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The SWP Disputes Committee Report

This weekend saw the SWP conference and one of the main events of note was the discussion on the Disputes Committee report.

The transcript of that discussion has been published (but with names redacted) on Socialist Unity blog.  It is quite lengthy, and I recommend reading the report in full, but I provide my own selection of  very edited highlights below:

Candy U from the Disputes Committee:

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…..

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….

[In relation to the rape allegation:]

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….

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…..

[We] all [on the Disputes Committee] 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 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 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….

We decided that we didn’t believe that any of the [2012] 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.

Viv S

We stand head and shoulders above any other organisation when it comes to fighting for women’s liberation…..

[F]ive 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….

Shortly after the hearing Candy referred to, a second woman came forward with an allegation of sexual harassment….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.

Rhetta M (from the Disputes Committee “DC”.)

Everybody who sat on this DC sat as revolutionary socialists.

Sadia J

[T]he complainant is [sic] 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 [Central Committee]….

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….

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?

X (X was named in the conference and spoke openly, however I am not naming her in this transcript)

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 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…

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.

Pat S (from the Disputes Committee)

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’.

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.

Gill G

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.

The Vote:

There were 231 votes for accepting, 209 votes to reject and 18 absentions [sic].

Charlie Kimber, National Secretary of the SWP, has written to Socialist Unity and had this to say:

I am shocked and outraged that you have published a transcript of the Disputes Committee session at the recent SWP conference….

You should never have published the transcript and should take it down immediately.

Andy Newman of Socialist Unity has not (at least as the time of writing) agreed to this request. However, if he does, it is fair to say that some people might have kept a copy of the transcript.

In the transcript, Hannah D is reported to have stated: “the DC is a political body.” Candy U of the Disputes Committee is reported as saying: “we discussed things really from every angle, politically, grounded in our belief in the poliics [sic] of our organisation.”  David Osler has made the obvious point on Twitter: “Wrong of SWP to treat rape allegation as political rather than criminal question.” I can also add, that despite the opinion of some in the SWP to “have no faith in the bourgeois court system to deliver justice,” I cannot imagine a bourgeois criminal court would allow judges or members the jury that are  friends or close colleagues with the accused.

Any rape or harassment allegation is a very serious charge. I have no knowledge over and above what has been published in the transcript as to the truth or otherwise of the allegations. What can be concluded, given the amount of votes against and abstentions to accepting the Disputes Committee report was almost the same as those in favour of accepting it, and that those delegates at conference were presumably the more dedicated members, that there is a large body of members who are not entirely happy with everything in the SWP.  Any bets on when the Party will split?