Excitement Stirring Over a Mass-Based Party’s Potential

Members and friends gather for Edinburgh screening

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.

Jon Black and Emma Sanders setting up the room

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.

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Left Dancing at Labour Comeback in UK

Little Rock   After the shocking slap-in-the-face beat down shocks of the Trump victory in the United States and the Brexit election in the United Kingdom to depart the European Union, nothing seemed certain, and little seemed to be going our way. The Netherlands and French elections turned back populists certainly, but more by way of damming up the dikes, than giving real hope to progressives, since largely only the middle held.

Last night was different though. I got to the trailer after 8 PM on an impossibly long day that had begun before dawn and ended with a radio station board meeting and a run down to the Darragh room of the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) to celebrate KABF board member and longtime ally, comrade, and friend Paul Kelly’s retirement from Arkansas Advocates for Children. Turning on the computer, my Facebook was blowing up! My friends and ACORN organizers were joyous at the early projections of election results in the snap election called by Prime Minister Theresa May in her attempt to bolster her Conservative Party majority numbers in order to get a freer hand in negotiations with the EU over Britain’s defection. One post after post after another literally shouted in capital letters that they weren’t going to bed yet. 8pm for me was already 2am for them, and I would wager many were still glued to the telly a 4AM to see where the last seats might fall.

If many had felt sure that Hillary Clinton would have a cakewalk victory last November, weeks ago people were even more sure that Theresa May would lap the field in the election. The more serious speculation and concern was less about how large a majority she might win, but whether the fabled Labour Party would even survive what was expected to be a crushing defeat.

Instead in a potential election lesson for us all, Jeremy Corbyn, the much maligned leader of the Labour Party, constantly derided even within his party as being too hard left, has emerged as the clear winner along with a resuscitated Labour Party. Labour picked up 31 seats, while the Conservatives lost 12 seats it appears, putting them below any majority, much less a mandate, and forcing May to scramble for a partner to try and maintain any semblance of her government. The Scottish National Party also lost 19 seats, while the Liberal Dems just held there own and UKIP blanked. So, yes, with 318 Conservative seats to 262 Labour seats, the Conservatives won by some measures, but losing their majority, their bargaining position, and potentially their government is a Pyrrhic victory of historic propositions.

The other message not just in Britain but to the world, if they are listening, is that a campaign that is avowedly directed to the young, to workers, to immigrants, and others outside of the elites, can be powerfully effective. One post said “Blairism is dead,” referring to New Labour which much like Clintonian democrats was a move towards the middle that muddled the clarity of positions in an expediency that confuses and alienates voters. There are so many lessons here!

ACORN in the United Kingdom is also celebrating because we bet big on voter registration, especially among our expanding base of renters. Registration was up 2% and the voting numbers followed along, as they often do with the enthusiasm of newly registered voters, and ACORN was smack dab in the middle of that.

Listen and learn. Pay attention in class to class now!

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Please enjoy Steve Early’s Lookin for a Woman. Thanks to KABF.

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