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.

Value our free and unique service?

LabourList has more readers than ever before - but we need your support. Our dedicated coverage of Labour's policies and personalities, internal debates, selections and elections relies on donations from our readers.

If you can support LabourList’s unique and free service then please click here.

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]
x

LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends










Submit