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…