof after we’d listened for four days to all the evidence and everything – the concrete proof that we didn’t think he’d done this was that no disciplinary action was taken at all. If we thought there was any chance of those issues (inaudible) we’d take action whatever the position in the party. I really hope that comrades understand just how seriously we took this process, how we took into consideration our wider politics, and how at the end we came to our decision that Comrade Delta had not done those things, and I ask you to accept this report.
(Smattering of applause)
KAREN: The next speaker will be X.
(Note – X was named in the conference and spoke openly, however I am not naming her in this transcript)
X: Some comrades will already know that I’m the second woman who’s come forward as part of the dispute, and it’s me that’s been removed from my position in the (removed) department. I wanted to say that I’d been a district organiser for (removed) years and I hope people will respect that I wouldn’t come forward lightly.
I want to start by reiterating what Candy said – that this isn’t a trial, comrades won’t get to hear both sides of the story, so you’re never going to be in a position to decide who you believe. However, comrades can take a position on whether the process you think has been adequate.
I also want to add that I think it’s entirely disingenuous that leading members have denied that there is a second complaint. My evidence was effectively a second complaint, but because of the experience of the first case I’m unwilling to have it heard by the current disputes committee as a separate dispute. I don’t accept the account given that they’re not aware of the substance of my complaint – it’s the same as the account that I’d given in the first place.
I want to just quickly outline why I think there were problems with the way the dispute was conducted. First I think the composition of the disputes committee was problematic. Viv has mentioned that five of the seven were former or current CC members, most of the people have close or long term working relationships and in some cases friendships with the accused, and while I don’t for a second question the personal integrity of the individual comrades, when it comes down to, as they said, whose version of events you’re most likely to believe, I do think it creates an unfair bias in this case.
And I want to reiterate – it’s not an attack on the comrades’ integrity, or as the CC argued in their statement, about questioning the comrades’ ability to apply our politics on women’s oppresion. (inaudible)
I believe the nature of the investigation was fundamentally flawed. The accused was able to see my evidence four days in advance of any questioning to prepare his defence. I was not made aware of the evidence the accused brought to contradict the case, so I had no opportunity to challenge his testimony. I was still denied the right to even basic details of his response – whether he’s denied it ever happened, given a different version of events. None of my witnesses were called. I was never cross-questioned following the accused’s evidence.
Obviously there are instances where people may come forward with malicious intent, so it’s right to investigate claims. However in our tradition we argue that women do not come forward lightly in cases like these. We should start from that belief and attempt to substantiate the woman’s complaint. U don’t believe that the DC in my case shows this to have happened.
Finally – (voice breaks) in my opinion the worst part was the nature of some of the questioning. I was asked if it was fair to say I liked to have a drink. That’s all I need to say on the matter.
Just very quickly, I’m running out of time, but I just wanted to address – because the question of my job has been raised by the factions, to avoid any confusion, I wanted to address this. It is true that I did initially resign. (inaudible) Charlie rightly refused to accept my resignation on the basis that I shouldn’t be punished for bringing forward a complaint. Within days of the hearing I asked to be allowed to return to work, but in many meetings and appeals to the central committee I was repeatedly told that I’d disrupt the harmony of the office.
The worst part and the most stressful part of this is the motivations that have been ascribed to people coming forward. We’ve had accusations of the state – (Karen calls time)
KAREN: The next speaker is Charlie K.
CHARLIE K: Comrades, I want to talk about the method that has guided us through what was inevitably going to be an extremely difficult process. It is that we were never going to hear, in front of the whole of the party, the evidence involved in this case. To preserve anonymity, to protect the individuals involved, the party has developed a method which involves a group of comrades on the disputes committee going away and looking at all the evidence involved in a case. That’s an incredibly onerous responsibility, and it’s one you should take very seriously yourselves as a conference when you elect people to these positions.
Because they take on – you voluntarily cede your right to look at all the evidence, and instead cede to those people, we give you this responsiblity. It’s a method of setting up a group independent of the central committee which has been repeatedly agreed inside the party, including at the democracy commission. Does this make them infallible? It does not. It does not. But let me repeat that the only people, the only people that have heard all the evidence in this case are the people on the disputes committee.
Not the bloggers. Not the gossips. Not the people who have attacked anybody else in this case. The only people who have heard it all are the disputes committee.
And therefore for me, it would have to be a very powerful reason to overturn their verdict. And I say – and I share this with you – that I would have argued to support the disputes committee report whatever it had said. If it had called for disciplinary action against Comrade Delta, I would have argued to accept it. If it had argued to expel Comrade Delta, I would have argued to accept it. And I now argue that we should accept the decisions that dispute committee has come up with, because I think to do otherwise is to impose our belief about what we know about the case above the actual evidence which the people heard themselves.
On X’s case, look, it was difficult. X came to me at the end of the process and said that she wanted to resign from her position working full time for the party. I took it upon myself to say it was inappropriate for X to do that. And I met her twice, and twice she told me that she wanted to resign from working for the party. It was stressful, it was difficult, but I continued to argue for her not to do that.
That doesn’t feel to me like the action of someone who is attempting to drive someone out of their position. It doesn’t feel to me like it was the action of someone who was trying to victimise somebody.
Then X said that she agreed about that, but did not feel – and it’s entirely reasonable – did not feel that she could work that she could continue to work in the (removed) department. (Identifying information removed) It was because of that that I tried to find a solution and compromise which has ended up with her working (removed – another party job). Don’t think that it was at all easy, but that doesn’t sound to me like victimisation.
KAREN: The next speaker is Pat S.
PAT S: Is this on? (Audience: No.) Is it on? (Audience: No.) (Mic gets fixed)
OK comrades, I want to just say a few things. Hearing this case was the hardest thing that I’ve done in my 38 years in the party. And it was made harder by the fact that, as Candy said at the beginning, we all knew Comrade Delta and we didn’t know W. We all tried to take that into account, and all measures to make things as accommodating as possible for W – I was in regular contact with her, and I’m sorry if she feels in any way that we fell short on doing that, because I really tried to make sure that we didn’t.
At the end of the hearing I ended up in a minority of one. As a result I’ve been the subject of lots of gossip and speculation.
It’s been said that I found Comrade Delta guilty of rape. I didn’t – I agree with the majority on that question absolutely. My disagreement came around the question of sexual harassment, and at the end of the hearing I was very uneasy about that question.
After X came forward as a witness, I reached the conclusion that while sexual harassment was still not proven, it was likely that it had occurred. And I also felt that Comrade Delta’s conduct fell short of that that one should expect of a CC member.
As a result of this, I had stories put around that I was part of a plot to ‘get Comrade Delta’. I ask the comrades this – why would I be part of a plot to get Comrade Delta? I’ve known him for years, I consider him a friend, I have enormous respect for what he’s done for the party, and any time we have been on a different side of arguments, there has been no rancorous feeling between us.
I am also not part of a feminist faction, a democracy faction or indeed any faction. The idea that Bambery or Counterfire would get hold of any information about this case is something that fills me with horror. I did not automatically believe the woman involved, any more than I automatically believed the CC member. I tried honestly and even-handedly to follow the evidence to a conclusion.
Since that time – and the conclusion was the one I’ve said – since that time I have had concerned. I was shocked at comrades who have not heard the evidence going round branding Comrade Delta a rapist. I think that is shocking.
I was equally shocked though when longstanding comrades, who really should have known better and knew nothing of the case, assigned motives to the two women who came forward which the disputes committee never assigned to them – indeed, which we explicitly rejected. I would say to the comrades who do that, that there are lessons that must be learned for the future, and one of them must be that any woman within the party has the right to come forward without their motives being speculated on by people who have no idea about the incident (inaudible as talks over applause).
This case was difficult for everybody, but at the end of the day, I could not do any other than stand by the conclusions I had reached, in fairness to all the parties concerned.
KAREN: The next speaker is Regi P.
REGI P: I just want to start off by saying that I do thank Candy and the disputes committee. (inaudible) I actually feel a bit more reassured. (inaudible) Over the past few months it’s been very very hard, we’ve had all sorts of rumours, all sorts of horrible things and it’s been really really dofficult to know what to do about it. It’s been difficult to respond and to go forward and talk to people who are coming up to us saying I’ve heard this, I’ve heard this, blah blah blah. It’s been a difficult time.
But I think it is important that we go back to how we got this disputes committee. Because we could going round and round in circles over lots of different things. (inaudible)
I was a delegate to last year’s conference, and I voted for the disputes committee. And I voted for them because I think these people are best placed to deal with these difficult questions. I would never want to hear any of these things, and I think it’s a very difficult thing they have to do. I voted for them because I trust that any case that comes up against them, they will deal with it with the utmost scrunity, regardless of any person’s long standing in the party, whatever they have done. (inaudible) What it actually means is if they are a CC member, we need to deal with it with the utmost scrutiny. We need to deal with it with the highest standards of the party. And I believe that this disputes committee has been able to hold each case to the highest standards.
I came here today to listen with an open mind, listen to the debates, listen to – I knew there were going to be oppositions. I have come to listen to both sides, then make up my mind, then vote and move forward. And what I’ve heard from the people who were there in the disputes committee is that they did try to deal with this as sensitively as possible, because we know, from our perspective we know that the bourgeois courts deal with these cases in horrible ways.
They changed the process in order to support her. They spent an extra large amount of time looking at this case. They treated it in a very broad way – they didn’t just look at one allegation. And I genuinely feel, from this hall, that I can say I believe this very very serious allegation has been dealt with with a very serious method. I feel a sense of relief actually, that I do feel reassured by this report. And I think the party has actually held up this case to its highest levels. (inaudible)
KAREN: Thank you. The next speaker will be Sara B.
SARA B: Comrades, we have to welcome the fact that we have a disputes committee. We have no faith in the bourgeois court system to deliver justice. (inaudible) The contribution I’m about to make is in no way to undermine the fact that we have a disputes committee – that is the right way to go.
However, I think the fact that we’re having this debate, that there is a challenge, that we’ve heard today that the crux of the differences on the central committee come down to this report, that we’ve just heard Pat S’s view on the report and we’ve heard from one of the people who gave evidence as well – something has gone somewhat awry with this case, and I think it is our duty to look into it and come to a conclusion about our attitude to whether the report should be accepted or rejected.
Now some of the things that come out of this have been arguments that anyone who wants to challenge or disagrees with the outcome is either a feminist or it’s moralism. I just want to deal quickly with this. It’s nothing to do with feminism – I think that’s been dealt with actually. But I’ll talk about the question of moralism, and bourgeois morality – that somehow we’ve got something against people of different ages having relationships with each other, or it isn’t acceptable that people might be conducting affairs. This has got nothing to do with it comrades.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have morality inside the SWP. It’s not a case of ‘anything goes’. When Candy says that they wanted to make sure that the conduct of comrades didn’t fall below standards, I have to go further. It’s not just about falling below standatds that might be set down by society. Our standards have to be watertight, they have to be the highest of the highest standards, especially for our leading comrades who are leading who are leading in the class and in united fronts. We’ve got to be like Teflon – non-stick. (Applause)
We have to make sure that the answer we get is absolutely crystal clear. I do have a problem though about the procedure. What we’ve heard up to now – and it’s right that this should be debated at conference – is that we must defend the procedure, we must trust in those who are on the disputes committee. I’ve nothing against the integrity of the people on the disputes committee, or the fact that we have one.
But at the end of the day for me what counts is that the procedure should lead to an outcome that clarifies the situation, that gives us guidance and makes us feel confident, internally within our organisation and externally to the outside world, that we have done the right thing. And comrades, I don’t think we can wholeheartedly say that, and that in itself I think needs to be the reason why we reject the report in this instance, because I don’t think – actually, I agree with Charlie that we’re not infallible – I don’t think we must trust in the disputes committee because we must. That’s a cyclical argument.
We trust in the disputes committee because they deliver (inaudible) over key issues. I don’t think that’s been the case. The argument for rejection of the report is in this instance, not to re-open the case but to admit there is not the clarity we require, and to look for further improvements in the future to make sure that in the future the same mistakes aren’t repeated again.
KAREN: The next speaker is Esme C. While she’s getting up, we have a question: ‘Is there a political reason why, if conflicting accounts were given, the women were not believed?’
ESME C: The first thing I want to clear up is that if – well, we know the complainant is very distressed both by the outcome and by how she feels things have progressed since the hearing. Nobody on the disputes committee would want to cause stress to that woman or to the people around her.
I was one of the central committee members who was seconded to sit on the disputes committee, and none of us support the slander that has been put either about the claimant or about the people who supported the claimant, or the labels that have been attached to them. We believe that every comrade who has been involved in this process has the right to be treated with the dignity and respect that is befitting of our party’s ability to investigate very difficult and trying cases that are brought before us.
The second thing is I want to clear up something that X raised. X raised with us, why when she came to us with her evidence was she not allowed to bring witnesses, not allowed to have Comrade Delta’s testimony relayed back to her? The reason for that is that we’d asked her whether she wanted to make a formal complaint, and we’d made it clear to her that she had every right to do so. And at that point in time she did not want to make a formal complaint. Therefore we only listened to her testimony in regard to whether it changed our point of view on the original investigation.
We made it clear to her then, as we do now, that she still has every right to put in a formal complaint against Comrade Delta that will be heard formally by the disputes committee with witnesses on both sides, and with the chance for both sides to go through the formal process of scrutiny that happened in the first case that we heard.
That’s why that happened. It wasn’t an attempt to deny justice, it was an attempt to hear from somebody brought in after we’d heard the case some evidence that she thought we ought to hear, but who did not at that time want to make a formal complaint (inaudible).
The next thing I want to clear up really is about the inappropriate questioning. Because, you see, as Candy mentioned at the beginning, firstly many of the rumours about things we might or might not have asked are greatly untrue. Comrades know here that we should not listen to lies and rumours about what has or hasn’t been said. The second thing is that the questions that we did ask – and it was raised by somebody else, not myself and not the disputes committee, that we raised a question about the comrade’s sexual history. We asked one question that was related to the testimony brought to us by the complainant.
We didn’t introduce new material into that. We asked her about what she’d brought to us because she thought it was relevant to our investigation of what had happened. We asked a question about that, she told us the answer to that, and we accepted the answer that she had told us. So we weren’t asking inappropriate questions, we were trying to do the job that comrades had asked us to do, which is people make a complaint of rape comrades, I’m afraid we have to investigate that complaint. And we have to ask, within the remit of what we think is responsible questions – we have to be able to ask people about the evidence they give us.
I’m very sorry for the distress that that’s caused, but we have to be able to scrutinise –
KAREN: Wind up.
ESME: – the questions that people bring to us in a thorough way so we can report back to and be accountable in front of the party.
KAREN: The next speaker is Gill G.
GILL G: OK, comrades – the theme for the last two days has been that we have to stop talking about this internal shit and build the class struggle. Absolutely right. But you know what? Sometimes you can’t move on unless you deal with something.
And the issue that we’re talking about this evening – this issue has been simmering away in the party for two years. It’s now part of a huge row that has been taking place over the past two or three months.
This is the reason the CC is split. This is why four young comrades have found themselves out of the party. This is why at this conference we’ve seen one group of comrades urged to view another group of comrades as the enemy. This is damaging.
And much of this contribution is addressed to the CC actually, because all of you – whichever side of the split – all of you are immensely capable. I hope that conference will vote to reject this disputes committee report, and will do that as an acknowledgment that there’s a problem, and that we’re going to deal with it. Not to re-open the case, but whatever the vote on the disputes committee, I want the CC to give leadership in a difficult situation.
I want you to take away the proposals that were put to you by thirty members of this organisation that we asked to be distributed, and that was not allowed. I want you to look at those proposals seriously, work together, and come back to this conference tomorrow with a proposed way forward.
Now those proposals – they included some very very basic things. That comrades who bring a complaint of serious sexual misconduct should be supported, should be kept informed and not be questioned on their sexual history. If we cannot agree this comrades, then frankly I despair.
Tbere’s this daft idea that other people have mentioned, that it’s impossible to criticise the disputes committee because it’s an elected body of this organisation, and somehow that will call the whole of our tradition into disrepute. Well that’s nonsense. That’s not political argument, that’s bureaucratic rubbish. Come on, comrades – this is an excellent organisation, but occasionally we make mistakes.
And I’ll tell you what, CC – if we do not deal with this at this conference, this will be on every fucking sectarian blog out there and this party will be dragged through the mud, and it will damage our work in years to come, it will damage our ability to recruit and build.
I’m so proud of this party. We can do so much better than this. But it has to start this evening. I’m moving rejection of the disputes committee report, because this time we’ve made a mistake. We should acknowledge that, we should move on.
The very final point – the complainant asked to be here, she was denied permission to be here. My understanding – I’ve never met her, but my understanding is she will be outside at the end of this session if comrades would like to meet her and discuss what actually happened.
KAREN: The last speaker will be Maxine B.
MAXINE B: The first thing I want to say is that I really feel that, despite what everybody’s said, that really there is a challenge being made to the integrity of the disputes committee.
For myself, I joined the party as a young woman through the question of women’s oppression. I thought the party was the best place to be, not just in terms of the theory but in terms of the way in which we act, our practice. And I really reject the idea that there has been some kind of cover up that has taken place, or the idea that the decision was made because Comrade Delta was on the central committee.
Now I think a lot of you in this room, maybe not some of the newer members, will know that two years ago it was Sheffield district and myself who wrote the article that went into the internal bulletin that attacked John Rees for his role, who was a leading central committee member. I tell you, to me I do not care if you’re on the central committee or what position you have in the party. If Comrade Delta had been found guilty, if we believed in any way he had done any of these things, I personally would have not only asked for him to be removed from the CC, I would have asked for him to be expelled from the party. I tell you, we did not.
The reason I say this really is that despite everything everybody has said who’s come up to oppose it, we are the only people who sat and listened for day in and day out to the evidence from both sides. I tell you, it’s not good enough to say that if a woman makes a complaint, then she is right. We have to be able to listen to the evidence that is there, and that is precisely what we did.
Now Pat didn’t, in the end, sign up to the statement. But I tell you, all five women, who have long term experience of dealing with questions around women’s oppression, did sign up to it, because we believed that he was not guilty. I tell you, it was a very very sad case that we had innuendos, that this has been pulled into factional activity as well, and I think that all of that is really to the detriment of the possibility of anybody getting justice inside this organisation. Because people have tittle-tattled all sorts of lies and innuendos across the party and made this into a highly factional issue. I think that this is completely and utterly wrong.
I had to bite my lip for the last three months while I listened to the stuff that has been said about this case, and I tell you, they were not true. To be honest, some of the things that have been said up here are not true.
But I believe that people have the right to confidentiality. And I do not see anybody else coming forward with any alternative to the way we did it. We gave W absolute respect. I urge you to vote for this report that we’ve made, and to be honest, nobody else has come forward to stand for the disputes committee. I do not know, if people are so angry about the way in which the disputes committee have dealt with this then really they should have come forward with an alternative slate.
KAREN: Comrades, I’m going to ask Candy to respond to the debate.
(From floor: Point of order! Point of order!)
KAREN: If you want to make a point of order then you need to go to the standing orders committee. (Waits) It’s about whether we should have additional speakers. We haven’t got time. (inaudible) I think we should continue, so Candy can you sum up.
CANDY: Comrades, I think the first thing to say is that we completely understand that it was an extremely difficult thing to do to come forward. I don’t think anybody would expect that to be any other way. I think that one of the criticisms against us is that we didn’t give W support in this, and I really think that that isn’t true. In fact Sadia said that Pat Stack had been wonderful in relation to the woman concerned, and Pat is the chair of the disputes committee who dealt with her. So I am absolutely sure that both before and during the process, we did everything we could to support her.
I’m afraid to say there was nothing we could do to make it a situation that wasn’t extremely distressing for her. We were very aware of that, and I think we did everything we could to try to support her.
Now I think it goes without saying that anyone who comes forward shouldn’t be victimised in any way for doing that. And I also, personally, believe that if anybody who has come forward in this way is accused in any way of having political motivations – whether it’s that they’re part of a grudge against Comrade Delta, or feminism, or a different view of women’s liberation – I personally believe that that is disgraceful and that kind of discussion shouldn’t be taking place.
But I’m here to tell you what the disputes committee did, and in terms of the disputes committee, we explicitly discussed whether those issues were relevant, and explicitly decided that they weren’t. We were here to listen to what was said to us.
In terms of whether people saw Comrade Delta’s evidence, he didn’t actually provide evidence in advance and that’s why they didn’t, why W didn’t see it.
In terms of who was on the panel – I mean, I explained that we were conscious of the fact that we knew Comrade Delta. To be honest comrades, I don’t believe you could have another panel of people who didn’t know Comrade Delta better than they knew that woman. And so that was a problem that we had to try to consciously overcome.
In terms of the questions that we asked – I can’t come back and answer some of the things that have been raised because I’m not going to go into the details. I can only assure you that we asked the questions that we did because we felt that we had to ask them to try to establish the issues that we were grappling with. (Karen talks over)
Sorry Karen, but just very quickly.
KAREN: You need to stop.
CANDY: OK. All I can do is just assure you that we looked at Comrade Delta’s role as a CC member, we took very seriously the high standard of behaviour, and we did everything we could to listen to the evidence and to come to the conclusions that we did. If we thought that –
(Smattering of applause)
KAREN: We are now going to take a vote on this matter. People need their voting cards in order to vote. The vote is on whether to accept or reject the disputes committee report that has been presented to you today. (Repeats this louder.) Could I see those in favour of accepting the report as presented to you today.
(Votes are counted)
KAREN: Can I see those against, please?
(Votes are counted)
KAREN: The report’s been accepted. There were 231 votes for accepting, 209 votes to reject and 18 absentions.
e2: My initial closer was woefully inadequate and really didn’t provide any direction for discussion, so I want to start over a bit. The idea I had for this thread was to potentially provide a space for people to speak out about their experiences regarding this issue and other things related to it. I’m not asking for anyone to talk about incidences this extreme, but we’ve all seen mansplaining, speaking over other people, etc. We can also talk about things that can be done to combat this sort of thing. After hearing about the PLP incident, the San Diego IWW branch is creating an Anti-Patriarchy Committee(something done in other branches before and exists at the national level) that is putting together a series of workshops to be integrated into our Organizer Trainings, and is currently formulating and editing existing disciplinary procedures for these types of issues.