Guest article by working-class activist Andy Searson
The systemic change we need will only come when we have authentic working class voices in Parliament. The future lies within our communities!
The neoliberals within the Labour Party have declared war on their own membership and on those who identify as socialists within Parliament – an unnecessary, monumental act of self harm. Hundreds of thousands of activists drawn to the party by the authenticity and hopefulness surrounding the Corbyn leadership have been given a two fingered salute.
Deputy leader Angela Rayner has now stated she will expel ‘thousands and thousands’ of members. There was not a hint of realisation that she doesn’t even have the power to do so! This is the rhetoric members and activists are faced with in the party.
The feeling amongst dedicated, grassroots activists is that Starmer’s party is walking away from them. Particularly the hundreds of thousands who flocked to the party under Corbyn. They feel that they are not wanted. They’re to be replaced with millionaire donors. Sadly, the interests of millionaire donors reflect their own interests, namely the millionaire class. The interests of everyday members reflect the interests of the millions of everyday citizens whose votes Labour needs in order to govern.
It’s clear which direction that Starmer’s Labour are heading in: right back to business as usual. Yes to austerity, no to trade unions, backing the status quo and to hell with the millions who have already had to carry the burden of ten years of Tory misrule.
It’s a struggle for an economy that works for the tens of millions of citizens and not just for the millionaires! It’s a struggle for social justice, morally right choices and fairness. It’s a struggle for humane values of decency, equality and egalitarianism. It’s ‘socialism or barbarism’.
This is a moment of crisis and, I feel, a moment of existentialism for the Labour Party. Are Starmer’s Labour the representatives of the many or the few?
I’ll admit, I didn’t vote for Starmer as I looked closely at his recent history and actions as Director of Public Prosecutions and at those who are close to him. As my mother would say, judge a man by the company he keeps. You only have to look at his campaign team, financial backers and his shadow cabinet to see what he’s about.
Although I view the recent Starmer-made crisis as the possible end for Labour, I don’t share the pessimism of many Labour activists. I see this not as the end of the Corbyn project, but the next step in reinvigorating the movement that gave birth to the Labour Party in the first place. Reigniting its beliefs, values and its moral crusade for social justice and egalitarianism.
We have thousands upon thousands of dedicated, trained activists, millions of trade union members and people who are yearning for change. We have witnessed a huge surge in people willing to help their neighbours, within communities and beyond. Throughout this pandemic ordinary people have done extraordinary things in extraordinary circumstances.
People who are concerned with the common good and willing to be active in pursuit of it.
Let me be clear here, I am not endorsing shifting government responsibility for our citizens welfare or replacing the welfare system as the coalition and subsequent Tory governments have. I am firmly of the belief that food-banks are a sign of the failures of government. As Mhairi Black put it so eloquently on the proliferation of food banks in her constituency: ‘Food banks are not part of the welfare state, they are a symbol that the welfare state is failing.’
So what is to be done?
Those trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party should redirect funds from Starmer’s Labour and invest in community organising. Why fund a leadership and his political machine that is willing to work against the interests of millions of workers and everyday folk? If you doubt this just check out the voting record of those who make up Starmer’s shadow cabinet and close team.
We need the focus of the Trade Unions to be on representing workers, our class, our communities and our people.
The House of the People
In Spain you find centres in every village and town called “L Casa del Pueblo’ – The People’s or Village House. In Spain my village equates to my people. They are centres of culture, heritage, political education and support for local people eg citizens advice – advocacy and legal help.
They can be found at the heart of a community – a central point of focus to gather and formulate actions of mutual support. If we developed this idea in Britain we could forge a new relationship with the people within our communities. Use this to grow Cooperatives and mutual societies to serve our own community needs.
These ‘People’s Houses’ could become the social hubs that replace the diminishing welfare clubs, institutions and associations that grew from organised labour in the communal work places. We could grow micro Co-Operative shops and cafes to reenergise high streets in villages and outlying towns.
We could use trade union legal teams to help create local building societies and credit unions. The Trade Unions could become a platform for regeneration and engagement at local grassroots level. True Parliamentary representation for the working class will never happen via this party leadership and the shadow cabinet.
The history of working class organising in our communities all over Britain can be reinvented for a modern age. A Coalition of the willing, acting collectively in their community on mutual local interests. A type of municipal socialism working towards the common good. It would mirror the emancipatory ideals of those pioneering early trade unionists and develop a ‘can do it for ourselves’ mindset.
That’s how our great grandparents built our towns and villages from mere shanty towns built around mines, steelworks and factories to what we see today. They created communities wherein people felt they were active stakeholders. This brought empowerment and promoted self agency which was built via the ideals of self help and collective endeavour. Not small ‘c conservatism’ but everyday socialism rooted in finding solutions to people’s everyday challenges.
In Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire the local activists and membership have developed a similar model. It’s a place where people can access food, support and advice. It’s socialism in action.
For those doubters who think these ideals are mere pie in the sky. Look no further than Spain’s Mondragon Corporation. It is a prime example of self help. It’s aims were and still are about workers and community. Their aims are stated clearly;
‘We are a dedicated group of people with a cooperative identity forming a business group that is profitable, competitive and enterprising, capable of successfully operating in global markets. Our organisation uses democratic methods in its corporate organisation, and its aims are employment, the personal and professional advancement of its workers, and the development of its community.’
It goes on;
‘Furthermore, based on the Cooperative Principles and its own experience, MONDRAGON nurtures the values of self-motivation and shared responsibility, intercooperation, social transformation.’
You can read more about Mondragon here:
Workers Cooperatives are already on the politician’s radar. They realise communities all over Britain are at breaking point. It wasn’t only on the Labour Party’s agenda at the last general election. Even the Tories back worker led Cooperatives now.
The Labour Party notes the value of building societies and the strength and diversity that a healthy mutual sector brings to financial services. The Liberal Democrats assert “mutuals, co-operatives and social enterprises have an important role to play in the creation of a more balanced and mixed economy. Mutuals give people a proper stake in the places they work, spreading wealth through society, and bringing innovative and imaginative business ideas to bear on meeting local needs.
”The Conservative Party sees mutuality as the way forward within public services and pledge to support co-operatives and mutualisation as a way of transferring public assets and revenue streams to public sector workers; essentially employee-led co-operatives. Find out more here.”
Imagine the transformative impact of Trade union funded ‘People’s Houses’ in each town or large village all over Britain. Organising local people for the common good. Helping establish self help, CoOperatives, mutuals and credit unions. This is how our movement grew via self empowerment and collectivism. We can rebuild again from community grassroots up.
We must begin a program of emancipatory activism and work alongside our people in working class communities. Then maybe, if we cannot reclaim our Labour Party, we need a new party of the people. A party representative of our communities, with representatives drawn from those communities. We can build a representative party as our ancestors did.
Utilise those extraordinary people, the real life super heroes of community activism who are driven not by self profiteering or careers, but driven by authentic altruism. These are the people who would and will produce the real social and systemic change our people require and demand.
We can no longer put our faith in those who cosy up to the establishment few at the expense of the many. We need our own representatives chosen from our own people, who will act in the interests of our communities and people!
We stand on the shoulders of giants who showed the way. The systemic change required to radically redress the years of decline in living standards of the working class will only come about by a democratic revolution built from within our communities and from the ground up!
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