Saturday's People's Assembly Recall Conference showed indisputably that a unified national anti-austerity movement has emerged
The recall conference was democracy in action. It was a representative conference, with delegates elected by local People's Assemblies, trade union branches, and other local and national campaigning groups. The fact that more than 650 delegates registered (many others came as observers) shows this was a conference that represents a real movement.
The conference opened with tributes to Tony Benn and Bob Crow, and it was in the spirit of their legacy that delegates gathered, spending the day debating the way forward for the austerity movement. Delegates voted on a number of motions sent in by local People's Assemblies across the country.
Introducing a motion against workfare and zero hours contracts, Andrew Coates warned conference of the government's designs to replace public sector work with unpaid labour. "This is free labour which could be used to patch up the cuts in the welfare state" he said. "We are particularly concerned about the use of free labour in the health service and local government."
There was particular enthusiasm as conference discussed the motions dealing with matters of war and peace. Calling on the People's Assembly to support protests in Newport against the upcoming Nato conference, a speaker from Wales provoked rapturous applause when he reminded conference that Newport was the site of the great Chartist uprising of 1839. So too did Lindsey German as she called on action against any plans to intervene in the Ukraine. "The current intervention," she said, "is about one thing, and that's Nato enlargement". Conference voted in large numbers to support the anti-war, anti-Trident motions.
Meanwhile conference also voted, with near unanimity, in favour of black anti-austerity group BARAC's motion for a boycott of "all non-essential" engagement with the police. The speaker explained that this would include a boycott of any attempts to recruit more black police officers. The point, he said, was that race needed to be forced back onto the agenda.
With various strikes coming up, delegates were keen to discuss the question of how the People’s Assembly relates to the trade union movement. Proposing a motion to back strikes, Richard Allday told conference, "This is not an abstract motion, this motion is calling on you to go back to your local People's Assemblies, and make sure that they get out on the streets to support the upcoming strikes".
Meanwhile, conference rejected an amendment that effectively condemned Unite over the deal accepted following the Grangemouth dispute. Delegates were reminded that the decision to accept the deal was taken not by the Unite leadership but by workers at the plant.
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett addressed the conference to propose a motion committing the PA to the fight against environmental destruction. Delegates cheered her call to create one million green jobs. "What we need desperately," she said "is decent affordable and reliable public transport that runs when you want it where you want it." Her call for the re-nationalisation of the railways was met with great support, as was her call for an end to fracking.
She also reminded conference that Caroline Lucas is facing court next week for her involvement in a fracking protest, and called on us to support her. She finished by calling us to get serious about planning for the reordering of society. "Neoliberalism, globalisation, burning up fossil fuels like there's no tomorrow, this has all got to end and it's up to us to create a new model. And that should mean, in the sixth richest country, that everyone has access to a decent life. For the pensioners struggling to heat their houses they need more resources. But others clearly need less."
A strategy to combat austerity
The conference was closed by soon-to-be-striking NUT leader Christine Blower. To great applause she called on delegates to stand with teachers on 26 March when they shut down the schools. "This is just a one day strike," she said, "and there will have to be more action." For a start, People's Assemblies across the country will be organising local protests on Budget Day, 19 March.
Perhaps the most inspiring thing about the conference was the movement democratically developing a real strategy to combat austerity. A timeline of resistance was developed, and delegates finished by discussing plans for 21 June, when the People's Assembly has called a national demonstration in central London. Running like a thread through all our campaigning must be 21 June, when we have a chance of uniting and strengthening our movement.
Reuben Bard-Rosenberg is a socialist activist and radical folk music promoter.
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