We took back Birmingham from the Tories and were resolute in our opposition to austerity, demanding a new deal for working people, reports Cameron Panting
Alongside the Tory party conference, the movement came together for their own conference on the alternatives to austerity, which was detailed and resolute, followed by a demonstration against the government - making clear that the party of the ruling class was not welcome in Birmingham.
However they present it, the Tories under Theresa May are pursuing a draconian programme of cuts and class policies, but we are now in a situation where the majority of people (including most of the Tory party) know that austerity has failed. Over the weekend we continued to mobilise that opinion and took the project further, by outlining the society we want to create.
At The People’s Conference, we discussed nationalisation and investment - a society that works for the public good, and not for profit, across all sectors - education, transport, health, energy and communications.
We examined the link between austerity, racism and war - if we are to spend more money on our well-being, we need to spend less money on weapons. As Lindsey German, of Stop The War declared, that means no to Trident, and no to the 2% of public spending on defence Nato target, which only four countries actually hit. Can’t we find something better to spend that money on?
John Rees, campaigner and broadcaster, pointed to the government’s own admission of it’s failings, as it moves to the austerity-lite policies of Balls and Miliband. He encouraged us to demand back control of our own services, so that they can be run properly and so that people can be paid properly. ‘Crossrail is being built publicly, because they want to get that done - why not run our trains properly, our post office properly, and build homes hat can’t be bought up by millionaires to be rented out at extortionate rates.’ This is surely the true meaning of ‘take back control’, and is the argument that can win over those that have blamed immigrants for the decline in living standards.
Theresa May’s plans for the re-introduction of grammar schools were met with incredulity. But the state of our education system is a about more than the Tories desire to segregate and test, it is about about lack of funding, academisation, and a commodified system, that only sees pupils as trainee employees, and not as human beings. Kevin Courtney, NUT General secretary made a great point, by asking why, when we don’t attack nurses and doctors in particular areas of the country with low life-expectancy rates, why do we blame teachers for ‘failing’ schools? It’s inequality, stupid.
Later on we had a heartbreaking evening watching a preview of Ken Loach’s award winning new film I, Daniel Blake, but before that, Ken took to the stage, and invoked the history of our movement, defending us against the smears of the media, and reminding us that we have a lot to learn from those who came before us, including the stick the right loves to beat us with - Trotsky!
The Tories out! Austerity has failed demonstration the next day was vibrant and carnival-esque, with poets and musicians creating an agitational culture that, as Shelly Asquith, Vice President of the National Union of Students said ‘the Tories can never take away from us.’
There were speeches from union leaders, nurses, students, campaigners and local councillors, as a united front of representatives from all the strands of the struggle demanded a people’s Brexit. The message was clear - we will not let the Tories get away with ripping up our hard-won rights - this is an opportunity to re-write the DNA of our society, but for the benefit of the working many, not the idle few.
Seeing thousands of people stream through Birmingham, you couldn’t help but feel that this Prime Minister’s time at the helm is limited. If we unite, we can throw out this fragile Tory government.
It is this movement from which Jeremy Corbyn came, and it is this movement, in all it’s diversity that must defend him against the right of the Labour Party, and the various branches of the state. As he finds himself isolated within the PLP, he will find that he has friends on the streets, and widespread support for his program of change. He can become Prime Minister, but only if we continue to build this wave of empowerment deep in to communities across Britain.
Power is within reach, so we must stay radical, and unashamedly discuss the idea of a fairer and more equal society. This weekend was a great contribution to that debate, and a resolute stand against all that is wrong with our society. We have the support, let’s build the alternative.
Cameron Panting is National Organiser for Counterfire and is a member of the editorial board. He is active within the People's Assembly and is a member of Stop The War.
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