Reuben Bard-Rosenberg reports on the opening session of the People's Assembly - where the leader of the TUC called for united action
There was audible excitement amongst the 4000 delegates assembled in Westminster Central Hall, as Owen Jones kicked off the mass meeting with the words “It’s our turn now”. “We’re here to say enough is enough, we’re going to fight back” One of the loudest cheers came early on when Jones told delegates as well as being here for the unemployed, for the elderly who freeze to death, we are here for the thousands of disabled people who are being put through degrading and humiliating tests by Atos. He called not only for an end for the cuts but for an truly different sort of economy. “We need to be honest about what tax credits are, they are a subsidy for low pay”. What we need, he argued, was an industrial strategy and control of the banks by the people who bailed them out”
Most of all he said, we need a united mass movement, based on people’s Assemblies in every city . “There are people here in lots of different organisations, in the Green Party, the Labour party and no party. And yes people will disagree on strategy and priorities. Well good”. Debate he said was the lifeblood of any movement, but the important thing is that we all stand together.
TUC chief Francis O’Grady Took the stage next, and began by giving delegates a lesson in Solidarity. Teachers were asked to stand, and then NHS workers, and then of course everybody who relies on the NHS. Like Jones she argued that we need, not simply an end to the cuts but a reshaped economy that delivers “decent jobs and green growth”. “We need a different kind of recovery and a different kind of economy too.... and the only we’ll get that is if we build in strong unions”. Delegates cheered loudly as O’Grady emphasised the importance of unity between all of the different strands of the movement.
The audience was moved to laughter, as always, by Mark Steel. Commenting on the government’s apparent obsession with paying by debt from taking from the poor, he said that one would think it is the poor who have hoarded all the money. The mainstream economic position nowadays seems to be that the poor are richer than the rich he said.
The session closed with poetry from Birmingham’s poet laureate Stephen Morrison-Burke who addressed a poem to the People’s Assembly entitled It’s Serious.
It is pointless us squabbling over bits of cheese like mice when behind our backs we have a sneaky bunch of fat cats behind us.
It was an opening session marked by the serious determination amongst delegates to do something, the certainty that unity was central to fighting back, and genuine excitement about what this huge gathering represents.
Reuben Bard-Rosenberg is a socialist activist and radical folk music promoter.