Postscript on Inequality and Alikeness

I’ve just been reading Maurice Glasman’s outline for his political vision for the Labour party. Blue Labour. I get why it’s called Blue, but I wish it wasn’t. It’s a powerful thesis, but I think for it to hold sway with non-poli-sci people (me included) it needs to find a way of characterising itself that doesn’t use “blue” and “conservative”: it makes sense, but it doesn’t help its cause. Within it, however, I found one example of a way of answering the question of inequality and alikeness, or the problem of immigration. He used to work at London Citizens. They describe themselves as “the biggest community alliance in Britain”. In his article in The Observer Glasman talks about his work there, and I’m going to quote it at length (my emphases):

I learned many things in those years and one of them was that, unless there were effective organisations, immigration led to a double exploitation, of the immigrants and of the locals. We ran a campaign called Strangers into Citizens so that illegal immigrants could build alliances and a common life with their new neighbours and colleagues. We ran the Living Wage Campaign to assert a common human status for all who worked in an enterprise or institution.

It was driven primarily by faith communities who asserted the dignity of labour and the importance of association. It was a resistance to the commodification of labour. The Catholics, Methodists, Pentecostals and Muslims I worked with did not talk to me about changing divorce laws or prohibiting civil partnerships, about abortion or the hijab. We spoke about a living wage, about establishing an interest rate ceiling of 20%, about affordable family housing and community land trusts and about achieving a common status as a citizen of the country. We spoke about matters of common concern where we had common interests. A common life between the old and the new required the establishment of relationships between what was divided. It required new work agreements so that all was not relentlessly up for grabs in an exclusively contractual churn.

The very simple idea of people’s relationships with others is what is at stake here. The centrality of one-to-one conversations, of relationship building, of establishing trust between what were seen as incompatible communities and interests transformed my understanding of what a politics of the common good could be, and of what Labour should be about.

I’m sure there is a lot more work like this going on in the UK and elsewhere. It’s felt great to read about it after getting so het up about Cameron’s immigration policy. Although there’s a double irony with the Living Wage Campaign that on their page’s masthead is a verbal thumbs-up from Cameron himself.

This introductory video gives more insight into what Citizens UK does. And I’ll stop here—this lost its postscript status the second sentence in…

The Art of Refining

Those first few days were a rush. Ideas were flying out of my head. I had scraps of paper by my bed which I’d scramble to find at 3am. Most every waking moment when I wasn’t eating cereal or tending to the kid, I was typing like crazy.

Now it’s the calm.  The reflection. The realisation that, though I had most of it, it’s not all there. Not articulated quite right. Not refined.

And crikey is the process of refining a whole lot harder. I’m on a come down. I don’t have that same energy. It does matter if I only had four hours sleep. My boy needs attention too, and he deserves it more than the computer screen.

I feel frustrated. I latched onto a buzzword, social mobility, to help define what I want to do. But it’s the wrong word, it doesn’t get at the heart of what I want to do. This week is all about getting to that heart.

I find a compelling article by Owen Jones on the Guardian newspaper’s website, and it makes me search out further pieces by Rebecca Hickman. It makes me realise that social mobility is not what I hope in particular to improve. Which is frustrating, because so much of my initial research was done on it.

No, what I want to look at is social egalitarianism. Rather than perpetuating the social hierarchy, I’d like to have a hand in restructuring it. Aiming for all jobs to be considered equal, but if there is any favouritism, then it be for jobs of high social worth.  A cold caller for Oxfam. A venture capitalist investing in social enterprises.

I start plugging away at further research. But my mind is slow. I feel frustrated still. I’m not doing a good job of being a mother, and I’m not doing a good job at articulating my vision.

The business plan grows from twenty-odd pages to close on forty. With small steps I move towards a clarified version. I now know I want to register the organisation as a company limited by guarantee, before then apply to the Charities Commission. And I discover that I need to have the names and details of two trustees to register. Asking trustees? I have a hunch there’s a list of duties that’s provided on paper, and then a whole host of unspoken expectations which I am yet to fathom.