Building a Youth Movement

Ella Rose discusses the reformation of youth movements within the Labour Party.

Building cohesive and campaigning youth movements is vital to the success of any political party. Far from creating the leaders of tomorrow, successful youth sections, movements or groups would create the leaders of today, young people passionate about changing the world they live in and being the change they wish to see.

Previous generations of young people have been condemned as lazy, more interested in playing video games than being activists. The rise of Extinction Rebellion and other youth-led movements means that perceptions are shifting and returning to the rightful views of young people as changemakers and leaders within society.

The Labour Party has always had (or in some cases, should have always had) a vibrant youth organisation, as well as a student section. Whilst these have often been pipelines for those who wish to end up in a higher office, they also serve their own functions, supporting the Labour Party and encouraging their members to become campaigners and activists. There should be no scenario, outside of bringing the Party into disrepute, that a youth section or group should be able to be disbanded by the Labour Party itself. The catch-all term for membership disciplinaries might work well here, especially considering its 2017 expansion to include any form of discrimination under the Equalities Act of 2010. Systemic or institutional oppression, campaigning against the Labour Party or bringing the Party into disrepute, sure. Not a political or factional disagreement.

The Labour Party, as an organic structure that has developed over time, has meant that socialist society, affiliates and trade unions all hold unique and inter-twinning positions. Whilst our diversity is our strength, this has often unravelled on the youth front, with different organisations holding different powers and rights. This needs to be equalised, with a new funding and resourcing model for both Young Labour and Labour Students. Both have been so often relied on for campaigning support, but the Party has not always invested back. Paid members of staff and a way that elected Chairs can be partially supported for the time they give, not in a dissimilar way to how Councillors are supported can only help the Labour Party grow and develop its youth wings professionally. We can’t expect young people to travel, campaign and run organisations out of their own pockets.

When a 16-year old joins the Labour Party, what do they see from their youth wing? They see an organisation that cuts off and stunts the growth of it’s activists when models of elections are changed at the whim of the NEC. We need secure pathways of development for young activists rather than ever-changing goalposts. We need our young people to be inspired to be involved, not despondent every time they’re cut out of a process.

Finally, we need to reimagine the inclusivity and accessibility of Labour’s youth section, all whilst keeping a firm hand on safeguarding issues. We want young people to be able to flourish, be their true selves and explore their own identities, rather than face systemic bullying or hate. Labour Students’ insistence on antisemitism training in their clubs enabled young Jews to feel encouraged that, whilst the Party was on a slippery slope to institutional antisemitism, there was a space for them. The Labour Party could have done a lot to learn from that.

Our youth sections are a vital part of a successful Party. We have a way to go to achieve that, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be done.

Ella Rose is the Equalities Officer of the Jewish Labour Movement and a former President of the Union of Jewish Students.

She tweets at @ellarachelrose

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