Tag Archives: Labour Party

The Future of the Labour Party’s Community Organizing Program

Bristol      In the aftermath of the devastating loss experienced by the Labour Party in the United Kingdom recently, everything is up for grabs as politicians, parliamentarians, activists, and others sort through the rubble to rebuild.  Jeremy Corbyn, who had led a resurgence in the party’s membership and pushed away from the “new” labor program of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown towards a more progressive platform, has resigned and there’s a new contest for leader to pick up the pieces going forward.  One of the signature efforts of Corbyn’s time was the creation of a community organizing program of sorts, so I was most interested in trying to sort out what was to become of it.

The program in theory was not overtly electoral, though certainly political.  Twenty community organizers were hired along with ten digital organizers to activate the party base, recruit new members, and increase civic participation through local campaigns and actions.  The priority was to run the program in swing districts that party strategists thought they could move over to Labour in future electoral contests.  The program was somewhat slow in coming together and some party leaders at the local level wanted no part of it, throwing a wrench in the overall strategy, but it still got off the ground.

Before the election organizers of the program touted its results.  At the party conference there was a claim that 18,000 people had been engaged, 3500 leaders had been trained in 70 different leadership sessions, and that the digital program had built a bridge for many party members.  A small organizing campaign in a social housing block in London called A2Dominion in the Wandsworth Council trying to win improvements was widely touted in favorable, published reports as signally a new direction on the local level by the party.  Corbyn visited the project to showcase the work, putting more pressure on the Conservative MP in the area.

Of course, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson succeeded in calling the snap election, as expected, it was all hands-on deck for the election.  The results swept away those districts thought to have been swing areas as well as generational strongholds for the party in traditional firewalls in the northern part of the country.  From all reports and speculation while I’ve been talking to organizers and others around the country, the community organizing program is also twisting in the wind, partially dependent on the leadership election of course, but also facing some final battles of the Alamo in local and mayoral elections that are still upcoming and could help save the program or sound its final bugle call.

All of which is a shame.  Cynics, and I was among the skeptics, always wondered if the program was simply about creating a ground and air war weapon for the inevitable elections dressed in sheep’s clothing, so to speak.  The idea was right.  We see its success as a multi-year commitment in the Netherlands for example in deepening the base using local issues and actions to build organization.  Community organizing is about deep base organizing and involvement, necessitating an ongoing commitment to changing the culture and practice of an institute, including a party, if they are serious about the effort and want to remake a role for membership from the bottom up.  A short-term program is simply a temporary fix and more about mobilization and canvassing, than anything that could be called community organizing.  Perhaps that is the best it can ever be within established party institutions, which is why independent organization not subject to the back and forth of elections is critical.  Still, real community organizing can play a more important role in the future of a party if given the opportunity, so I hope it has the chance in the UK to prove its case.

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Surprising UK Election Outcome – People Want to Organize!

Fort Lauderdale         The voters came out from under the rocks and jumped over the hedgerows to vote for the Conservatives behind weird and wacky Boris Johnson in the recent snap election in Britain.  Labour took a drubbing, even in the northern districts that had been their equivalent of the upper Midwest Democratic firewall.  Johnson claimed the largest electoral margin in Parliament since Margaret Thatcher.  All of this was about greasing the skids for Brexit.

There are almost as many theories about what it all means in the UK, and whether it signals danger for progressives elsewhere around the world, as there were votes.  Was this a rejection of the progressive platform of Labour which included tremendous support for tenants and affordable housing, free internet access, and a goody basket of other advances?  Perhaps, but others argued it was a rejection of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, rather than the political program.

Talking to Nick Ballard, head organizer of ACORN in the UK, he was clear that the results were disappointing.  The Labour commitments to support tenant unions would have been huge for the ACORN Tenants Union which has been growing rapidly around the country in recent years.  At the same times, he kept arguing there were huge opportunities for us as well.  We were speaking only days after the election and an interesting thing had happened already:  ACORN’s membership had surged!  More than 200 members had joined in the aftermath of the election.  People weren’t crawling into holes or slow dancing at a pity party.  They were fired up and wanted to organize!

ACORN had been actively involved in trying to increase the number of tenants who were registered to vote in our offices.  The numbers had been impressive.  Total registration for this contentious election had surged by millions.  On some days hundreds of thousands had registered.  We were in that play all the way.

One of the interesting observations political commentators had made in the election run-up focused on the massive registration effort, particularly because the largest increases were among new young voters.  One noted that the way these new registrants were favoring Labour, “age, not class” was becoming the dividing line in British politics.

The Guardian featured ACORN’s efforts prominently, especially in the north around Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, and Sheffield.  In the wake of the article, ACORN had another membership surge as new enrollments flooded our online portals.

Simultaneously, we received a request from the Community and Tenants’ Union (CATU) in Ireland to affiliate with ACORN.  Coincidence?  Probably.  But it all comes to sharp point at the same time.

We don’t know what the Conservative victory or the coming Brexit withdrawal will really mean for Britain, but from ACORN’s experience in these brief days before Christmas, it’s clear:  people want to organize, and they want to fight.

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