The key job for activists now is to get campaign groups, union branches, student groups, and community and faith groups to send delegates to the People's Assembly recall conference
The last few weeks have exposed the vulnerability of the Cameron regime. The floods have been a political disaster for the government as well as a personal nightmare for so many people. Paralysed by their leave-it-to-the-market mentality, politicians will be remembered mainly for gawping dumbly as the tide rose.
The polls show most people understand it’s successive government’s policies that are to blame as climate change, accumulated cuts and crackpot building policies cause havoc across the country.
Meanwhile in London the tube workers showed good old fashioned strike action can do everything its supposed not to any more. Their strike was solid, hugely disruptive, popular - despite the inconvenience and massive propaganda offensive - and effective. Boris Johnson has had to swallow his pride (!) and agree to substantive talks
From education - where industrial action and protests continue – to Scottish independence or the plans for remembrance of World War One the elite’s combination of arrogance and incoherence is toxic. The resulting mix of anger, distrust and straight ideological opposition out there in the public has the potential to de-stabilise the government and their whole austerity project. But it needs to be organised and focused.
One encouraging thing about the tube strikes was the conscious effort made by the unions to reach out to the public and create a common front against the cuts centred around the strike. It is precisely these kind of strategic link ups that need to be developed as we try and take the movement against austerity forward.
A date for the whole movement
On 15 March the People's Assembly holds its first recall conference after the 4,500- strong launch last June. Since last summer assemblies have sprung up in spectacular fashion around the country bringing together the trade unions, different campaigns and sectors suffering from austerity and pulling off impressive co-ordinated protests around the country. The Student Assembly, which organised a successful week of action earlier this month, has been one spin off from the assembly movement, this weekend’s Womens’ Assembly another important development.
The recall conference is where the experience of moving toward a co-ordinated national anti cuts movement will be discussed the next steps for the movement will be decided. This is a vital process. Austerity is being driven through at a national level and our response needs to be national. It’s only by developing this kind of co-ordination that we can begin to exploit the potential weaknesses of the government and their supporters.
Progress so far has been steady but there is a long way to go. The Hands off London Transport campaign that built support for the tube strikes was inspired partly by the People’s Assemblies in London, the Hands off our Unions initiative was launched directly by the assembly which is also organising protests around the country on budget day March 19 and a national demonstration on June 21st.
The recall conference will be a forum to discuss and strengthen these and many other initiatives. If the movement can pull off a timetable of events like this and strengthen real alliances between unions, campaigns and activists in every area it will do more to build up people’s confidence and ability to escalate on the industrial front than a hundred resolutions condemning this or that union for inaction.
Making it count
More than anything the conference needs to be as representative as possible, of the assemblies themselves but also of wider movements and communities. Each People's Assembly group has 10 delegates, each supporting national union 10, other national organisations 5 each and supporting local organisations 2. So far the delegations are impressive. The NUT executive will be well represented for example, London and Eastern region of Unite have already filled their quota and activists from Manchester report that thirty people are expecting to be delegated from various different bodies. Reports from the North East suggest more than twenty delegates are already booked. In Ipswich this week a packed people’s assembly meeting found the delegation was oversubscribed.
There are hundreds of thousands of people active and millions angry against austerity. The key job for activists in the next few weeks is to get back to campaign groups, union branches, student groups (not just unions) community and faith groups and so on and get them to send delegates. If everyone who cared about the carnage of austerity came together we could make history.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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