A broad mass movement is being built against austerity. Fiona Edwards, a Student Assembly Against Austerity National Organiser, reports on Saturday’s national demonstration and the next steps in building the fightback.
‘Today has been fantastic but it is only the beginning,’ said Charlotte Church to a crowd of 250,000 people outside Parliament on Saturday. And that is exactly how the End Austerity Now national demonstration against the new Tory government felt: the start of a genuine mass movement against austerity.
The Tory government elected last month plans to step up its offensive. The next five years it proposes to push through enormous cuts and a whip up a huge wave of racist scapegoating. Only one in four of the electorate voted for the Tories. But under the First Past The Post electoral system they secured a slender majority in Parliament.
The Tories did not win a popular majority nor set out their proposed cuts in the election campaign. So there is a widespread view that they have no mandate for slashing services. This deep unpopularity of them and their planned attacks means there has been no ‘honeymoon’ for the new government. On the contrary, hundreds of thousands of people, angered and shocked at the result, are being brought into a new movement with the aim of defeating austerity and kicking the Tories out.
Saturday’s End Austerity Now demonstration was not just huge; it was young, diverse, dynamic and vibrant. The People’s Assembly Against Austerity – launched just two years ago – is growing into a genuine mass movement, based on it being a broad united coalition against cuts. The People’s Assembly Against Austerity’s 100-plus local groups, along with the impressive national coalition it has been building of trade unions, students, pensioners, politicians, celebrities, equality and liberation groups, plus anti-war, anti-racist and environmental movements, made Saturday’s the biggest protest against austerity Britain has seen in recent years.
A number of trade unions mobilised big blocs for the demonstration, including the NUT, PCS, Unite, CWU, UCU and the Fire Brigades Union.
The Student Assembly Against Austerity mobilised tens of thousands of students from campuses all across Britain.
The demonstration saw a big Labour Assembly Against Austerity bloc with a number of Labour MPs joining the rally including Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott.
There was also an impressive 1,000-strong Green Party bloc led by Caroline Lucas MP.
A striking element of the demonstration was that it brought together speakers and contingents from a number of different political parties united in opposing austerity. In a context where the left is growing but is also fragmented and divided, creating this kind of unity is a critical task for the anti-austerity movement.
The links between austerity and other issues of social justice and equality were expressed very strongly on the march, with blocs from Stop the War and CND, Stand Up To Racism and other anti-racist campaigns, climate change organisations, women’s campaigns, Disabled People Against Cuts, LGBT activists and others.
The wider European fightback against austerity was another important feature of the demonstration. A speaker from Greece spoke on Syriza’s battle against the ECB, IMF and EU. Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness spoke at the rally on the struggle currently taking place in the north of Ireland to stop austerity, including through the blocking of £600m of Tory cuts.
The political situation we are facing now in 2015 is very different to 2010. When the Tories and Lib Dems launched the austerity offensive in 2010, people were cowed by the pace and scale of the attack and there was no broad, united, mass movement established to fight back. Now we have the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, we have major political parties that have grown substantially and are clearly opposed to the austerity offensive including the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), Plaid Cymru and the Greens. In the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign and Diane Abbott’s bid for the London Mayoral nomination is galvanising the left and showing there is a significant thirst for anti-austerity politics within the Labour Party, rather than the ‘Tory-lite’ pro-austerity agenda being offered by the Labour right.
The significant growth of anti-austerity forces, combined with the existence of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity means we are in a much better position now to fight back against the government than in 2010. In 2010 the Coalition had a combined vote share of 59% – now the Tories, going it alone in government, only have 37% of the vote share (the Coalition parties combined lost a record 14% of the vote share at this General Election) and stand to pay the political price for implementing their vicious austerity agenda. The job of the thousands of activists involved in the People’s Assembly Against Austerity is to play our part in putting obstacles in the way of the Tories’ offensive and make sure they pay the highest price possible.
The People’s Assembly Against Austerity is the sole mass anti-austerity movement. It is succeeding and growing fast because it is built on the clear and correct demand of ending austerity and has a broad, inclusive approach. It is the task of every progressive person, that wants to kick out the Tories and bring a halt to Cameron and Osborne’s era of permanent austerity, to build the People’s Assembly Against Austerity.
Saturday’s national demonstration has taken the anti-austerity struggle to a new height, from which a very large national mass movement can be further built.
The 250,000 people that protested this weekend will have given confidence to the millions of people across Britain disgusted by the Tories and their brutal attacks on public services and living standards. The next sets of cuts will come thick and fast, as the Tories want to get as much pain out of way as early as possible. These attacks will be deeply unpopular; will provoke anger and hopefully mass resistance. Every progressive struggle against the cuts that emerges over the next period must be supported.
The People’s Assembly Against Austerity has already outlined a few next steps, which provide a national focus for the anti-austerity movement over the next few months. They are:
1. PROTEST OSBORNE’S EMERGENCY BUDGET
On Wednesday 8 July George Osborne is to announce an emergency budget. The People’s Assembly has called a national day of protests including outside Parliament at 5.30pm. (https://www.facebook.com/events/645472598887577/)
2. DEMONSTRATE AT THE TORY CONFERENCE
The People’s Assembly have announced a week of national protests outside the Tory Party Conference including a big national demo on Sunday 4 October in Manchester.
The Student Assembly Against Austerity has called for a student bloc – facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1460062860958304/
3. BUILD THE PEOPLE’S ASSEMBLY
To strengthen the movement against austerity a thriving People’s Assembly Against Austerity group is needed in every town and city across Britain. The 100-plus existing groups need to be built and new groups established where there isn’t one already.
We also need to build a Student Assembly Against Austerity group in every college and university.