Compass recently published this article by Liam Barrington-Bush.
He raises some interesting points although kind of mixes actual radicals with more moderate progressive types in order to make his point.
The essential thrust of the article is two fold – the first I agree with wholeheartedly, it is absolutely correct to say that organisations that work for social change are reflective of wider society and still far too dominated by straight white males often from a middle class degree educated background. I would add that this is the case even in local community groups, certainly in London for instance, and it’s certainly the case on the radical left and the Labour party.
Things are slightly better in the trade union movement than other areas although not by much.
The second key point in Liam’s article is a bit less helpful – step back in favour of new people, he demands of charity executives and NGO and union managers. Give up your jobs in favour of others who are more representative of the people you are supposed to be working for.
Fair enough. There is nothing wrong with making really radical demands in order to highlight that something needs to be done – in the same way New Labour used to get “mad” Frankie Field to float radical welfare reform ideas in order to make their eventual reforms seem a bit more humane.
In reality though the article does not really offer any strategy for genuinely building more representative organisations. Simply pointing to how anarchists (of course a hugely successful social movement!) do things is not an answer.
I think to some extent unions and organisations like Citizens UK actually show the way – certainly in UNISON we encourage self organisation by members around specific shared identities which has clearly provided a space for women, black members, LGBT members, and disabled members as well as young members to bring about changes to the way we work and develop themselves as leaders not just within identity silos but within the wider union.
Just as important though is the organising approach. The entire concept of organising is about empowerment, about working with people to develop their potential as leaders within the workplace or community. Supporting people to find their own voices so they can articulate their own self identified needs and desires.
In over 16 years of involvment in social movements union and community organising approaches are the only methods I have seen that can effectively address the issues that Liam is talking about.
This is very much in line with the leader in every chair approach Liam refers to in his article. But it hasn’t come about because of nice middle class striaght white men have voluntarily stepped back, but because the very people it benefits fought for it and indeed were often the innovators of it in the first place (community organising in the States).
Having said all that – Anarchists in the Boardroom ( http://www.morelikepeople.org/the-book/ ) is well worth a read for anyone who works in a big social movement organisation. It contains a lot of tips for speeding up the process of change.