The importance of small things and the need to expand and further the movement for change in working class communities

If what started as a small group of people, with a vision of a free world had not been determined to change things – how many of us would still be chained in slavery? How many children would still suffer the abuse of forced labour?

From the time a man took it into his head to put some stakes in the ground, to section off the land in order to collect rent – there has been ever since, dissenting groups of people, large and small who have fought to denied the landlords right to do so. If the Luddites had not refused to become part of the industrial “human” machine – the eight hour day and the advancements in workers rights might not have happened.

If the collective effort of – the anti Vietnam war movement hadn’t inspired our young people to revolt; if the woman’s movement hadn’t learned from the history of suffrage. – if the whistle blowers of environmental destruction did not speak up 40 years ago on the effects on environmental damage, the world would be a more violent, unhealthy, unequal and socially oppressed place. Furthermore. If a certain Russian submarine commander had not refused the order to set of a nuclear warhead during the Cuban missile crisis, the “world” as we know it might not exist. Bertrand Russell reminds us of this last point, when we wonder how small things are capable of creating great change.

History is made up of what seems like insignificant action and activities that have changed the world. This knowledge is either not recorded in official translations of history, or most of the progress achieved by ordinary people is absorbed and credited to the “official” historical interpretation.

In a politically engaged life, sometimes, if not most of the time, we never get to know what we have personally achieved – but we need to remember that what we “do”, no matter how little, adds to the rich design of major changes that have happened through-out history. Small struggles working together create great change – They do not come about by having blind faith in political parties.

We have plenty of historical proof that this is the case.

Dawn raids in Kingsway
The story of how Jean Donnachie and Noreen Real took on the might of the Home Office and stopped dawn raids on their asylum seeker neighbours is part of our community history. Noreen Real and Jean Donnachie, who rallied the residents of the Kingsway high rise, into a direct action campaign which more or less put a stop to the government’s community terror tactics of dawn raids on asylum seekers in Glasgow.

Which echoes another part of working class history of the Clydeside rent strikes. Women-led. “We shall not be removed” (removal being the official home office term for deportation, as well as the slogan of the WW1 rent strikers)

Keeping sport in the community
An eight year long campaign to save the St. Augustine’s football pitches in Milton, Glasgow has finally triumphed, with a £2.4m investment in community facilities. That should mark an end to Council attempts to sell the entire site for private housing development, first halted by a public local planning inquiry.

Never say never
Kenny McLachlan, late chairperson of Maryhill Burgh Halls Trust, who made council bosses agreed to re-open Maryhill’s Burgh Halls and Swimming Baths. All this comes after 20 years of closure, when council bosses swore the halls and baths would never be re-opened for ordinary people to use. Private property developers were poised to turn the buildings into yuppie flats. But the local peoples campaign triumphed.

Edinburgh stock transfer
A small core group of perhaps 15-20 people, supporting small but committed groups of tenants on the estates, managed to pull together a campaign which provided the information hidden by the council that tenants needed to make a balanced decision on the transfer. A well-organised campaign of direct democracy supporting council housing against privatisation.

Soot Campaign
The Save Our Old town campaign in Edinburgh has and is doing masses of work on protecting their housing and old town from developers. Creating community forums, events and awareness in common good issues and much more in educating and inspiring local people – as well as many other projects and people out-with their own city.

Common Good
As Glasgow parks come under constant pressure from business interests with city council backing – local people can still send them packing The attack on Glasgow Botanical Gardens, a plan that can only be construed as madness but an example to the extremes a city council backed by business will go to to commandeer public property – for the use of private profiteering.
The Go Ape mess in Pollock park was another arrogant attack on common good property. Both of these schemes were kicked out of the parks by community campaigns that are testimony to the power of ordinary folk against council bullies who refuse to work in the publics interests.

Community land ownership to the Isle of Rum.
All over, land and assets are being taken back by communities – not as a gift from authorities but by the determination of communities who demand to be in control of their environment and assets

Rossport 5
We had the Rossport 5 – Small family farms fighting big oil Interests In June 2005, after refusing Shell access to their property, Willie Corduff and four other men were jailed. Known as the “Rossport Five,” they were released after spending 94 days in jail. After much campaigning and protest – construction on the pipeline was halted. In August 2006 Shell agreed to re-route the pipeline…

All of these things (and this is only a tiny fraction) create a knock on effect to outlying communities and we all in some way benefit from these achievements. The importance of this kind of work is, it is connected and rooted in the communities involved. People can see it working – it encourages solidarity and determination – especially for some, who see everything else in life encouraging the opposite.

Schools campaign
The recent schools campaign against closures, saw parents who a month or two before the campaign would be saying. “Oh I don’t know anything about politics”. When their kids school was threatened with closure, they soon found out what they “did” know about politics. The way they were dealing with the media, doing research, constructing arguments, events and organisation, was testimony to why more “working class” people need to be involved in their own struggles. Yes the schools were closed but the seeds of determination was sown – and there are still plenty of issues left in places like the Wyndford, Maryhill, Glasgow – for locals to deal with.

Common Good
We have just heard that the Glasgow city council has admitted something we have all known for years – that “Pollok Park” is indeed part of Glasgow’s common good. It only took 2 years of campaigning by local people, up against the city councils powerful business Public Relations machine – but it is a very important victory and will encourage others to believe that the machine can be stopped by the will of the people.

Working class communities all across this city are baring the full brunt of the neoliberal gentrifying catastrophe. And as well as destroying their neighbourhoods – is kicking the hope out of folk. Creating solidarity and understanding in fighting these issues if we are to win anything big, is an imperative, in an increasingly atomised society.

In disconnected communities the displaced and poor are not hungry for more strategies, political analysis, party politics and sympathy – they need some practical solutions; contact, solidarity and maybe some help to organise themselves. The rest they can do for themselves. Well that’s what the history of successful working class struggle seems to be saying – if you look at it.

From the Spanish civil war to the US black civil rights movement – From the miners and dockers against the tyranny of Thatcher to the present neoliberal, colonisation of our cities there has never been a greater need to organise – because in the present struggle – we all have so much more to lose. But we need to remember even in the hay-day of the 60s the student revolt was inspired by the struggle of the working class’s.

The policies of isolation and the breaking down of organisational structures forced on working class communities, is what we are, or should be fighting today – and the common good should be our war cry – Because the common good is anathema to every destabilising, financial, and social issue, that is presented to working class people by the rentier society. – We will not frighten these people to much with identity politics – in a class struggle. We will only really begin to scare them – if we start to organise within the class war, that is raging around us, by creating solidarity, support, and a responsibility of association around some kind of “common goals” with working class people – Or at least shouldn’t we trying to encouraging such possibilities?

Bridge connecting communities everywhere.

Links – campaign quotes
www.indymediascotland.org/
burghangel.wordpress.com/
www.goldmanprize.org/node/605
www.localpeopleleading.co.uk/
www.theherald.co.uk/display.vawww.eh8.org.uk/
libcom.org/news/article.php/milton

Past articles archive

Movement building

“Power concedes nothing

without a demand.” Frederic Douglass

As well as figuring out how we can frame things in our own interests, we also need to be aware of how what we do fits into the bigger picture. If our aim is to make any important fundamental institutional change history will tell us the first thing to understand is, we can’t do it on our own. No matter how well we understand the situation, institutional change – that is changing the top layer of power, those who have all the money, the resources will not budge, unless there is a big enough mass movement strong enough to challenge them.

How this mass movement is created, or if we already have one, organised, is what our efforts should be put towards. We already have the capabilities and power to change things, but that power is dissipated and short circuited against a massive corporate owned propaganda system; a state education system that is more and more aligning itself to business needs rather than those of the pupils and students, a technologically aided global network of exploitation, environmental devastation and war. Not to mention a resistance and grass roots, wracked by identity politics, distraction and consumerism.

How do we recognise these things and understand them before we proceed, but not dwell on them to the extent that they debilitate us. To do so leads to cynicism which is by far the greatest enemy of movement building. And it needs to be remembered the poor who suffer the most in our society do not need lectured by the “educated” on the reasons for their circumstances, but rather, on how they can articulate the ideas and process that can help to change them.

Movement building is different from protesting, in as much as it is about vision, responsibility, shaping new ideas and improving on old ones. But coordinating these efforts and ideas into a movement powerful enough to challenge existing power structures. Structures that will not change unless they are forced to by a greater power, that of the masses -The organised masses.

The idea that professionals have a right to serve the public is thus of very recent origin. Their struggle to establish and legitimate this corporate right becomes one of our most oppressive threats
Ivan Illich

City Strolls

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