Guest Author

"The biggest challenge is strengthening our collective power"

Guest Author
"The biggest challenge is strengthening our collective power"

For my generation, the Labour Party hasn’t so much been associated with the golden years of the welfare state, nor as a party with organic links to a powerful and well-organised trade union movement. The Labour Party I grew up with was very different and appeared to me - as it did to most politically engaged young people in the late 1990s and early 2000s - unsalvageable. 

It was the party that declared war in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite over a million people marching against it, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people, turning thousands into refugees and destabilising a whole society for generations to come.
It institutionalised and legitimised Islamophobia through the supposed "War on Terror" and introduced the ‘Prevent’ policy. It stood by Israel as it launched a 22-day offensive against besieged Gaza and killed over 1,400 Palestinians.

It introduced top-up fees, reinforcing education as a privilege and not a right. It  formed student leaders who would use national platforms to speak against free education and denounce university staff taking strike action. 

I understood pretty quickly that if you had any desire to support the struggle for social justice, joining the Labour Party was definitely not the way to go!

And then, Jeremy Corbyn happened. Decades of social movements demanding an end to the dehumanisation of migrants and of racism in our streets and institutions, reinvestment in the welfare state, the removal of a price tag to education, and a more transparent, democratic political system, led to the election of the only leader in a very long time who ordinary people can actually have faith in. 

For many of us, it was powerful to see a Labour party entering the General Election in 2017 with a manifesto that dedicated an entire section to A More Equal Society. 
Core questions including the global issue of violence against women, trans-liberation and the effects of austerity on the lives of disabled people were addressed.

This is not to say however, that there are no problems. In the book I reflect on how the manifesto pledges on anti-racism and liberation reflect the tension between the new momentum, the political direction represented by Jeremy and the thousands of new members on the one hand, and the old party machine and parliamentary party on the other. 

Radical advances are buttressed by visible pulls to the right. Islamophobia is mentioned but little is offered practically on how to challenge it. Structural racism is identified as a key issue, but Black and Asian communities are limited to categories of small business owners and the unemployed.

Given the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, refugee solidarity marches against the drowning of migrants in the Mediterranean, the thousands standing against Trump's Muslim ban and the opposition of all teaching unions to ‘Prevent’, it is crucial that these experiences are reflected in the policies proposed.

These are not simply slip-ups. They represent the contradictions within the project: great enthusiasm for the possibilities of leftwing governance, coupled with a real weakness of unions and social movements capable of challenging the state, the Labour bureaucracy, and the pressure to compromise on a future Corbyn government.

The biggest challenge is not electing Jeremy Corbyn as our next prime minister, but strengthening the foundations and collective power that will enable him to implement the policies that have inspired thousands of young people, working class people, and oppressed communities, who were otherwise frustrated and disengaged from the political system. 

It is the activists from the social movements of the last decades – the anti-war movement, the Palestine solidarity movement, the student revolt against fees and the re-mobilisation of a section of the trade union movement in the face of austerity – as well as those inspired by them but frustrated by their defeat - that have turned to the Labour Party. Labour branches are being flooded with the organisers of the very movements that fought to halt or reverse the policies of the Blair era. 

It is important that Corbyn's Labour Party is not seen as simply an electoral project in a momentary juncture, but rather a point of transformation in the future of this country – in the ballot box as well as in our workplaces and on the streets. 

For the Many: Preparing Labour for Power, edited by Mike Phipps is published by OR Books. For more information, see