By Nicky Dempsey
The People’s Assembly Against Austerity marked a significant step in creating much needed unity between the various strands of the movement in the fight against this government’s austerity policies.
It gathered 4,000 trade unionists, activists and campaigners from every part of the country, and demonstrated the strength that can be attained if differences are put aside around a common call to resist the attacks on living standards and welfare.
The Assembly heard from leaders of the trade union movement such as TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady and UNITE’s General Secretary Len McCluskey on the need to defend workers and the oppressed from the impositions of the Coalition.
Long-time leaders of the Labour left such as Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone and Diane Abbott also spoke at the Assembly, on the need for popular campaigns with grassroots democracy, the economic alternatives to austerity and for an end to racist scapegoating.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas also spoke on the need to tackle climate change with investment.
This spread of political views – and beyond – was represented in the participants across the day.
The willingness of significant forces from different political traditions to work together is a reflection of the growing understanding of just how serious and long-term the attacks are.
Osborne has already threatened that the next Comprehensive Spending Review will include another £11.5bn in cuts – although the guns, no butter approach continues, with the MoD securing no cuts in frontline troops. With these new cuts and further attacks on the NHS looming, another year of wage restraint and no sign of an upswing in the economy, this is the time for urgent action.
The unifying role that the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, with the aid of key high-profile activists like Owen Jones, has created a framework to bring the movement together to confront this.
The next step in this is the support the PAAA extended to the demonstration in defence of the NHS called at Tory Party conference in September. The deepening unpopularity of the Tory-led government means that this is sure to be very well supported and should be built across Britain.
At the same time however the pressure from the right both within and outside the Labour Party is having a negative impact on the Labour leadership. The leadership’s adoption of the austerity project seems to be gathering pace.
Simultaneously with the People’s Assembly, Labour’s National Policy Forum was meeting in Birmingham. Ed Miliband chose this opportunity to say that Labour’s ‘starting point for 2015-16 is that we won’t be able to reverse the cuts in day to day, current spending unless it is fully funded from savings elsewhere or extra revenue, not from more borrowing.’
And he went on: ‘So when George Osborne stands up next week and announces his cuts in day to day spending, we won’t be able to promise now to reverse them…’
While many Labour activists are taking comfort from that little word ‘now’, the situation is clear. Unless powerful political pressure is built against the austerity policies of the Tories, and it becomes unquestionably clear that these policies will destroy the political support of all who implement them, Labour will go into the 2015 General Election – which it will win – pledged to continue them.
The People’s Assembly Against Austerity correctly understood that most trade unionists and campaigners are desperate to get rid of this government and fervently hope a Labour government will end austerity.
It therefore does not pose itself as an anti-Labour coalition, but an anti-austerity coalition. This sets the correct framework to create the broadest possible unity in the struggle now, while laying down the political parameters for standing up to any government implementing austerity policies including the Labour right.
In a series of separate struggles, teachers, civil servant and postal workers may all be involved in strike action in the near future. Supporting these and other struggles against the impact of austerity, and building the demonstration at the Tory conference in September are the key tasks in uniting the broadest possible movement in the fight against austerity.
The People’s Assembly is playing the leading role in that.
Details of the Defend Our NHS Demonstration on 29 September at the Tory conference in Manchester are here.