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Next steps for the People’s Assembly

The People’s Assembly – founded on 22 June 2013 at a 4,000 strong rally in London – has, it seems, finally succeeded in establishing unity between the hitherto scandalously divided national anti-cuts movements.

Alongside the union leaders’ craven refusal to mount any united prolonged and decisive industrial action, this had made resistance to the Con-Dem onslaught so ineffective that a period of demoralisation and retreat set in.

The People’s Assembly contained the potential to stop this farce turning into the tragedy of the destruction of the welfare state.

However the 2013 conference still showed most of the defects of its predecessors, having overcome only the organisational disunity.

It was a completely top-down – or rather top table – event, replete with assorted celebrities and with the “delegates” there only to provide the applause and whoops for the general secretaries, journalists, comedians and so one.

At the trade union session the organisers – the Communist Party of Britain, Socialist Action and Counterfire – even removed the sole union militant, blacklisted construction worker Frank Morris from the speakers at the last minute. As Frank told me on the day, “They didn’t want to risk hearing what I might say!”

Likewise, Ken Loach was taken off the final plenary for fear that he might call for a fighting alternative to Labour and promote Left Unity – which he did, but in a smaller venue away from the main hall.

Indeed no strategy emerged for overcoming the disunity and delays in action to halt the merciless onslaught from Osborne and Cameron, apart from a march past the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on 29 September and desultory acts of civil disobedience on 5 November.

Since then, the People’s Assembly has organised a series of local and regional assemblies, in Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle, Brighton, Bristol and elsewhere, some attracting substantial audiences, others less so, but all in the same format. “Team PA” is now sponsoring a series of demonstrations, stretching from Budget Day (19 March) in various cities and towns to a national demonstration and festival on 21 June in London.

Clearly Stop the War is the model, hardly surprising given the political figures that gave us that (John Rees, Lindsey German and Andrew Murray) are all big players behind the scenes.

The problem is that while the People’s Assembly has achieved a major branding success, it has not yet developed a strategy for halting the cuts or forcing out the government. In that respect it is also like Stop the War.

The unions, especially Unite, the political groups and the assorted celebrities who constitute its leadership do however have an unspoken alternative to mass action to drive out the Tories or frustrate their plans. Keep on protesting, rallying, marching and then… vote Labour in 2015.

Meanwhile the cuts keep coming. Schools are “freed” from democratic local control; hospitals are trustified and forced by approaching bankruptcy to make savage cuts; the welfare system becomes a new Poor Law. And Labour weakens to breaking point its organic links with the unions, and pledges to act as a ratchet mechanism to preserve the Tory “reforms”, just as Blair did with Thatcher’s in 1997.

Is this really the best we can do? Hold assemblies, rallies, marches and carnivals as we approach the tipping point where the destruction of the 1945 welfare state is complete?

Workers Power think not. But to abandon this fatally complacent strategy and adopt a course of action to stop the cuts, we need to debate the various alternative strategies. And then we need to decide what we are going to do.

A start would be if the People’s Assembly adopted Lambeth Unison’s proposal, stated here:

Conference notes

1.         That Osborne has pledged £60 billion cuts over four years, on top of £50 billion cuts already implemented

2.         That Cameron says he wants austerity “not just now, but permanently”

3.         That the Labour Party is committed to keeping to the Tories’ spending plans for its first two years in office.

4.         That these policies have resulted in a crisis of living standards

Conference believes

5.         That the cuts can be stopped only by a campaign of sustained, mass strike action

6.         That millions have already taken strike action

7.         That sustained and escalating strike action, e.g. Hovis, has led to victories

8.         That the TUC has voted for co-ordinated strikes and all a mid-week day of action against cuts

Conference resolves

9.         To support every strike against cuts or to recover lost wages

10.       To call on trade unionists, including and especially those union leaders who support the People’s Assembly, to campaign for co-ordinated strike action up to and including a general strike

11.       To hold special People’s Assemblies across Britain to support this campaign with a view to drawing in representatives from neighbourhoods and workplaces who can spread the campaign and implement actions.

 

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