It is a small world in Politics. Often political events will not limited to their initial time and place. While some development might be born in a specific context, ideas will spread and reverberate around the world.
Leftists often spend a lot of time vicariously living through the class struggle abroad. But this often takes the form of sport, cheering on “our team” and celebrating a victory that doesn’t seem possible at home. Much less time is put into in understanding into the dynamics at play, or thinking about how the example in one place, will effect the politic of another.
I’m now in England to meet with socialists and unionists here. I want to see and try to get a better understanding of both the movement around Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the Labour Party leadership, and attempts to rebuild unionism in the fast food industry here.
The trip started in a small seaside town called Scarborough. I had been told to meet the secretary of the local branch of the bakers and food workers union, Steve. Steve was easy to spot on the platform in a coat that was covered in badges, each promoting a different political cause.
I soon to learned that while Steve had many badges, his union membership was more modest. The local branch has about 25 members at fast food outlets and pubs across the town. That night almost two dozen union members and supporters came together in a small hall by the sea for a BBQ and to launch the local union drive- for £10 an hour and union recognition.
This may all seem very modest, but to dismiss the small size of this single event would be to not see the context of our times. In New Zealand we turned back years of casualisation to ban zero hour contracts. In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn has come from nowhere to win the leadership of the Labour Party, dramatically shattering the neoliberal consensus. Even is the small seaside towns, in the hardest of industries, workers are willing to organise. Things that are meant to be impossible are coming to pass, and for the left this is an exciting challenge to take up.
With this backdrop it doesn’t feel like bluster when the bakers union president Ian Hodson, told this small crowd in Scarborough “I believe that our campaign to organise fast food workers can be the civil rights movement of our times”.
This weekend the Labour Party is holding it’s national conference. Corbyn is expected to be reelected leader, but this will not be the end of the political fight. Bringing forth the movement which makes radical change possible will take more than voting for Jeremy, but rebuilding the organisations of the working class. Parallel to the labour conference, the Momentum- the group set up by Corbyn supporters in the Labour Party-will be holding a parallel conference called “the world transformed” to plot out what this might look like. These conversations will be important, and not just in the UK, the ripples of the events will be felt everywhere.