Labour's route to power lies in the communities
In a guest article Suzi Murning, a Labour party Community Organiser in Scotland, writes that Labour needs to build networks outside of parliament to fight austerity and inequality, while building a popular majority for Labour by the next election.
I grew up in a traditional Labour heartland, in a de-industrialised working class community in Lanarkshire. As anyone who grew up in a post-industrial town will know, I had the misfortune of bearing witness to persistent and intrenched injustice wherever I turned.
Where there were once good quality skilled jobs; betting shops and pay-day lenders take their place. Where there was once a vibrant community filled with optimism for the future; there is isolation and disenfranchisement. One of the only threads which bind us together as a community is a collective feeling of hopelessness.
My reflections as a young radical, hungry for change, led me to confusion: we are many, and those who hold us down are few, so why was my community not organising against the individuals and institutions who sought to oppress us? It seemed self-evident that we would have so much power if we united together.
So I turned to The Labour Party as a way to channel my desire for change, the party which was founded by working people organising together to gain parliamentary representation, which founded the NHS after workers in Wales organised to fight for health care provisions.
Jeremy Corbyn announced in January this year that the party was launching its Community Organising Unit, signalling a return to these organising roots and a reforging of the grassroots links which traditionally formed our power-base.
When we launched the Community Organising Unit in Scotland in August, four hundred people turned out to commit to taking action in our communities, many of whom were inactive members, and some were not even members at all. They came along because they want change, because they want it now, and because until we get a Labour government, the only way we can get change is to organise.
So while the Tories organise money, we will be organising people. While the SNP are planning years of austerity to make independence possible, we will be unlocking the power of our communities to fight on the issues that really matter to them.
We are training activists across the country to have thousands of conversations in their own communities to find out what change people want to see. Whether people tell us they are employed in exploitative conditions, that their landlord is raising their rent but failing to maintain the property to a decent standard, or that council cuts imposed by the SNP mean local services are disappearing before their eyes, we will have the capacity and skills to fight for the change people really need.
Our new focus on community organising means we won’t just be on the streets opposing exploitation and the effect of cuts, we will be resisting and stopping them. Not only will we have politicians in parliament fighting for change, we will be forging networks in communities and neighbourhoods to build relational power which we can leverage to win local victories.
Richard Leonard is our best chance of winning in Scotland because he understands that it is not just wealth that needs redistributed, but power. Community organising begins the process of giving power back to those who have been shut off from it for too long. A Labour government will see this restoration of power completed.
By listening to ordinary people and understanding what issues really matter to them, we will have local manifestos which no other party can compete with, which truly speak to voters’ concerns. When we win local victories on the real issues people face, we become the party synonymous with real change. When we win this change through working side-by-side with communities, empowering them to fight with us for change, we restore trust and credibility.
After Corbyn’s election in 2015, Dan Firth the Director of the Community Organising Unit ran a community organising campaign with Doncaster North Labour Party, the local MP, Ed Miliband, and local residents who had been ripped-off by BrightHouse. Through using community organising methods and harnessing their collective strength, BrightHouse were forced to pay £14.8 million in compensation to 249,000 customers, as well as seeing Labour’s vote share increase during the following general election. By getting serious about organising, we can win victories like this up and down the country, and in so doing, win a Labour Government.
The 2017 general election campaign excited and energised thousands of people to get involved, many returning to The Labour Party after years of feeling disillusioned. We almost won. Next time, to make sure we do win, we need to capitalise and build upon this energy and enthusiasm and continue to grow our movement.
We need to make sure that every person who wants to fight for change fights alongside Labour; and every person stuck on a zero hours contract and poverty wages, paying rip-off rents on insecure leases to dodgy landlords, with poor or absent local services incapable of meeting their needs, knows it is only Labour who are serious about changing their lives for the better.
The policy platforms of Corbyn and Leonard, like a £10 minimum wage, investment in place of cuts, and rents linked to average wages, already make it clear that we are the only party who truly capture the need for radical change, the only party which will rebuild our country and restore our communities.
It is the task of the Community Organising Unit to help lay the groundwork for a victory in Westminster and Holyrood elections that will see our socialist policies enacted. By proving that we can win change for our communities now through turning our activism into effective organising, we will prove that we will be a truly transformational government whose very life-blood runs from the bottom up, not from the top down.
John McDonnell says that when Labour are in Government we will all be in government, and community organising will make sure this happens by creating direct links to our communities. Using these same links, even before we are in government we can still be the ones in power, because real power is people-power, and we will no longer watch it lie dormant.
We do not need to wait until we get a Labour government to fight for workers rights, fight against exploitative landlords and austerity driven governments. We have strength enough in numbers to fight, and win, now. In fact, this is precisely how we will win a Labour government.
At conference this year Jennie Formby said that she has three priorities as general secretary of The Labour Party: to organise, to grow, and to win.
With the Community Organising Unit working in Scotland and across the UK to not only utilise the energy of our vast membership, but to build relational power with left behind and ignored communities, we are organising, we are growing, and soon, we will win.
We do not simply seek to win in the short term. We will win back the hearts and trust of those we seek to represent and sustain a cultural shift in the way we operate. A party creating real change not just for the many, but by the many.