Organising is in our DNA – now we need it more than ever

Angela Rayner

Our party was formed by organised workers who wanted political power to match their industrial might. Organising is in our DNA. Now we need it more than ever.

Today’s Labour Party has hundreds of thousands of members and millions of working people behind us. I want us to continue as a mass membership party, with the collective potential to achieve lasting change. To do that, we need to look afresh at what our activism is for, what it achieves and how we do it.

The thousands of members I saw at rallies in the election campaign were a high point for me but – as we’ve seen – they don’t guarantee victory. Collecting lots of voter ID is essential for turnout on polling day, yet on its own it doesn’t connect with people, build trust or persuade. 

I’m not saying I have all the answers (it’s why I’ve launched a survey asking about your experiences and ideas), but as an organiser who has been leading the fight for and winning change for more than two decades, I have some ideas about where to start.

There is a fundamental difference between mobilising and organising. Getting people to turn out to something is great, but what we do has to go much further. It’s harder – but so is anything that achieves change.

We start with a culture change that puts organising before mobilising when we’re not facing an immediate election. That means spending time and resources identifying and training leaders, building networks and structures, it means accepting that self-organisation and empowering the grassroots will lead to less central control but may need more central support.

I’m not going to be out there as deputy leader personally running every local campaign against school cuts, for example. Prioritising organising means making sure every activist, parent and teacher who wants to campaign with us has the tools and resources to tackle those issues in their own communities. The fashionable label is community organising, to me it’s bread and butter – we see injustice, we support and empower people to organise for change, we win and then we start all over again.

We must do this unashamedly as Labour, not just to win elections but to do what we all joined the Party for in the first place: to make a difference. Here are three ways I’d start:

  1. Investing in activism. Embedding campaigning in our communities. We need expanded training and development programmes and resources available to support local campaigning. On everything from press and social media to event organisation and public speaking, we must support our people to organise and lead.
  2. Supporting local government. Local government campaigns can be a hard slog. Councillors tell me that a lack of funds and staff support and sometimes not selecting candidates early enough hurts their ability to campaign. I know local candidates are often already doing community organising – in incredibly tough circumstances – even if they don’t call it that, but could do so much more with the right structures and support. 
  3. Building a Labour community. We’re not making use of all the talent in our movement. There is a lot to learn from what many of our activists and reps do already, and we don’t always join the dots. We have amazingly talented people in every corner of the UK who want to help. We have designers, programmers, people who make videos, trainers and educators, social media experts. I want to build a Labour team that collaborates and supports each other across the country. 

We need to get this right. If we continue to let the conversation and our efforts be about internal party division, we will never move on. That’s why I want to be deputy leader of a united party, all pulling together for the same purpose.

I was on the frontline as a trade unionist in local government while the last set of Bullingdon Club Tories were in charge. We all know what’s coming. Every time an attack comes a little bit of us will hurt because we know it should have been us in power but in that adversity we have to find strength and purpose.

Before the world was consumed by Brexit, I led thousands of low paid workers to halt privatisation at a Manchester NHS trust and a Lancashire university. We fought off cuts to the ambulance service in Cumbria and to Sure Start in Liverpool. 

Now the battle starts anew. Not just defending what we have, but fighting for more. Fighting to win. Let’s not be limited by what others have tried. We can be the trailblazers, the innovators who show what a real people-powered movement can deliver. That is the history of our party. Let’s make it our future too.

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