Don’t sit around waiting for the politicians: Our history shows us that ‘WE’ can be the agents of change.

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THE PEOPLE CLEAR THE WAY

Article by Andy Searson

The Neo-Liberal element of the Labour Party have declared war on their own membership & those who identify as socialists within Parliament. An unnecessary monumental act of self-harm. Hundreds of thousands of activists drawn to the party by the authenticity & hopefulness surrounding the Corbyn leadership have been given a two fingered salute.

They’re turning Labour into a set of poor middle managers who seem hell bent on being mere proxies for Tory vandalism of our local services & communities. They see their role as managing decline rather than opposing & fighting it on our behalf.

Angela Rayner, the deputy leader has now stated she will expel thousands upon thousands of members. There was not a hint of realisation that she doesn’t even have the power to do so! This is the rhetoric members & activists are faced within the party.

The feeling amongst dedicated, grassroots activists is that Starmer’s party is walking away from them. Particularly the hundreds of thousands who flocked to the party under Corbyn. They feel that they are not wanted. They’re to be replaced with millionaire donors. Sadly, the interests of millionaire donors reflect their own interests, namely the millionaire class. The interests of everyday members reflect the interests of the millions of everyday citizens.

It’s clear which direction that Starmer’s Labour are heading in. It’s business as usual, yes to austerity, anti-trade unions, backing the status quo & to hell with the millions who have already had to carry the burden of ten years of Tory

This is a struggle for an economy that works for the tens of millions of citizens & not just the millionaires! It’s a struggle for social justice, morally right choices & fairness. It’s a struggle for humane values of decency, equality & egalitarianism. It’s socialism or barbarism.

It’s a moment of crisis & I feel a moment of existentialism for the Labour Party. Are Starmer’s Labour the representatives of the many or the few?

I’ll admit, I didn’t vote for Starmer as I looked closely at his recent history & actions as DPP. I also looked at those who are close to him. As my mother would say, judge a man by the company he keeps. You only have to look at his campaign team, financial backers & his shadow cabinet to see what he’s about.

Although I view the recent Starmer made crisis as the possible end for Labour – I don’t share the pessimism of many Labour activists. I see this not as the end of the Corbyn project, but the next step in reinvigorating the movement that gave birth to the Labour Party in the first place. Reigniting the beliefs, values & it’s moral crusade for social justice & egalitarianism.

We have thousands upon thousands of dedicated, trained activists, millions of trade union members & people who are yearning for change. We have witnessed a huge surge in people willing to help their neighbours, within communities & beyond. Throughout this pandemic, ordinary people have done extraordinary things in extraordinary circumstances.

People who are concerned with the common good & willing to be active in pursuit of it.

Let me be clear here, I am not endorsing shifting government responsibility for our citizens’ welfare or replacing the welfare system as the coalition & subsequent Tory governments have, I am firmly of the belief that food-banks are a sign of the failures of government. As Mhairi Black put it so eloquently on the proliferation of food banks in her constituency; ‘Food banks are not part of the welfare state, they are a symbol that the welfare state is failing.’

“Food banks are not part of the welfare state. They are a symbol that the welfare state is failing.” The Scottish National Party (SNP)’s Mhairi Black MP

So, what is to be done?

Those trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party should redirect funds from Starmer’s Labour & invest in community organising. Why fund a leadership & his political machine that is willing to work against the interests of millions of workers & everyday folk? If you doubt this just check out the voting record of those who make up Starmer’s shadow cabinet & close team.

We need the focus of the Trade Unions to be on representing workers, our class, our communities & our people.

In Spain you find centres in every village & town called La Casa Del Pueblo – The People’s or Village House. In Spain my village equates to my people. They are centres of culture, heritage, political education and support for local people e.g. citizens advice – advocacy & legal help.

They can be found at the heart of a community – a central point of focus to gather & formulate actions of mutual support. If we developed this idea in Britain, we could forge a new relationship with the people within our communities. Use this to grow Cooperatives and mutual societies to serve our own community needs.

In the UK the trade union movement started to develop similar hubs via the Unemployed Workers’ Centres.

The TUC Unemployed Workers’ Centres have been in existence for 30 years. They were a response by the trade union movement to the growing level of unemployment in the late 1970s. There are many still surviving now in major cities such as Sheffield, Birmingham & Manchester as well as Derbyshire to name a few. There are also centres offering worker’s education via the WEA (Workers Education Association). https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/extras/hands_up_for_uwcs.pdf 

Derbyshire unemployed workers Centre

These ‘People’s Houses’ or workers centres could become the social hubs that replace the diminishing welfare clubs, institutions & associations that grew from organised labour in the communal work-places. We could grow micro Co-Operative shops & cafes to reenergise high streets in villages & outlying towns.

We could use embedded union organisers & trade union legal expertise to help create local building societies & credit unions. The Trade Unions could become a platform for regeneration & engagement at local grassroots level. True Parliamentary representation for the working class will never happen via this party leadership & the shadow cabinet.

The history of working class organising in our communities all over Britain can be reinvented for a modern age. A coalition of the willing, acting collectively in their community on mutual local interests. A type of municipal socialism working towards the common good. It would mirror the emancipatory ideals of those pioneering early trade unionists & develop a ‘can do it for ourselves’ mindset.

That’s how our great grandparents built our towns & villages from mere shanty towns built around mines, steelworks & factories to what we see today. They created communities wherein people felt they were active stakeholders. This brought empowerment & promoted self-agency which was built via the ideals of self-help & collective endeavour of the trade union movement.

This was prior to our class having real parliamentary representation. Our people had to think creatively & realised collectivisation was the key. They became the change that they needed to improve the lives of their class. Not small ‘c conservatism’ but everyday socialism rooted in finding solutions to people’s everyday challenges. 

For those doubters who think these ideals are mere pie in the sky. Look no further than Spain’s Mondragon Corporation. It is a prime example of self-help. It’s aims were & still are about workers & community. Their aims are stated clearly.

‘We are a dedicated group of people with a cooperative identity forming a business group that is profitable, competitive and enterprising, capable of successfully operating in global markets. Our organisation uses democratic methods in its corporate organisation, and its aims are employment, the personal and professional advancement of its workers, and the development of its community.’

It goes on;

‘Furthermore, based on the Cooperative Principles and its own experience, MONDRAGON nurtures the values of self-motivation and shared responsibility, inter-cooperation, social transformation.’

You can read more about Mondragon here: https://www.mondragon-corporation.com/en/about-us/ 

History has proven the power of building societies and the strength and diversity that a healthy mutual sector & cooperatives bring to local communities. Building Societies and Co=operatives also give people a proper stake in the places they work, spread wealth through society, and bring innovative and imaginative business ideas to bear on meeting local needs.

Imagine the transformative impact of Trade union funded ‘People’s Houses’ or ‘Workers Centres’ in each town or large village all over Britain. Organising local people for the common good. Helping establish self-help, Co-Operatives, run by local workers & profits serving the community rather than distant corporations.

Imagine our high streets reinvigorated with local mutual building societies & credit unions filling the spaces where large banks have closed leaving nothing but a few cash points & ATM machines. Cooperative shops, cafes & small niche supermarkets revitalising & reinventing the empty premises.

Credit unions which are member-owned financial cooperatives operated for the purpose of providing credit and other financial services to their members. They are a way to empower people & collectivise local finances? They were first established in the UK in the sixties.

Significantly, the first recorded British credit union was the Hornsey Co-operative Credit Union, established 1964 in North London by Caribbean families, and is the foundation of what is now London Capital Credit Union. Formed and set up by members of Ferme Park Baptist Church unable to get credit from banks. Credit unions, known as pardner or susu, were widespread in the Caribbean and members paid weekly contributions. It was formed out of necessity and an organised, collective response to racism towards Caribbean workers & their families who were denied mortgages and loans.

Similar discriminatory prejudice & the needs of local people gave rise to the Derry Credit Union https://www.derrycu.com/About-Us  & the Ballymurphy People’s Cooperatives  https://youtu.be/EzBNhTP-ess  The legacy of which is the belief that people can effect change themselves, that they are the agents of change, that we just don’t sit wondering, what the elected representatives are going to decide or do on our behalf. 

The idea of mutual self help has meant that Since October 1960, the members of Derry Credit Union have contributed more than £550m to the local economy simply by saving and borrowing with the union. Much of this money has been spent locally, supporting local businesses and jobs. The members help themselves and one another to improve the qualities of their lives.

This is how our movement grew via self-empowerment & collectivism. We can rebuild again from community grassroots up & outside Parliament if necessary.

Our aims should be unlimited access to all forms of well-being for the whole population of our communities. There are no freedoms without equality. Also, there is no real democracy without tangible, everyday benefits for our people. Otherwise democracy is an empty word. It is a distraction or a way to deceive people into believing they are part of a project when in fact they are only pawns not benefactors if real change does not flow through every household from Parliament.

We must begin a program of emancipatory activism & work alongside our people in working class communities. A revolution in collectivisation & community action. It is the antidote to the extreme individualism and extreme laissez faire policies of neo-liberalism that neglect the stability of & the overall ideals of community.

Again, in Spain, there is a town that works for its people via communitarianism. Marinaleda is a town in Andalusia run by the people, on behalf of the people & organised itself so it serves its citizens. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/marinaleda-town-few-police-full-5132215  Here there is no housing crisis, crime, mass unemployment or food poverty. What has been achieved via collectivism is a remarkable example of unity, mutual aid & collective human endeavour. Socialism in action. They have proven self-help, dynamic citizens & community can bring about great change to the lives of citizens.

The Cleveland Model in the USA also uses cooperatives to regenerate communities. They are built around servicing local anchor institutions or the economic powerhouses within the communities. They use the millions of pounds spent by these anchor institutions to regenerate the immediate community. This helps keep wealth local rather than flowing out into huge corporations. https://youtu.be/s_kLye_6VBc 

If we succeed in bringing change & regeneration outside Parliament, then maybe, if we cannot reclaim our Labour Party, we need a new party of the people. A party representative of our communities, with representatives drawn from those communities. We can build a representative party as our ancestors built the Labour Party.

Utilise those extraordinary people, the real life super-heroes of community activism who are driven not by self-profiteering or careers but driven by authentic altruism. These are the people who would & will produce the real social & systemic change our people require & demand.

We can no longer put our faith in those who cosy up to the establishment few at the expense of the many. We need our own representatives chosen from our own people, who will act in the interests of our communities & people! A new political offer for the working class.

Former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein recently tweeted “Politicians are the representatives of the people. It shows humility & respect for the people you serve, & who pay your salary, when you use their money to serve rather than to create a life of privilege & luxury for yourself. As Nelson Mandela told us, If you think you are more important than the people you serve, you are of no use to them or to the movement”

The votes are there to be won as Corbyn demonstrated in 2017. The mobilisation of those who are disaffected non-voters. They’re waiting for a spark, a sign that someone who they can relate to is going to speak up & act in their interests.

James Connolly (1868-1916) was the Marxist socialist who was military commander of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin that started Ireland’s war of independence.

We stand on the shoulders of giants who showed the way. The systemic change required to radically redress the years of decline in living standards of the working class will only come about by a democratic revolution built from within our communities & from the ground up! A return to our ancestral class consciousness. Politics is far more than the Houses of Parliament. Let us build a future based within the politics of everyday living & the lives of our communities. Let us be the change we all crave!

In the words of that great working class activist & leader, James Connolly; “A revolution will only be achieved when the ordinary people of the world, us the working class, get up off our knees and take back what is rightfully ours.”

Article by Andy Searson
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