People's Assembly protesters. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. People's Assembly protesters. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

As the People’s Assembly hosts a series of events, Tony Dowling discusses the prospects for resistance in the streets and workplaces

It is now nearly three months since December’s devastating General Election result. For so many of us the period since then has been one of much despondency. We have grieved, we have reflected and there has been a degree of understandable inertia. 

The time for breastbeating, however, is now over. It is time to regroup, rebuild and rejoin the struggle. It is time for action.

With the huge Tory parliamentary majority there is little prospect of another General Election for five years. So we need to turn to struggle and activity beyond parliament. 

Despite Johnson’s majority in parliament he does not have a majority in the country at large. There, though, is where our strength lies and it should be the arena we look to for forthcoming struggles. But if we are to be effective we must seize the initiative and be prepared for when resistance breaks out – as it inevitably will!

Already in the three months of its brief existence there have been moments of weakness for this government and some crises beyond Johnson’s control. 

In January there were protests at Johnson’s support for Trump’s assassination of the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Iraq, and right now his government is floundering as it tries to deal with the threat of a coronavirus epidemic.

Along the way, the “part-time Prime Minister”, as Jeremy Corbyn so aptly christened Johnson at PMQS this week, was conspicuous by his absence from the recent flooding crises. And he had nothing to say when Andrew Sabisky, the racist and eugenicist adviser he hired, quit his job after a public outcry in February.

Add to this the ousting of former Chancellor Sajid Javid, the outcry over attempts to deport the Jamaica 50 and accusations of bullying and lying by Priti Patel at the Home Office, and it is clear that Boris Johnson and his government is not having the easy ride that they perhaps expected.

And that is before the challenges of the Brexit negotiations and the threat of an economic slowdown are factored in.

In these circumstances it is crucial that we regroup and rebuild a social movement as soon as possible. A movement which can mobilise mass resistance to support struggles and campaigns whenever there is an opportunity to do so. There are many issues around which people will be prepared to fight: from climate change and the NHS to Universal Credit and warmongering in the Middle East. 

And of course there are encouraging signs of trade union members becoming more combative, with the current UCU strikes in the universities and the ongoing ballots for action by the CWU postal workers union and transport workers in London. 

In the wake of the 2015 General Election, when a quarter of a million were mobilised onto the streets of London, Jeremy Corbyn noted that the People’s Assembly had, after 5 years of Tory/Lib Dem cuts, finally put ‘austerity’ and ‘anti-austerity’ into the national media narrative.

We must now regroup, rebuild and extend that movement to resist the inevitable attacks on working class communities that will be launched by the Tories. Efforts must be made to both sustain the broad vision of social transformation that characterised the movement over the past four years, but we must also fight to reconnect with a wider base of activists and supporters throughout the country, to include trade unions, other social movements, climate activists, Labour Party members and socialists.

The People’s Assembly has shown the potential there is to mount the kind of fightback that working class communities desperately need. But we now need efforts across the whole of the working class movements and the left to unite together.

That’s why it is so good to see that Laura Pidcock, one of the most powerful and effective voices in the labour movement, has committed herself to the People’s Assembly campaign to rebuild resistance to the Tories.

“There is real potential here,” says Laura, “if we campaign hard over workers’ rights, climate change, and rebuilding the services working class communities need. There is no reason why we can’t defeat Boris Johnson and most importantly the hard-right ideas he represents, building a case for a different political system and then making that happen.”

Over coming months we need to revitalise People’s Assembly groups all around the country to organise and rebuild their networks and reach out to all those who wish to resist the coming attacks from Johnson’s reactionary Tory government. 

At our well-attended People’s Assembly meeting in Newcastle in the aftermath of the General Election it was clear that, despite their massive disappointment at the result, people were keen to resist and fight back. From that meeting we have planned a public rally in Newcastle on 31st March with Laura Pidcock who will be speaking alongside representatives of UCU and CWU unions, together with the local Keep Our NHS Public and UK School Climate Network campaigns.

Meanwhile in London this Wednesday March 11, the People’s Assembly has organised a forum where Jeremy Corbyn and Mark Serwotka will join Faiza Shaheen, Laura Pidcock, Steve Turner and Amelia Womack from the Green Party to give instant response to the government’s first budget. 

The event is going to be streamed to watch parties around the country. So get along if you are in London and tune in if not.  

We are encouraged by the enthusiasm and support we are finding for these initiatives. The potential for developing a genuinely mass movement to challenge Johnson’s government is real. But it needs people to overcome their despondency and to take the initiative. 

As the legendary US labour activist and songwriter Joe Hill famously said, “Don’t mourn, organise!”

Tony Dowling

Tony Dowling is a teacher, socialist, trade unionist, antifascist, anti-war & anti-cuts activist. He is currently chair of North East People's Assembly and a member of Counterfire.

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