The People's Assembly's national watch party outlined how Tory austerity is continuing and how the anti-austerity movement must respond, reports Isabel Carr
On Wednesday evening, thousands tuned in to watch the People's Assembly's Big National Watch Party responding to the latest Tory budget. And although the ongoing situation meant Laura Pidcock and Mark Serwotka had to withdraw on advice, there was a very strong panel with economist Faiza Shaheen - who stood against Iain Duncan Smith in Chingford and came so close to ousting him, NHS doctor Sonia Adesara, and Jeremy Corbyn - all chaired by Unite trade unionist and People’s Assembly co-chair Steve Turner.
The People’s Assembly was crucial in pushing the anti-austerity narrative and in the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. We won the political argument on austerity - nobody defends it now - and though we lost the 2019 general election with Corbyn as Labour leader, Wednesday's event speaks to the central importance of People’s Assembly and the extra-parliamentary movement in taking our narrative and our agenda forward now. The overwhelming message from the panel, the audience and the People’s Assembly watch parties across the country, was that we have to take our political agenda forward ourselves - working as a united front, pulling together to fight for the changes we all want to see.
Jeremy gave this oversight: We stand against austerity, injustice, and inequality. We stand for improving life chances and services for the majority of the population and the redistribution of economy and power. Austerity was always a political choice. Under austerity there has been a 7% fall in household income for the bottom 5th of the population. Austerity has failed our society (was it ever meant to do anything else?).
The Coronavirus pandemic is a real threat but nothing to ameliorate the impact or containment measures has been put in place, especially for those on the lowest income. Where is the realistic increase statutory sick pay?
And there’s more.
- Five week wait for universal credit - not addressed
- Homelessness - not addressed
- Crisis in Social Care - not addressed
- Infrastructure spending £192billion black hole - not addressed
- Just transition to a green economy - not addressed
Expecting the government to come up with a plan sounds empty now to a growing number of people. So what do we do? Join People’s Assembly, join Stop the War, join a union, get active, get involved and work together for the social change we want. Let's put demands on the government and fight for every last one together.
Fazia Shaheen addressed some of the economic issues. The budget looks like a rapid increase in public spending, but it's been done on borrowing. It’s an admission from them that austerity didn’t work, but only after we lost a decade and many people died unnecessarily. This isn’t a budget that means fewer people will be going to food banks. There’s no strategy to reverse austerity. They might throw some money at it but they don’t know what they’re doing.
The public reaction to the NHS crisis and the Tories' new seats in the North mean they have to say something - but they don’t care about the state, or those communities, what they care about is power. The left need to be careful in placing our approach to this evolving situation. We have won the argument about austerity and investment, but infrastructural spending and repair take time and strategy to take effect. On climate change and a just transition to a green economy, we need trade unions at the table, other countries have done this. The Tories are throwing money at it but have no plan to solve the problem. The government did not address the environment - and we know that the poorest are the ones most affected by bad air quality and environmental disasters like the recent flooding.
NHS doctor Sonia Adesara reminded those present that it’s not so long ago that people across the political spectrum accepted austerity and that the people in this room changed that narrative. People’s Assembly and the social movement changed this. The harms of austerity have not been addressed in this budget. The crisis in social care is greater than that in the NHS with 120,000 vacancies, but the Tories care about power, not principle. We need to get the crisis in social care and the NHS onto the political agenda - no-one else will do it for us. We concentrate on criticising underfunding but the fragmentation, marketisation, and privatisation of services in the NHS is as damaging and is undermining our ability to take collective action against the overall agenda.
Jeremy spoke about our agenda - what we in the movement want to see for society:
- Take the market out of social care provision.
- Secure council housing with fixed rents
- Education - free from cradle to grave, excessive testing and league tables must go
- Environmental standards including clean air, good quality food and water, heating and environmentally secure homes
And we must campaign against the threat of a Trump trade deal, and trade deals of the future with the threat of supra-national corporations who want the right to decide the baseline for standards which affect the quality and length of our lives. A trade deal with Trump’s USA will also roll out private companies' ability to sue the NHS for lost profits across all public services.
There is a lot that we need to fight for, and the time is now. The coronavirus is throwing up questions across society about class inequality and the inherent failures of the system in which we live, and it's up to the movement to organise the resistance. Wednesday's event showed that the appetite for a fightback is there, so join your local People's Assembly group, if there isn't one where you are then set one up.
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