Community organising – it’s in our DNA

19th May, 2012 11:43 am

Since the emergence of Barack Obama, as a community organiser turned presidential candidate, community organisation has been cited as the future direction for political movements.

Over the years we have seen the movement for change and Arnie Graf, the American community organiser who trained Obama, now advising Ed Miliband.

This is nothing new, in the past the Labour movement was to be found involved in all manner of community initiatives – if anything, organising in the community runs through the DNA of the party.

Just for example, here in the South Wales Valleys we have a long history and tradition of community activism.

Blackwood Institute was maintained by contributions taken directly from the wages of miners’ who each paid 3d a week. As was Oakdale Miners’ Institute, currently at the Museum of Welsh Life, St Fagans, which was also sustained by the wages of miners.

These places were home to libraries and study groups where miners could take advantage of educational opportunities they may have missed out on at school.

Perhaps most significantly, in the early 1900s ironworkers in Tredegar each agreed to contribute a halfpenny per week to the Tredegar Medical Aid Society in return for free health care. It was this model that Aneurin Bevan used to lay the foundations for the National Health Service.

On a smaller scale in Islwyn, the Labour movement has been responsible for all sorts of fetes and community events, together with traditional political campaigns around workers rights. Probably the reason why we have such a successful electoral record.

It is quite clear if we look to the past that we can learn the lessons of the future. That means taking a more active role in the towns and villages that we seek to represent.

There are so many people who are not party members but are working in their communities purely because they care and yet they have very little interest in becoming members of any political party – we have to encourage them to join us.

Changing our structure away from meetings and motions is only part of it. We now have to change our way of doing politics. Traditional leafleting, canvassing by phone or on foot will always be important, as community activism will become over the coming years.

In future, we not only have to give people a reason to vote Labour but we have to demonstrate how we can have a positive impact on the community. That means getting involved in environmental, church and sports groups. It also means encouraging members to become school governors as well as standing for town and borough council.

Of course this is not going to happen overnight – it calls for the Labour Party to make a massive investment of time, energy and yes money into training members so that they can be equipped with the skills to become leaders in their communities.

We ask a lot of our members in terms of time and resources. When we ask someone to join the Labour Party, we have to offer something back not merely see activists as an extra pair of hands for door knocking or leafleting.

This is the only way of growing our activist base. Besides, helping out with a recycling project or food bank is bound to be worthwhile and interesting.

The concept of community organisation could also find itself onto the national scene. The idea of the bulk buying of electricity, which has recently mooted by Ed Miliband, is an exciting concept which strikes at the very heart of the argument that the Labour Party is only interested winning elections and does point to a different way of doing politics.

This idea could also be expanded, for example, we could also be looking at ways of addressing unemployment by bringing businesses together in regional job fairs or offering practical career advice.

This would show that the Labour Party can offer practical help and can act as an agent for social change. This sends out a powerful message that the Labour Party wants to put its values into action whether it finds itself in government or not.

Ultimately, it is about restoring faith in politics again by changing lives directly. It is finally time that the party started showing how politics can make a real difference to their lives.

Christopher Evans is the Labour MP for Islwyn.

  • Daniel Speight

    But Chris getting  involved in the community also means you will have to take a stand sometimes and that may not be politically expedient. It means that sometimes you have to go against the leadership and ignore the focus groups. Do you think you can do that?

    • treborc1

       No he cannot, he comes from an area I know pretty well coming as I do from Tylorstown, this idea that people are going to wave flags for labour in the once proud valley, I suspect some of  the labour party top table would find it hard to sit down, once they get the flag removed.

  • treborc1

    Well i would have thought a food bank might have  said more about what is wrong then to be proud of, just shows  how far out of touch I have become with the younger labour politician.

  • Joe

    Why no mention of Unite’s new community activist scheme? Over 1k members in a couple of months and several regional organisers. It’s the next and most vital part of community organising – organising the unemployed and the down-trodden.

  • treborc1

    I come from an area of the valley devastated by the closure of the mining industry, worse most of it was decimated by Wilson when he closed the mines , and then decimated by Thatcher, labour wins in the valleys because people could never vote Tory, they vote labour because  well it’s the lesser of two evils.

    But this idea that labour can make the valley glow by some how having somebody from the American elections turn us into a placard carry flag waving party, it’s not going to happen, labour tried it at one of Browns conferences, it failed as the people were more interested in talking politics in the pubs or in the lectures going on in the Unions fringe meetings.

    You want people to take an interest in politics then start talking to them about what matters not trying to turn us into some America copy with people screaming or fainting when Obama or Miliband walks in.

    It’s politics not the dam X factor.

    • JoeDM

      The mining industry in the valleys was decimated by the fact that there was no longer any effective demand for the high quality, but high cost, deep mined coal produced there.   Back in the 80s you could buy a ton of cheaper coal and transport it halfway around the world at less cost than a tone of top quality Welsh coal. It was baisc economics not politics.

      • http://twitter.com/mistyblulabour dave stone

        So how did Tower Colliery – earmarked for closure by Thatcher – manage to continue producing coal until 2008, following a workers buy-out?

        Thatcher’s attack on the working class was ideological and it’s her economic shortsightedness [continued by New Labour and now Cameron] that has deepened the crisis we are currently experiencing.

        • treborc1

          Because if I remember it carried on with the Carmarthenshire vein, which finally ran out a new mine would have cost £200 million and they could not get the loans,so it closed. TATA is now looking to see if they can re-open two mines to get coking coal to be used in the steel works in my area, but also to  send  to India and China.

          The worry is of course Miners may have to be brought in from other countries as the workers in the UK can of course get better wages in Australia .

          Funny old world

          • Taffy Owen

            The lads can earn a fortune over there but at the price of living in a hole. We have nearly 3m unemployed, its really bad here. Why would it be difficult to recruit miners?

            http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204621904577016172350869312.html 

          • treborc1

            But of course we have a country now fixed with the Min wage, I would not do it would you, and I did it once and once was enough

          • Dave Postles

            Pay them top whack; that’s how it used to be.

          • treborc1

             £85 a week

  • Taffy Owen

    There is a need to define what Labour is first

  • Brumanuensis

    In principle, I’m all in favour of this sort of community organising, up to and including the alteration of Clause 1 to incorporate this into our constitution.

    However.

    What worries me is that the benefits of such engagement could be lost if non-Labour members of the community feel that Labour is only engaging for the sake of political advantage. To be fair, this is one of our motives, albeit alongside a genuine – it must be – desire to offer practical assistance to communities and community groups. So how are we to counteract any perception of cynical carpet-bagging? Especially given the strong, anti-politics mood that currenty afflicts Britain?

Latest

  • Featured News Miliband says leadership contenders are “perfectly entitled” to criticise him

    Miliband says leadership contenders are “perfectly entitled” to criticise him

    Ed Miliband says he takes “full responsibility” for Labour’s defeat in May, and that as part of the debate around the party’s future, leadership candidates are “perfectly entitled” to criticise his record. Speaking on BBC 5 Live this morning, Miliband said (quote via Politics Home): “I lost the election, Labour lost the election. I took full responsibility for that. People will have their advice, their criticisms and their views and they are perfectly entitled to do that. I think my […]

    Read more →
  • Europe News Tom Watson gets the backing of over third of Labour MEPs

    Tom Watson gets the backing of over third of Labour MEPs

    Tom Watson has picked up the endorsement of 7 of Labour’s 20 MEPs. Watson is one of five people in the running to be Labour next deputy leader. He received 60 nominations from his fellow MPs, candidates needed 35 in order to stay in the race. Last night following a deputy leadership hustings in Brussels, 70 of Labour’s 20 MEPs announced that they were supporting Watson. They are: Sion Simon MEP, West Midlands Richard Howitt MEP, East David Martin MEP, Scotland […]

    Read more →
  • News Unions What we learned from today’s deputy leadership hustings

    What we learned from today’s deputy leadership hustings

    This afternoon the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation (TULO) held a deputy leadership hustings. The five people vying for the job explained why they think they’re the best person for the job and answered questions from the audience. Here’s what we learned: Ben Bradshaw As MP for Exeter since 1997 Bradshaw emphasised that he is the only candidate in either leadership contest to win and build on a majority in a former Tory seat. He also argued he didn’t […]

    Read more →
  • News Unions Unions Together Labour leadership hustings – how it played out

    Unions Together Labour leadership hustings – how it played out

    The four Labour leadership candidates today took part in a mammoth two and a half hour hustings, organised by Unions Together in a hot Camden Town Hall. Here’s a quick run-down of what happened:   Jeremy Corbyn Corbyn said that the last Labour Government “allowed business ethics to take over” too much of their approach to power – which is what led to the “millstone of PFI”. He said that no one should be without food or a home and stressed […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Chris Leslie to Osborne: Labour will support your Budget – if you meet these challenges

    Chris Leslie to Osborne: Labour will support your Budget – if you meet these challenges

    Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie has today set out three challenges for George Osborne to meet in his Budget next week. Speaking in London’s business district Canary Wharf this morning, Leslie accused Osborne of putting “Conservative ideology and the demands of his backbenchers” ahead of the needs of the country. The three challenges Leslie sets out for the Budget, which will be delivered next Wednesday (8th July), are: – A guarantee that any scope for tax cuts is focused solely only on middle and […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit