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Movement for…Blairite continuity?

In the last few years so called “community organising” has become the latest trend in the Labour Party. Advocates of this approach among the Labour Party seem to base it on American-style Democrat political campaigning and use Saul Alinskey’s “Rules for Radicals” as their bible.

The big organisation to first bring this type of campaigning to this country has been Citizens UK; and David Miliband’s pet project, “Movement for change”, is spearheading the effort to bring this approach into the Labour Party. Indeed this effort has been taken up by the party’s youth sections, with Labour Students’ big campaign priority being winning a living wage for University staff and Young Labour’s new campaign being help for young homeless people.

It does seem to have taken somewhat of a hold in the Labour Party. Under Refounding Labour, the new Clause One committed the Labour Party to “make communities stronger though collective action and support”. Giving non-members a say in leadership elections aso represented a move to this approach to organising.

Now Lord knows that organising in communities is hugely important and that labour activists can learn a lot from reading the works of Alinskey. The living wage campaigners and the work of Citizens UK has been tireless and achieved a lot for working people. However There are a lot of problems in this “community organising” approach to campaigning and often it is being advanced by people who have very damaging intentions to the Labour Party.

Call me old fashioned, but I don’t think that it is the role of the Labour Party to do these kind of campaigns. Anthony Painter pointed out that the Labour Party is meant to be an electoral vehicle for these communities to achieve power. Trade Unions are the great community organisations for working people and the purpose of the Labour Party is to give them a voice in the political sphere, not to take the place of these organisations. It is these organisations of working people that campaign for the immediate improvement of their conditions. The role of the Labour Party is to support and get involved with these campaigns and represent working people in parliament.

Furthermore, the “community organising” approach to helping workers has been rather wrong-headed. In their living wage campaigns, Citizens UK and Labour Students have campaigned as concerned people on behalf of highly exploited workers. These campaigns are commendable and have helped many working people, however they have largely circumvented the Labour Movement. Really the approach should be to work towards the self-organisation of these workers in trade unions to take on their exploitative employers and fight for the advancement of their own conditions.

The most concerning thing is however the rather disturbing nature of the Movement for Change that is leading this “Community Organising” in the Labour Party. It was founded by David Miliband and he has his supporters running it, making it seem to be a Blairite front. I attended a CLP meeting with a Movement for Change Speaker who introduced himself by listing the ministers he’d worked for as an advisor, and then said he was now going to tell us how to organise our communities.

I and many of my local comrades were quite flabbergasted and rather irritated at his arrogance. He then showed us how party and trade union membership has declined and basically the message was that we should surrender to this trend and just try to vaguely “organise” our communities. This is not a help to the Labour Movement and only serves to undermine it.

Furthermore, as pointed out earlier in Left Futures, the Movement for Change is heavily funded by Blairite sugar-daddy Lord Sainsbury, who also sends millions to the Tory fifth-column in Labour: “Progress” and has cut off funding to Labour Party. The idea that this group, run by ex SpAds, funded by a multi-millionaire and dreamed up by a Labour MP who represents continuity with the worst of the Blair years, can somehow organise and stand up for communities of ordinary working people is laughable.

The likes of these Blairites are the ones constantly seeking to crush proper rank and file democracy in the Labour Party and disempower members so how they have suddenly come round to grassroots “community organising” is rather a mystery. The Movement for Change represents nothing less than a cynical move by the Blairites to undermine the Trade Unions as the grassroots muscle of the Labour Party.

The left should note the problems with this style of community organising and have no illusions as to what its advocates’ intentions are. However, we need to advance our own approach to organising people outside of traditional Labour Movement structures. Already Unite has started its own “community membership” programme to organise pensioners, students and the unemployed into a real radical force alongside the traditional Labour Movement and we should use this to overtake the Blairite attempts to claim “community organising” for themselves

6 Comments

  1. JF06 says:

    ‘The Movement for Change represents nothing less than a cynical move by the Blairites to undermine the Trade Unions as the grassroots muscle of the Labour Party.’

    That’s funny because M4C are constantly talking about the importance of trade unions, especially in regards to the living wage campaign which Labour Students have run.

    M4C is an excellent organisation which has helped train many young Labour Activists in ‘community organising’ – or rather ‘how to help make a difference when Labour aren’t in power’.

    Community organising isnt replacing Trade Unions. Rather it is enabling members to engage in their communities with Trade Unions, and to create the change that they want to see in the world, from the Living Wage to Voter Registration.

    I also don’t really get your article. Firstly it criticises community organising then it calls for the left to do the same. So you won’t get involved in an organisation where there are potentially Blairites? How about the Labour Party?

    M4C is an organisation open for all members, just because it was started by David Miliband and you had a Blairite spad come and talk to you doesn’t mean it is full of blairites. I’d urge you to get involved and find out more for yourself rather than rely on one experience and what you’ve heard.

  2. Mike says:

    Erm the community organising promoted by Blue Labour is precisely the opposite of a Blairite front. I don’t know about Movement for Change particularly (though Rowenna Davis’ first hand account in Tangled Up in Blue makes a very different story) but the Left is making a huge mistake if we see Blue Labour and its ideas as enemies. Glasman taken out of context notwithstanding, I believe it is the best way to articulate socialism- genuine socialism- today.

    Btw our living wage campaign locally is in conjunction with Unite and Unison. We’re not a rival to the unions, there is a huge overlap- most of my comrades here fighting for the living wage are with Unite.

  3. Tom Miller says:

    Hi Rory. I broadly agree with your critique of the Blairites and their attitudes to democracy. I also agree that this is incongruous alongside the ‘community organising’ mentality. Thing is, I think that this dichotomy shows the approach to be aligned to the left where it is not aligned to the right.

    If this is so, should we not be adopting and adapting rather than giving outright opposition to the whole notion?

    “Anthony Painter pointed out that the Labour Party is meant to be an electoral vehicle for these communities to achieve power. Trade Unions are the great community organisations for working people and the purpose of the Labour Party is to give them a voice in the political sphere, not to take the place of these organisations.”

    This paragraph in particular seems to me to be a bit fallacious in several places. Firstly, the idea of Labour as a *purely* electoral vehicle is a fiction. When the movement has been most successful (and left wing), it has been on the background or massively successful and influential organised civil society campaigning. This was the driving force behind Bevan as much as Bevin. As well as electing politicians, it helped to define the political frame in which they operated. This is something that unions or smaller civil society organisations are much less well played today.

    Gramsci can be very instructive in understanding how all this works – in western democracies, civil society and political parties forming part of an extended and contested apparatus within a state which remains hegemonic.

    Socialists can no longer rely on shrinking, depoliticised and often internally incompetent trade unions to fulfil this whole role, whether from the point of view of a purely parliamentary, purely extra-parliamentary, or hybrid approach to achieving social change.

    Why will the political sphere give anyone a voice if the sphere of those it affects cannot threaten consequences?

    Thus, community approaches of some kind have increased, not decreased relevance for all socialist campaigners, the more the institutions concerned shrink back and retrench. Therefore, if a dichotomy with Blairism becomes evident, as you (in my view) correctly identify, it should be highlighted, and smoothed out.

  4. Tom Miller says:

    Meanwhile, the left of Labour fails to even organise properly internally, too busy with chucking brickbats at its own allies…

  5. Syzygy says:

    I do not understand the love affair that so many politicians have with America? Is it that they all did a year at Harvard or other university?

    The US political system is only based on big money and is at best deliberately designed to prevent any sort of change.. at worst… we’ve all seen the games that the Republicans have played in blocking any legislation that Obama proposes, including bringing government financing to a halt.

    50m Americans have no access to healthcare other than emergency treatment. Infant mortality rates in Washington DC are worse than Nigeria. The combined wealth of the 400 richest Americans is greater than the combined wealth of more than 50% of the population.

    I could go on. I can see why George Osborne is trying to replicate the US system for his class:

    http://think-left.org/2012/08/20/has-george-osborne-been-taking-trans-atlantic-lessons-from-the-jude-wanniski-and-the-republicans/

    But what on earth are Labour politicians wanting to emulate … perhaps I’m answering my own question. I completely agree with Rory Lynch in this article.. M4C is not the socialist way forward. It is too much of the elitist and not enough of the collectivist approach.

  6. john p Ried says:

    Mike, I didn’t notice any references to M4c and Blue labour as being the same?, regarding Blairites lack of democracy ,the fact alot of them got active in the 90’s and were storng enough to get their candidates in is undemocratic, using smears that progress should be banned as it’s aparty within a prty, when it’s amagazine is undemocatic

    As for M4C i’ve never heard of them and the idea that there’s an organisation that is behind this, All I see is labour struglling to get people involved, with the excpetion o f both Blue labour and Luke akehurst’s own following with the unions

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