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Citizens – real activism

In the run-up to the General Election, it was hard not to hear about them. James Purnell resigned from the Cabinet to become one and they organised one of the most dynamic leadership hustings during the campaign.

I am of course referring to London Citizens. I was intrigued as to what they were all about, and they generously allowed me to participate in one of their organiser training sessions recently even though my employer is not yet a member of London Citizens.

I went on the training session slightly sceptical but became more and more interested as we worked through the concept of organising. Yet by lunchtime on the second day, I was yet to be totally convinced by it all.

And then one thing changed my mind – we did an activity. There must have been over 70 people on this training course and most of us stayed on for the Saturday afternoon for the promised activity.

It was all linked to their Living Wage campaign.

What I love about this campaign is that they have focussed on the core problems of their members – one of which was the difficulty of living in London on the national minimum wage – but developed a local solution: the living wage. This figure currently stands at £7.60 some £1.87 higher than the minimum wage.

And then instead of waiting for a national campaign to unfold, they targeted local employers, initially in the banking sector, to pay all their staff including contract staff the Living Wage.

And since its launch in 2001 an estimated £24m has been put back in the pockets of low wage workers. Remarkable – what impact!

On that Saturday afternoon, in the rain, they got us all to visit three shops on Oxford Street and ask to see the shop manager. With my three shops, I was amazed how easy it was to see the manager, to make my case about the Living Wage and to hand over a letter to their Chairman. And all of us did three shops and we covered the length of Oxford Street from Oxford Circus to Bond Street.

I just loved this idea of using activists on a training course to do some real activism. It is a lesson to all of us involved in running campaign training – are we missing a trick by not getting the participants involved in some real action?

I just could not ignore the power and energy behind this training and this action – Citizens are clearly offering a very powerful methodology to civil society in this country. If you don’t know about them and you are interested in campaigning, you really do need to get to know them.

But despite my increasing personal enthusiasm for London Citizens, I was left wondering where they fit in with other approaches to campaigning.

Next time I will try to address that question ….