Community organising should be at the heart of the Labour movement as we approach 2015

Community organising can be a source of energy for Labour as we approach 2015.

Community organising

Stewart Owadally is a community organiser at Movement for Change

“Labour has said that we will cap the cost of credit.” Those were the words of Rachel Reeves in parliament earlier this month. It is an important announcement. One that shows people how a Labour government would improve their lives.

The Party should be given credit for taking a stand. As should those gathering at Labour Party Conference this month, who have been campaigning with Movement for Change (M4C) across the country.

At Brighton, leaders from across Britain will showcase their campaigns, and make calls to action. These campaigns have achieved local successes on issues from inept bus services, to violence against women.

They have also achieved success nationally. The living wage campaign, fought alongside Labour Students, has seen low-pay wiped out on campuses like Manchester and Kent. And of course the Sharkstoppers campaign, fighting for fair credit, has gone from strength to strength since M4C first started campaigning alongside Stella Creasy in 2010.

But the campaigns, and the wins, are only part of what makes community organising so important to our movement. Wins and change are of course crucial. But the true test of community organising is not in the short-term.

Ask any community organiser what their first objective is and they will tell you one thing: to build power.

Our movement began long before our Party. It brought together workers, Christian socialists, women’s rights movements and other friendly societies. The Party was formed as the political wing of that, took centre-stage, and since working people were given access to parliament we have relentlessly fought to encourage the people to elect Labour governments.

And the Party still innovates its methods to win elections, as seen through the projects carried out by Ian McNicol and his team working with Arnie Graf. Under Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour has shown confidence; breaking the mould of election campaigning.

But what goes on at centre-stage doesn’t happen independently. Without power, built through relationships and action, the movement would perish. And that’s where community organising holds such value for the movement.

The Eastside Young Mums meet weekly in Swansea. Sadly, some of the group have found themselves trapped in high-interest debt. After Mitchell Theaker, a Labour councillor, asked if they would work with him and M4C, the women began taking action on the conduct of doorstep lenders. They got their local politicians to take their fight to the Senedd. They’ve got a meeting with local press and radio to ask them to advertise fair credit.

They will also be in Brighton, telling the Party exactly why it needs to act to protect them and the countless others who fear opening their curtains in case a lender is watching.

There are developed political actors in Bonymaen where once there were non-voters. And there is power now in Bonymaen, where once there was none. And that power is allied to our Party.

That power is, in itself, the aim of community organising. But it is also a source of energy for Labour as we approach 2015.

In Cardiff, working with Stephen Doughty MP, a campaign led by M4C and Labour activists recently held an action with over 100 people working to get a derelict building back into use. It wasn’t 100 protestors, but 100 residents, angry about the neglect they see their community treated with. Stephen’s support shows them that he is on their side, and shows them the importance of voting Labour for their community.

That combination of power and Politics harks back to the democratic beginnings of the Party and movement. It is when Labour is at its best. And it will be how the movement helps to keep Labour aligned as the political wing of the British people.

2 Responses to “Community organising should be at the heart of the Labour movement as we approach 2015”

  1. LovelyDave

    Why is it necessary to point out that they were residents and not protesters? Since when did protester become a dirty word?

    People on the left should not capitulate in the demonization of protest by avoiding using the word protester because certain groups in society are trying to make it a negatively loaded term.

    Protest is an important part of democracy and without many of the hard won freedoms and rights we have today would not have materialized. Protest should be celebrated as a necessary part of a healthy democracy.

  2. Barry Winter

    Stewart’s interesting account is perhaps a little vague about the
    origins of the Labour Party. In addition to the groups he mentioned it also
    included the New Unions fighting for decent wages and conditions for gas workers
    and dockers amongst others. Even more significantly, the ILP was founded in
    1893 as a grassroots, ethical socialist movement linking community action with
    a desire for political representation. It worked hard to win over the trade unions to support labour representation.

    Stewart also mentions the current Living Wage campaign. In
    the interwar years, the ILP put the Living Wage at the centre of its call for a
    socially-just society.
    It’s worth remembering these issues, particularly during the 120th anniversary of the formation of Keir Hardie’s ILP.

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