Edinburgh Unison is the 2nd largest union in the United Kingdom with a giant membership throughout the country in a wide variety of workplaces. The screening of The Organizer and a chance to meet members of ACORN’s affiliate, Living Rent, and ACORN Scotland, brought people together in one of Unison’s meeting rooms in the top floor of their building, reached by an amazing spiral staircase running the length of the building.
Talking to members before and after the showing there was a consistent and surprising subcurrent of plain old optimism, rare in my visits. Sniffing the wind, one person after another was excited about what they felt was brewing politically in the country, and it was coming from a remarkable and unexpected source, the much maligned Labour Party. In the dismal political scene most of the case rested on the fact that the party in recent years under leader, Jeremy Corbin, had become a mass-based party soaring in membership from 100,000 to 400,000 strong, and, perhaps even more shocking, many felt the leadership was listening to the membership and that might really mean something special could happen. All of this is an amazing turnaround largely in the last year, particularly in Scotland, where the Scottish National Party, which had led the independence vote several years ago is still the dominant party, and threatens to have another go at it, if Brexit is allowed to come in soon.
Much of the energy for Labour is coming from younger people, but as one activist argued to me, the fact that there was still some leadership from “old Labour” and its hard fights and clear positions as opposed to the “new Labour” of Tony Blair and others meant that there might be a melding of the two strains into a hybrid of rare strength. The backstory over the last year came from the surprising strength of Labour in the elections, even though the Conservatives maintained the majority, Prime Minister Teresa May was crippled, even while she keeps hanging on. Corbin had been universally derided by the establishment and the mainstream press but had navigated the election and his own part in it brilliantly and had been strengthened in his own leadership. His background has been solidly to the left making his success even more startling.
Recently Labour had put out a call to hire ten community organizers, largely to work in swing districts to prepare for the next round of elections. There was skepticism here that this was any more than window dressing for a GOTV effort when the time comes, but still the signs of change were positive.
Everyone was hedging their bets, but as one told me, having a “real” Labour Party means that the debate and chance for change on a number of fronts could open the country for more opportunity for peoples’ empowerment.