Meetings around Britain in advance of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity have been huge. Nottingham People’s Assembly had over 400 people attending; a 200 strong rally for the Assembly in Newcastle, 400 packing out Sheffield Hallam Uni, a monster 700-strong meeting for the Assembly at Manchester’s Central Hall and 400 in Bristol. Fred Leplat reports on the context of the event and the prospects for resistance against austerity.
The People’s Assembly Against Austerity has the potential to re-launch the movement against the government’s programme of austerity and cuts. Three weeks before the Assembly is to be held, there is a huge response with over 2,500 people having registered and paid to attend the event. This indicates that tens of thousands of community and trade-union activists are desperate to hear the alternative to neoliberalism and to plan for action to stop the devastation of the welfare state and the lives of people.
The initiative for the People’s Assembly came from the Coalition of Resistance after the October 2012 TUC demonstration as there was no further national event planned. The fight against the government’s national programme of austerity has to be met with a national programme of action. Local actions against local closures and cuts are essential, but have to come together at a national level so that the whole weight of the movement can strike blows that will force the government to retreat. Local actions are taking place in particular against the break-up and cut-back of the NHS such as the 30,000 strong demonstration to defend services at Stafford hospital.
Actions are also being taken in different sectors of public services. The NUT and NASUWT teaching unions are preparing for action to protect teachers pay and conditions and to defend education. Mass rallies at a local level are taking place, such as the one in Birmingham with 800 teachers, in preparation for industrial action which will start on the 27th June in the North West, followed by other areas and then a national strike in the autumn. Other unions such as the PCS are now taking action over pay, while UNISON is planning for action in local government in the autumn.
The People’s Assembly has got the backing of most major unions and national campaigns such as Keep Our NHS Public and UK Uncut. It therefore carries a huge responsibility not just to issue a declaration against austerity and in defence of the welfare state, but to put out a call for actions which will be supported and built by all sections of the movement. The proposal in front of the Assembly will include regional demonstrations and a national demonstration in November. It will also call for local People’s Assemblies to re-energize local anti-cuts campaigns and build for the demonstrations. A reconvened People’s Assembly in 2014 could be the basis of a broader and more united national campaign against austerity, building a mass movement of resistance to defend public services and help to defeat the Tory LibDem Coalition.
The action to defend the welfare state cannot wait two years until the next general election as cuts and closures are taking place now. Nor can the anti-austerity movement place its hopes in Miliband and New Labour, as they are committed to austerity, albeit the “lite” version, just as much as PASOK in Greece and the Socialist Party in France. The Tory LibDem Coalition is weak and vulnerable and could be thrown into crisis by the rise of UKIP on the right with its nationalist and low tax/small state model. But the Coalition could also be thrown into crisis by a movement from the left which captures “the Spirit of 45” of nationalisation and public services to eradicate poverty by redistributing wealth and stopping austerity. Six years into the economic crisis, austerity is no longer seen as a credible solution. A mass movement to stop cuts and closures is vital but not sufficient. We also need to give hope that our efforts in the struggle to defend the welfare state are not wasted by leaving the political stage empty by the absence of a party which opposes austerity. That’s why we need urgently a new broad party of the left. Left Unity offers our best hope for such party which would represent faithfully the interests of the working class, not those of the bankers and big business.