by Rida Vaquas
The socialist youth movement in Young Labour has long been beleaguered by organisational problems that were derived from having a relatively small base: cliquishness, narrow focus and opacity in organisation. This is no longer the case, we now have tens of thousands of young members inspired by the ‘Corbyn moment’ in politics, a force capable of acting to transform Labour and society.
However to fully harness the energy and enthusiasm of our members, our youth movement needs to transform itself. This can’t only be done by seeking to acquire formal concessions from a reluctant bureaucracy, but from embedding ourselves in our communities and engaging ourselves in the struggles of young workers across the country.
What does this mean? It means practically raising the political level of our movement. Political education should not only occur in one-off national events, which are difficult for many young members to access, but be a continuous process that takes place at a very localised level, ideally a constituency level. The London Young Labour Forums are a good starting point, but we need to aim to reach members who can’t travel across the city or country. Political education should be well-structured, aiming to give all members a grounding in the ideas that have shaped our movement as well as the history of our movement has organised.
Transforming Young Labour into a fighting force signifies a shift in how young members are viewed. Currently Young Labour’s campaigning has solely an electoral focus and young members are seen as a useful door-knocking army. We need a Young Labour that engages in industrial struggles, in which young members are on the picket lines as much as on the doorstep. We must throw ourselves into building a strike fund for the Ritzy workers in their strike action, steel ourselves for the expected actions of the junior doctors. Strident support at a grassroots level of strong, visible turnouts at picket lines must be matched by public declarations of support nationally. Young Labour should aim to develop guides, toolkits and other resources for supporting ongoing strike action.
Moreover, the Left in Young Labour needs to develop its own pluralist culture of debate and discussion that goes beyond petty sniping on social media. This has long been frowned upon by a party elite that does not see the youth section as meriting autonomy in how it acts, but also by some on the Left. In the 1960s the Left in the Young Socialists, from diverse tendencies, collaborated to develop the paper Young Guard with a unifying programme of nationalisation under workers’ control, comprehensive education and full rights for apprentices. The paper was strongly rooted in a democratic base: it was run by readers’ meetings with an elected editorial board. The present-day Left should strive for similar: discussing our programme in the most transparent way possible in the grassroots as opposed to murky decisions about what ‘the line’ is.
We are arriving at a critical moment for socialists in Britain and around the world. In order to not squander our opportunities, young socialists have to be sharp, unrelenting and unapologetic in our demands. This means learning how to articulate our ideas and how to fight for them.