Jeremy Corbyn has swept to victory in the Labour leadership election by a huge movement for social change. Since his election victory over 65,000 people have joined the Labour Party. It is essential this hunger for change is allowed to express itself and is organised to deliver an election victory in 2020 which can truly transform our society to one which delivers for the majority and not the few.
When I heard Jeremy speak at the Burston School Strike rally, a week before his landslide victory, he put building a social movement to carry forward his vision at the centre of his speech.
The Corbyn victory has come under attack from the right within the Labour Party, the media and the traditional enemies of democratic socialism. The old guard within the Labour Party are standing over the Blaireite Humpty Dumpty with their rule book in one hand and a tube of glue in the other. What they are not doing is trying to activate and organise the new membership and supporters who have been attracted to the Corbyn vision of how things can be different and change. There is also an issue where New Labour are in control or leading coalitions within local councils. Part of the disaffection of Labour supporters is due to their collaboration with the Tories and Coalition Government, imposing austerity cuts on poor and disabled people. People don’t understand why you vote Labour and you get the Bedroom Tax, cuts to children’s services and adult social care, closing youth services and not building council houses. Their ‘new realist’ policies need to be killed off and the ‘dented shield’ philosophy buried once and for all.
We have also seen veiled and not so veiled threats from the establishment to move against this movement for social democratic change, stirring memories of the Allende Government in Chile.
It is for these reasons that Corbyn needs to build a sustainable and broad based mass social movement to carry through what has been started. To allow this emerging energy and support to wither would be a huge political mistake and a crime as it would allow the forces against social transformation both within and outside the Labour Party to regain the ascendency.
To build a truly sustainable social movement, cannot be done solely by the existing Labour Party machine. It is important the Party galvanises the new and returning membership to kill off the New Labour project once and for all and re-establish the links with progressive forces in the wider community and the Trade Unions. To build a social movement that can reach out and engage young people, ethnic minorities, the poor, oppressed and marginalised requires a complimentary but different approach.
The challenge is twofold. Firstly it is to activate the new membership and supporters, alongside existing members, so they can truly contribute to informing policy development and can also organise in their communities on the issues that matter to them. This will build a powerful political force to challenge the Tory Government on the privatisation of the NHS, schools, public services, housing, poverty and austerity. It can be proactive in campaigning for the environment, social housing, and a future for our young people, for refugees and migrants, against sexual violence and racism. Secondly it needs to turn out to the communities that are excluded from the political process. These are the sections of the population who were abandoned through the Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown years and hammered by the Coalition and Tory Governments. Young people, ethnic minorities in inner city areas, white working class communities on public housing estates and disabled people, their families and carers have all been abandoned and vilified by successive governments. They need to be won back to the principles and cause of equality, social justice, peace and human rights.
To build a social movement it will need a clear set of ideas, principles and methodology to develop and shape it.
Social Action is an approach that embraces this optimism and captures the possibilities for social change. It is a powerful tool for social change because it facilitates people to empower themselves and take action to address common issues, problems and concerns. Social Action has been influenced by social movements and people taking action against injustice across the globe. It draws its ideas and methodology from Marx, Chomsky, Freire, Biko, Allinsky, Klein and the feminist, black liberation, LGBT, disability movements and the Venezuelan Bolivarian Circles. It is inspired by the power and energy generated by people taking collective action on things they feel strongly about to achieve progress and social change. The powerful critiques of injustice and oppression offered by self-directed groups and user led organisations has helped us understand, articulate and develop our principles and methodologies. These are outlined in the Social Action website www.socialaction.info where all the resource materials are free to access.
There is a real connection however between the situation now and the early 1980s when Social Action was developing and that is a crisis in the economy and a mistrust of leadership in all areas of society. There is no part of the establishment that has not been hit by scandal and corruption. The economic and social problems we have today have their roots in Thatcher and Reagan’s attempts to re-balance the economies away from equity and social cohesion in favour of big business, profits and the wealth of the super-rich. This continued through the Blair/Brown years and has accelerated under the Coalition and now Tory Governments. This has led to a cynicism and division on the one hand and a search for new meanings and leadership to address this pervasive malaise on the other. What has not changed over the last 30 years is an anger and frustration in communities that so much is still rooted in negative assumptions and labelling. It seems that there is still so much investment in seeing poor and disabled people and communities as ‘the other’, with all the implied notions of superiority and inferiority. These notions are deeply rooted in our history and culture and have to be understood, deconstructed and addressed if we are to build a social movement that is to truly connect with the lived experience of the people and communities across the UK. If we are to unlock and unleash all that energy and creativity in working class communities which built the Labour and Trade Union movement then we need to make common cause and win back trust. If the ‘old guard’ is allowed to strangle and grind the new membership down with boring meetings, rule books and collaborationist outlook there is no chance of an election victory in 2020.
The task is to build a social movement which begins with issues and concerns in communities and localities. It means building from the bottom up and the inside out. It needs to start from neighbourhood and identity and build outwards. It challenges us not to lecture and hector with a top down programme but to really capture the anger and disaffection and channel it into a movement that can lead social change. It needs to draw inspiration from campaigns which have challenged austerity over the last five and a half years like Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), save our mental health services and NHS campaigns, the People’s Assembly and groups opposing the privatisation of our schools. It will need to be focused not just on defending our rights and services but also on providing new ideas and solutions that can drive the policy development process and the writing of election manifestos.
The returning and new Labour Party membership, inspired by Jeremy’s campaign and election, alongside those members who have stayed for the duration can be mobilised to facilitate this movement but they will need to be trained, organised, resourced and supported to do this. It is their new ideas, skills, energy and enthusiasm that needs to captured and channelled into challenging the Tories. This is so important to the election of a Corbyn/McDonnell led Labour Government in 2020 it must be right at the heart of the Opposition Leaders Office and the Shadow Cabinet mission to reconnect with the electorate. It must be present when Jeremy goes out on the road again after the conference season and at the heart of democratising the policy development process. It needs to be an item and priority on the agenda of every constituency meeting to co-produce and shape it. In Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland a conversation will need to take place about appropriate models for developing the social movement based on local circumstances.
The challenge is to use the collective experience of Social Action over the last thirty five years to co-create this social movement.
So how can this be achieved?
Each Constituency Party will be charged with setting up a Social Action Movement (SAM) as a way of drawing all the new members and supporters into the Party. Each SAM will be organised around thematic groups. These could include: Education, Environment/Climate Change, Health and Social Care, Mental Health, Housing, Refugees, Welfare Benefits, Justice, International Development, Youth Futures, Economic and Social Development and others based on local priorities/issues. It will be up to local memberships as to how many groups they set up but each constituency will be expected to organise new members SAM meetings to engage with them and supporters.
The social movement will also need to engage with the communities that are excluded from the political process. It will need to re-engage with those in the white working class who have defected to UKIP because the Blair/Brown project ignored them and they see their children and grandchildren with little hope of jobs, housing or a better life than they have. This group have not joined or become supporters of the Corbyn project yet but they do feel strongly about issues and are hungry for change. Many of them are there to be won back. The SAM will need to engage and activate them around local social justice issues and priorities.
A SAM resource unit will need to be established to provide resources and materials to help facilitate the SAM groups. Each Shadow Minister will need to engage with their SAM groups and encourage two way communication/engagement and co-production around policy development. There will be SAM organisers appointed, trained and supported to provide specialist resource material for groups to use to turn out to the community in their areas and activate people in their local campaigning priorities. Each constituency party can apply to appoint their own local SAM organiser which will be funded nationally with a contribution from the local Party. The SAM’s will need to be launched as the leadership of the Labour Party re-engages with the membership in the post-conference period. There will need to be a social media resource to facilitate and spread the message far and wide. It will connect people up as social media will be key to the spreading and sustainability of the social movement.
A training programme will be established and delivered regionally. Constituency Parties will bid to have their own SAM facilitator/s. They will be recruited locally but trained and supported through the SAM resource unit. They will be engaged in phases based on the demand and funding. The resource unit will develop an infrastructure to facilitate the establishment and development of the SAM. A range of education, training, facilitation, social media, and campaigning materials will be developed to support the development of SAM.
The vision of the future can be seen in Greece. Pasok, the equivalent of New Labour, which was once the ruling party is now defeated and in ruins. It was a mass movement that brought Syriza to power on an anti-austerity platform. We have seen the consequences of appeasement with Tsipris capitulating under extreme pressure from within and without. We need to learn from the Greek experience to ensure it doesn’t happen here. The UK equivalent of the Troika, inside and outwith the Labour Party are already putting the Corbyn/McDonell leadership under extreme pressure to appease. These two leaders have a huge popular mandate from within to drive through this transformation. They now need to sponsor and lead a social movement that can keep them real and the project on course. The work to build a social movement has to begin immediately to carry forward the hope and optimism that has inspired millions.
CEO Equal Lives, DPAC member and Social Action Solutions
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