Labour’s way forward: the only way is (bottom) up

A democratic revolution within Labour must be matched by building participatory economic alternatives at a local grassroots level, writes Glenn Jenkins

March 8, 2020 · 3 min read
Marsh House socialist enterprise centre

Even in the wake of the December 2019 election trauma, there’s much to celebrate. Labour are Europe’s largest socialist party and we have just won 10.3 million votes (32 per cent) for the most socialist manifesto I’ve ever seen. That’s a cornerstone to build on that socialists elsewhere would love to have, but in order to sustain and grow it the 21st century socialist spirit Jeremy Corbyn represents has to remain at its heart.

Only Rebecca Long Bailey is promising to deepen the democratic revolution, with overdue open selection for MPs and a mass membership who can act as catalysts for that democratic revolution in our workplaces and communities.

Once Rebecca wins, we can and I hope will move beyond largely social media activism to actually being the change we want to see, building that democratic revolution in our own workplaces, unions and communities at grassroots level.

For example, here in Marsh Farm, Luton, we’ve spent years struggling to lay the foundations for a new, more participatory way of doing local economics and democracy. We call it BUD (Bottom Up Development).

Bottom Up Democracy

In place of boring meetings attended only by a few, we will be piloting quarterly Peoples’ Assemblies where residents can come together to hold service providers to account, distribute funds, debate local issues and build our collective power to act. The Assemblies will have added spice with  creative performance and art provided by local ‘artivists’ whose creative contributions will be blended in with the civic duties, making it an enjoyable and creative experience for all.

Bottom Up Assets

The ‘generator’ for this new democracy is ‘Marsh Farm Futures House’. This is our community-owned enterprise centre, which provides the space, resources and funds our community needs to become less reliant and more self-managed.

Bottom Up Jobs and Incomes

Marsh Farm hosted an ‘Organisation Workshop’ where 40 unemployed locals reclaimed and restored two acres of disused land for a community farm and brought a disused 18th-century farmhouse back into use.

Both sites are now in development and serve as home to six new social enterprises (Fidel Gastro’s Bar Restaurant, RevoLuton Arts, Marsh House Music Studio, Luton Urban Radio, Sauce of the Lea Cafe and Henge Farm). Profits made from the project after wages and running costs are covered will be recycled into a ‘RevoLuton Fund’ seeding more social enterprises.

Be the Change

This is just one example of many, showing that we can be the change we want to see. And the struggle it results in is a more valuable learning experience than doing a Politics degree at university.

As our much loved and missed brother Matt-I Chance put it: “Providing alternatives and fighting vested interests at micro level in my own community made me better overstand power and how it’s exercised in the same way at macro level. It’s the same dynamics.”

And Matt-I is right. Enabling organisation at grassroots level is the key to unlocking the democratic revolution. This is what Labour needs to do.


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