Building an Open Left

by: Sonja Lokar on 10.01.19 | In: Comment
by: Sonja Lokar on: 10.01.19 in: Comment

The issues for the Open Left are well-known to us. Accelerated globalisation has dramatically altered the social structures of societies in Europe and elsewhere. Together, the decline of the industrial working class in Western Europe and the gradual weakening of nation-states have disempowered traditional institutions (strong trade unions, cultural institutions, social democratic and socialist political parties) and robbed them of their former effectiveness. New social strata have formed – precarious workers, long-term unemployed young people, impoverished older people, seemingly without any sense of shared interests. But in fact, their social situation depends on the social and political power of the working class.

In this context, the question of all questions for the Open Left is that of organisation. The traditional working class movement’s communications were based on systematic interactions between members of their social movements and political organizations, the use of printed media, and national TV as a public service. All these tools have became insufficient or degenerated. At the same time, trade unions and left wing parties are ossified, caught in ‘business as usual’ or incapable of reaching out even to traditional voters, let alone new ones brought into the political realm by globalisation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The average citizen of the first half of the 20th century in Europe was literate, but the average citizen of the 21st century has finished secondary education, and close to a half of young people are higher qualified. But the Open Labour movement still needs to adjust its organisations to this new reality and to fully put into action interactive use of the Internet and of new forms of social media. 

For the first time in history, the capitalist way of production and consumption has became a palpable threat to the survival of humankind and Earth’s biodiversity. And those who are worst affected are those who are already disempowered. The challenges are global and the solutions have to be global. An Open Labour movement has the capacity to forge a strong bloc for an alternative for sustainable development. This is the only chance that each of our countries and Europe as a whole has to prevent “multinationalised” and financialized global capital, masked by conservative populists, to curtail democracy based on indivisible human rights, establish autocratic regimes and push us all in internal violence against the weakest in our societies and into international geo-strategic armed conflicts.

In these circumstances, an Open Left movement can be built only from the bottom up – a patchwork of grass root coalitions fighting for very concrete issues. We can learn from some encouraging examples on the global level such as women’s movements. In the former socialist countries there are also encouraging examples of such issue coalitions. For example, at a time when in Slovenia women’s Parliamentary representation was down to 14% and we had centre right or so-called ‘big coalition’ governments, including right wing ones with none or a few female ministers, each time such grass roots issue coalitions constructed a different set of stakeholders. This led to the safeguarding of free and safe abortion, secular affordable public child care and prevented the attempt to engage in a ‘race to the bottom’ welfare state. The Open Labour movement will be feminist or it will not come into being at all.   

The fate of today’s Labour, social democratic, socialist and traditional left parties has not yet been decided. The UK Labour Party faces the same challenges that sister left parties, reduced to small, often opposition, parties, are already enduring all over the globe. UK Labour still has the luxury, rare in Europe with the decline of traditional Left parties, to realistically aspire to a political majority in the General Election. But together left parties all face a fatal choice. They can open up, help give birth to an Open Left with cross-cutting grassroots movements and become one of the crucial actors in building and strengthening the patchwork of single issue coalitions for a new consensus on global sustainable development. Or, they can pretend that they are still the only kid on the workers’ block of their nation-state and end up in the dustbin of history.

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