After a self-imposed Festive retreat from social media, I logged back in this week to find the same old activists on my timeline fighting the same old battles with each other as they did last year and the years before.
News bulletins show the poison of Trump makes ever more dangerous international threats, the Tory Brexit shambles is coming loose, austerity cuts are becoming a humanitarian crisis according to the Red Cross, workers terms, conditions and pay have been driven down so hard that people feel helpless and hopeless about a better future. Yet those broadly on the Scottish political left began 2017 still tweeting to expose the other party for being too obsessed with their a) unionist or b) nationalist causes to advance class politics. Others continue to tribally berate the leadership of (usually other) unions for failing to mobilise a sufficient quota of industrial action to ignite a general strike.
But apart from cyber-friends that retweet and “like” to show absolute agreement with 140 character analysis and those cyber-followers that troll to deride, what difference does any of this cyber-rabble make?
Swimming against the tide, this week I applaud the Labour activists highlighting the austerity failings of our NHS, and I also applaud the Glasgow SNP MPs who have joined with PCS union to oppose the closure of half the city’s jobcentres. When a political representative is failing their constituents, our their principles, Of course they should be called out, but when they do the right thing, let’s acknowledge their support.
Politicians and political activists alone cannot bring about change. Neither can activists – cyber warriors or otherwise.
Lifting our gaze from the phantasmagoria of smart phone socialism and taking a real look at the objective conditions of the working class today might lead to a call to increase the pressure to mobilise. As movement that is our default, our leaders leading, our banners waving. However, like social media debate, we have let ourselves believe that all we need to do is make the clarion call and the class will rise up. This is not so easy.
For my entire adult life I have been involved in campaigns that seek to mobilise workers, activists and communities to bring about change, some more successful than others. The mobilised left is made up of people like me, and many of us spend too much time whether on social media, in meetings or in political activities talking to each other, debating our differences, splitting hairs over the correct winning strategy or purer analysis. This mobilises no one. Once again we end up only talking only to ourselves.
We (and I firmly include myself) must a stop pretending that 30 souls at a public meeting against austerity on a Tuesday night is a “good turn out”. Or that a street stall collecting 50 names for a petition in support of refugees is a major fightback against fascism. Or that a handful of lefties turning up to support workers on the latest picketline is the beginning of a new wave of co-ordinated industrial action. Or that 2,000 committed trade unionists on a demo is a mobilisation of our class. We are mobilising no one but ourselves, as we were all coming along anyway.
All of these acts are laudable, tireless acts of those already committed. And they bring solidarity to beleaguered campaigns often at very little notice, by people that dedicate their life to the struggle. But in repeating these circular acts and no more, who are we really talking to other than ourselves and others like us? No one ever mobilised a class by blogs like this, left newspaper sales or social media likes, or by making lengthy contributions at empty public meetings, or by standing at a street stall as shoppers swarm by.
If, in 2017 are to truly to fight for our class, then we must raise our own gaze to raise expectations. This requires deploying different organising techniques that take us out of our collective comfort zones and start listening to our class whose working conditions, wages and communities once scarred with just post-industrial decline, now are bleeding from ten years of austerity cuts.
By listening, engaging, involving, encouraging and empowering working class people to become the leaders of their own campaigns, we require to pipe down with our ready-made mobilising solutions and make space for grassroots campaigners, workplace leaders to deploy their own strategies, techniques and apply local influences. This requires deep organising, and takes time to deploy, but it is an investment worth making in our people who are crying out for hope.
New organising approaches are not a replacement for mobilising, but a tool to aid our mobilising efforts, be they industrial, political, social movement or community actions.
In the 2017, post-Rightwing populist surge that sickened us in 2016, there is a new urgency. I for one am feeling more restless than ever for that better world we all believe in. The mobilising aspiration of our labour and trade union movement (including all self-identified leftist groups, progressives, greens, radical Indy supporters, British-road-to-Socialism federalists, feminists, BME activists, LGBT+ , disability campaigners, the peace movement anti-poverty community and other fellow travellers) is in dire need of a new approach.
From the high point of our generation 30 November 2011 public pensions strike, our movement largely has failed to unify and mobilise our class. Of course we have had moments in the sun along they way, smaller scale industrial victories, the Indy Ref heightened awareness, the Corbyn bounce, etc. But we have not put an end to austerity, none of us. Rise above the finger pointing analysis of which group of leaders, unions, politicians, etc are most to blame as the biggest sell outs. Our movement’s collective failure belongs to us all.
Working class people are not passively looking to be mobilised along to our demos, to become mere voting fodder in our elections, or ground troops in our industrial action, or to “like” our Tweet or wear our badge. They are hungering for hope in their lives in 2017 that just doesn’t seem there – that another world can be possible. It is only through building real power amongst workers and their communities in which ordinary people participate and organise, becoming active agents in winning their own change that can build the next wave.
It’s time to build that unity and start winning.