Anger, joy and even revolution were in the air, as Manchester People’s Assembly brought together a wide array of campaigns wanting to build the resistance, reports Martin Hall
As the room filled up on Thursday night, there was a genuine sense of anticipation as Manchester People’s Assembly put on its first public meeting since the series of events held in the marquee in Piccadilly Gardens during Tory party conference week.
The chair – Chris Neville of Unite the Union and Manchester People’s Assembly – welcomed the activists and explained that speakers on the platform would be limited to 5 minutes each, in order to give those assembled chance to speak about their campaigns, their communities, and what they are doing in the fight.
Lucy Burke, a UCU striker from Manchester Metropolitan University, kicked proceedings off with an explanation of the current action that is taking place at 58 universities across the UK. The 20% cut in pay over the last decade, the cuts in pensions, and the appalling conditions of university workers were spelled out for all to hear. Stories were told of poor mental health, and lecturers in their thirties suffering strokes brought on by excessive workload. Lucy also told the crowd of the UCU rally taking place at All Saints on 3 December at 11:30.
Next was grassroots community campaigner Zara Manoehoetoe, who talked about the importance of getting into every community with our arguments, and of bringing together the various struggles under one banner. The Tories try to divide us, so hearing about what unites us is key to growing the resistance. She talked about her role in the Kill the Bill coalition, and what it had done to bring activists together.
The room heard from Tracey Scholes next. Tracey is a bus driver based at Go North West in Queens Rd. She has been dismissed after 34 years. This is the same company that attempted to use fire and rehire this year and lost thanks to the brilliant campaign by Unite, supported by activists and the local community.
The appalling reason given by the management is that she is too small to use the new wing mirrors that have been fitted on the buses. Tracey, who was visibly upset while she spoke, talked about the struggles she went through back in the 1980s to even get a job there. She was told there were no women’s toilets. She was told she wouldn’t be able to work the manual destination signs. Still, she persisted. Two of her colleagues, Len Newnham and Sam Harvey, who is the branch secretary and lead rep, spoke about the campaign and encouraged everyone to take a badge.
Following Tracey was Pia Feig, who spoke for Greater Manchester Keep our NHS Public, which she was involved in founding. The chronic underfunding of the NHS is a topic on the lips of many people in these pandemic times, as is the treatment of its frontline staff. The path to privatisation taken by New Labour and the Tories was outlined. It’s a horrible future if we don’t resist.
Chantelle Lunt from Merseyside Black Lives Matter spoke next. She talked about the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, and about the Kill the Bill coalition that sprung up to fight it. She discussed how BAME people have been at the sharp end of policing for many years, so consequently were in a position to warn others. She mentioned the disparity in life chances based on class and race – for example, black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. The 11 pages of amendments sneaked into the bill by Priti Patel after it went through the Commons was highlighted, to boos, groans and visible anger from the room. The importance of the protest on the 8th, as the bill goes to the House of Lords, was emphasised.
Laura Smith, Labour councillor and former MP for Crewe and Nantwich was next. Laura talked about class and told the story of how she came to be an MP. She put class at the centre of what she said and made the point that she had initially felt like an imposter walking into parliament, but soon realised that if the chamber was full of people from the working class, what a different country it would be. The message was clear: we need political education to increase the self-activity of working-class people in the fight against the Tories and capitalism.
There was a special guest, too. James Quinn, actor and People’s Assembly stalwart, read his latest version of a poem that he updates yearly. It is based on Gil Scott Heron’s ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, with sections changed to reflect the current problems facing people. It is, however, very funny, rather than simply being a litany of problems.
The meeting was then opened up. We heard from Extinction Rebellion, a member of the COP26 coalition, disillusioned Labour members and Evan Pritchard, the Treasurer of Manchester People’s Assembly, who reminded everyone that we can’t look to Labour for salvation. That is up to us. The People’s Assembly, as the movement of movements, provides the framework for that fight.
The meeting can be watched here
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