The People’s Assembly – a sceptical view

peoples assemblyThis article also appears at A Very Public Sociologist

I wasn’t there, but thanks to modern telecommunications I got all the happenings of Saturday’s People’s Assembly broadcast directly to my computer. Now, I’m not about to butter anyone up and pretend my view of the PA initiative is anything but sceptical. I’ve sat in packed meeting halls in London a few times. I’ve heard angry words about austerity before, and promises of massive industrial action as regularly as my cat uses his litter tray. That said, there were moments the cynicism did fall away – the contributions of the eternally youthful Owen Jones and Francesca Martinez were particularly good. And, of course, the now quite frail Tony Benn did his turn too.

Unfortunately, because I did not watch any of the break out sessions I was not privy to the debates that went on in them. But I can hazard a guess that the Labour Party, electoralism, and new party projects got an airing alongside trading stories of what’s been happening in everyone’s respective areas, the necessity of opposing all cuts, and trading Twitter handles. Indeed, some of this was reflected in the afternoon speakers to conference, most of whom were in a militant mood.

But at least now it’s pretty unambiguous what the People’s Assembly is about. This is not a once or twice-yearly jamboree. It’s about building a trade union-backed movement that brings in absolutely everyone opposed to austerity (at least from a leftish standpoint). The ambition was pretty clear. That every locality founds and grows its own People’s Assembly that feeds into and mobilises grassroots action against cuts, and makes the case in the court of popular opinion for an alternative to the ruinous, class war policies pursued by this government. As John Rees noted in his remarks, when the PA meets again in the winter he wants to see the thousands attending not in their capacity as individuals but as delegates representing hundreds of thousands of people active against the cuts.

As austerity has, unfortunately, so far failed to provoke a wide-scale renaissance in labour movement and protest activity, I think it unlikely a leap of such a magnitude can be made in the space of half a year. But the February Revolution caught Lenin and co. on the hop, so who knows?

I’m being flippant. The People’s Assembly as a trade union-backed campaign that will take the anti-austerity message directly to Britain’s streets is a good thing. I hope it successfully bursts the consensus bubble and visibly moves the country’s political barometer further to the left. But I will not pretend there aren’t problems bubbling under the surface. Big problems.

John Rees was very clear in his platform speech. The stated position is of no cuts. Not slower cuts nor shallower cuts, but no cuts at all. Another platform speaker complained that politics should not be a choice between austerity and austerity-lite. But already, the absolutely no cuts stance puts many of the sponsoring trade unions in a difficult position. By virtue of their day-to-day role as the collective voice of the workplace, in the public sector where the cuts are tumbling down onto their members’ heads unions have to do deals with public sector employers who are slashing jobs and cracking down on terms and conditions. They are against cuts, but all trade unions as a matter of course are forced to accept them. Even the more-or-less Socialist Party-led PCS have settled disputes on the basis of retreats. How can the People’s Assembly square this with no cuts? Can convenors and stewards look forward to getting balled by the ultra-left for signing disadvantageous settlements after a dispute?

Relatedly is the role of Labour councils too. Does the People’s Assembly take the view that councils who are cutting because of the budgetary position they find themselves in are as equally as culpable as the government that forces the settlement on them? Are Labour councils expected to do a Liverpool? Or will the People Assembly be a critical friend of such councils and work with them to encourage a collective local government response to austerity? The former certainly got more of an airing today but the mainstream of the trade union movement in practice appears to be minded in the opposite direction: support Labour councils locally as best they can and blame the Tories for the erosion of local authority-provided services. Again, a recipe for division and confusion from top to bottom of People’s Assembly and one unlikely to be sorted out over a few cups of tea.

The third main point is electoralism. Bits of Labour are involved. The Greens are in. Trots and tankies bobbed up and down in front of the microphone speaking as everything other than representatives of the political organisation they owe their loyalties to. And so is the amorphous Facebook/internet phenomenon, Left Unity. When it comes down to it, when local People’s Assemblies are facing a Labour council laying off workers, shutting libraries, implementing the hated bedroom tax, and all manner of horrible things, how do they challenge that record? The non-Labour people, I imagine, would quite fancy fielding an electoral challenge. So where does that leave Labour-affiliated unions who are bankrolling the People’s Assembly operation?

None of these problems are new. This blog was talking about some of them in relation to the anti-cuts movement three years ago. These are structural problems that cannot be papered over, cannot be sorted out with gentlemen’s agreements and non-aggression pacts. It’s part and parcel of the ‘hard’ anti-cuts perspective the People Assembly has de facto adopted and the sorts of small, competing sectarian political forces that have come in alongside otherwise mainstream trade unions. It’s a contradiction arising from trying to build a broad non-party political movement around quite narrow and politically-charged sets of issues. Can the movement put a lid on these contradictions?

Yes, but it needs to clarify what ‘no cuts’ means if it is to see off tensions along the three sets of axes outlined here, and for the trade union leaders need to stamp more of their authority on it. Otherwise I fear the People’s Assembly will go the way of all the grand projects of the left and dissipate well before it meets its potential.

 
 

73 comments on “The People’s Assembly – a sceptical view

  1. George Hallam on said:

    When it comes down to it, when local People’s Assemblies are facing a Labour council laying off workers, shutting libraries, implementing the hated bedroom tax, and all manner of horrible things, how do they challenge that record? The non-Labour people, I imagine, would quite fancy fielding an electoral challenge. So where does that leave Labour-affiliated unions who are bankrolling the People’s Assembly operation?

    Perhaps one might rephrase the question as:
    ” faced with lay offs, privatisation, cuts in services and benefits, and other things that are contrary to their policy; should a trades union led any support to a party that supports such things?”

  2. Mark Steel on said:

    Four thousand people packed a hall with a commitment to build a movement against the cuts, the most substantial gathering on this issue since the last election. I encountered dozens of people throughout the day, some in political parties, many of them not, some of them invigorated politically for the first time, many re-invigorated having been part of other movements before.
    I met dozens of people throughout the day who felt exhilarated by the experience, and have received hundreds of messages since from people displaying an infectious enthusiasm, thrilled that at last there appears to be a genuine national movement against the cuts.
    So the contribution to this sense of optimism that appears on this website is one that delivers the inspirational message “I fear that like all grand projects of the left, it will dissipate before it meets its potential.”
    That’s how to build a mass campaign. We address thousands of freshly optimistic people eager to resist the cuts, by telling them that although we didn’t manage to get to much of their meeting, it’s obvious it won’t work. I salute your powers of motivation, Phil BC, you’re like Martin Luther King and Spartacus rolled into one.
    This is what the left needs more of, as we’ve got far too many people organising campaigns against the cuts. Only once they all realise that everything we do is doomed will be able to build an effective movement.
    In the meantime, whoever you are, you’ll carry on with whatever it is you’re organising instead, which appears to be going extremely well, as I doubt anyone has ever heard of it, proving you haven’t made the mistake of getting people to believe they can do anything worthwhile at all.

  3. P Spence on said:

    I was there and sceptical like you.

    You did not however mention the speeches of either Frances O’Grady or Len McCluskey, the two most important trade unionists in the country.

    The TUs are undoubtedly now committed to the PA demand of “no cuts” and that creates some distance from the present Labour leadership position- to put it mildly.

    These TU leaders are not fools or hot heads. Their stance is considered and reflects the views of of their execuitves and probably the majority of their membership.

    They can see where events are leading and that unless there is a confrontation with the neoliberal elite and their media, the gains of post war social democracy will be swept away forthwith: only this morning on the radio doctors were suggesting patients will have to pay for “non core” NHS services- music to the neoliberal ear- and another nail in the coffin.

    You imply that a “no cuts ” position is unrealstic but fail to mention the other side of the equation: tax and the capacity of government to raise demand through investment. “No cuts” is premised upon all the other steps we can take before getting near there but which the ruling elite, of course totally, reject.

    What do you really expect the unions to do? They are becoming dramatically more militant because members are hurting and they can see its about to get a whole lot worse. O’Grady invoked “class war” and McClusky referred to capitalism as an “obscenity”: 5 years ago they would have felt deeply uncomfortable using such terminology. Not now, and quite right.

  4. This contribution gives off an odour of defeatism and negativity at odds with the sense of optimism and movement that the People’s Assembly embodies.

    Like Phil I wasn’t there. I was at a union national executive discussing, as trade unions do, what is possible within the current balance of forces. And that is the whole point of the People’s Assembly, to change that balance of forces, to open up the range of possibilities. If this process involves confronting some people with the reality that their slogans cannot be realised in present circumstances it also means confronting some trade union and council leaders that some compromises are not possible.

    It is not a question, as Phil presents it, of putting a lid on contradictions but rather of finding the fullest expression of them.

    The IMF has ‘adjusted’ its analysis of the crisis and what needs to be done. Is it not possible that the rise of mass movements in Greece, Spain, Portugal and the developing mood in Europe in and out of the EU – even in Germany – has caused them to revise their analysis?

    Talk of ‘small, competing sectarian political forces that have come in alongside otherwise mainstream trade unions’ suggests that these are the determining factors in popular anger. They are not. But the anger of a working class moved to action is something beyond the wildest imaginings of the mostly marginal groups that Phil seems to want disciplined by the trade unions.

    Such anger may take the form of votes for electoral challenges to the left of Labour – rather than abstentionism – although I doubt that this will be a decisive factor. But there are not a few Labour people in elected positions – in negotiation with central government over funding – who would favour pressure from a mass movement, particularly if it was directed at their opponents.

    Our ruling class will make any compromise to preserve their power. Our task it to compel them to make the concessions they make as damaging as possible to their class interests, to minimise the damage to working class living standards, raise wages and the value of the social wage and thus intensify the pressure on our rulers.

    On its own, the slogan ‘No Cuts’ is of little use and, in fact, it always arises in a concrete situation in which some valued thing or service is under threat. Set in context, alongside the defence of specific things like the NHS, and posed against say, Trident it has much greater power.

    Similarly, ‘No wage cuts’, with wages posed against corporate profits is a powerful slogan.

    What Phil is asking us to do is take the present balance of forces and mood of the masses and project that into the future as if it is a fixed state of affairs but the movement of masses is never a linear mechanical process and its effects are never completely predictable.

  5. Vanya on said:

    #1 And therefore the fact that a significant part of the support for the PA comes from people in the Labour Party creates a potential contradiction that is worthy of discussion. Len McCluskey carries more weight than the mass ranks of the British Section of the Fourth International.

    #3 I agree that it is important not to contribute to discussions like this in a way calculated to demoralise.

    But it is also important to identify relevant questions and try to answer them.

    A local Labour councillor voted for the cuts budgets last year and this year and has just written to advise me essentially that, although they are clearly opposed to the bedroom tax, he and his colleagues on the Council will not support a policy of no evictions, but that the Council believes social landlords should only consider it as ‘a very last resort’, although he signed a petition to the Council himself demanding no evictions.

    He is a senior official Unite official at a major local (non public sector) workplace, and, importantly in my view, a supporter of Len McCluskey.

    I don’t say this to attack Len, who I voted for, but to suggest that one of Phil’s points above needs to be considered.

    Nor do I suggest that our local group will do anything in response other than to carry on campaigning, putting our demands on RSLs and the Council.

    I like you as a comedian and as an eloquent spokesperson for our side in the media Mark, but I think you need to get away from the idea that generating enthusiasm is incompatible with dealing with serious political issues.

    It always interests me when people break from groups like the SWP the extent to which they maintain some of the traits they pick up there.

    Btw on a completely different note, when you did that gig in Manchester a couple of years ago and you took the piss out of northerners I was going to shout “Cockney wanker!”. I always regreted not doing it. Next time eh?

  6. Phil BC’s commentaries have been becoming more disappointing over the years.

    We can and must raise the demand ‘no cuts’. Austerity isn’t working and the rich must pay for the crisis, not the working people and our public services. We have to provide a coherent political alternative to austerity, in order to unite a broad anti-cuts movement.

    On the ground we fight many battles against individual cuts. This inevitably means that some cuts receive more attention than others, if they open up fresh battle fronts and draw in wider forces. Building a united front against these cuts will involve working with Labour and Green councillors who will have implemented some cuts, due to their contradictory position as conventional reformist politicians running local government. But while such reformists will not have clean hands, we must still unite with them on the cuts they do oppose. So many involved in Green or labour reformism will verbally oppose austerity, will find themselves collaborating with the implementation of some cuts, but will oppose other cuts and will be drawn into campaigns with people like us who are actually fighting these cuts. We will consistently oppose all cuts – but will unite with wider forces who will oppose certain cuts. Massive but focused campaigning against certain cuts, or focused campaigning against tax dodging by the rich can shift the national discussion against austerity and open up a political space to oppose more cuts. While many communities and their councillors will fight individual cuts up and down the country, there needs to be activists at the core of these campaigns who oppose all cuts and who articulate a socialist alternative to austerity. A movement with these politics is necessary to cohere all the fragmented struggles against specific cuts into a national, political movement. We cannot build a movement on the basis of Phil BCs suggestions.

  7. The extensive range of workshops were the majority of the day and among the most important parts of the Peoples Assembly, as they allowed grassroots campaigning groups, smaller unions and local activists to share experiences and ideas. The report above only covers the webcasted big plenaries that opened and closed the day, as the writer did not actually go. There are reports on the smaller meetings on the Socialist Resistance site report and people who went are encouraged to add their own reports and thoughts in the comments section.
    http://socialistresistance.org/5325/peoples-assembly-success-challenges-and-politics

    Vanya #7 Your comments on #1 reveal a certain element of the sectarian tone that has dominated the left in this country for too long. Try to get past it. Everyone has their contribution to make.

  8. Manzil on said:

    Yes, but it needs to clarify what ‘no cuts’ means if it is to see off tensions along the three sets of axes outlined here, and for the trade union leaders need to stamp more of their authority on it. Otherwise I fear the People’s Assembly will go the way of all the grand projects of the left and dissipate well before it meets its potential.

    Evidently Phil BC does not ‘fear’, he believes that all ‘grand’ (?) projects of the left will fail. Fair enough. There is no reason why people who demonstrably do not have an interest, in solving the myriad problems confronting socialist politics today, should not be allowed to comment on the efforts of those who do. But to present oneself as a concerned friend of such efforts, rather than a convinced opponent, is risible.

    Further, given the pretence Phil BC maintains of offering constructive advice (and therefore the possibility that he will be taken at face-value), his argument that ‘trade union leaders need to stamp more of their authority on it’ – especially if this sentiment is shared by people who are involved in the People’s Assembly – is a worrying development.

    Given that some of the most important union leaders were there, and fully echoed the spirit of the assembly, to what can Phil be referring other than the ‘authority’ of union leaders who do not share that firm commitment? Seeing the position of union officials as static and irreversibly conservative can become a self-fulfulling prophecy, if socialists subordinate themselves to a rearguard defence of others’ compromises, rather than attempting to improve the position of those seeking a way out of our current predicament through a strengthening of socialist ideas and organisation.

    Criticism of the PA, for its elision of disagreements over the Labour Party and the trade union leaders (on the basis of maintaining the broadest possible practical unity) has typically come from the left. From those who insist on an a priori formal acceptance of a sectarian anti-Labourism and demand adventurist manoeuvres from trade union leaders. Until now, there have been very few explicit calls for the co-opting of the ‘People’s Assembly’ by the labour bureaucracy – of a determined criticism from the right. Phil BC seems to believe that papering over the serious disagreements within the labour movement, is not problematic because it hamstrings anti-cuts campaigners (a position I disagree with, but at least honest in its intent). Instead he proposes the reverse: that it deprives the Labour Party of resources it would otherwise inherit by default.

    I saw the PA described, probably unfairly, as a long way to travel just to be told to vote Labour. But even if we accept that, ultimately, most people should/will have to support Labour at the next election, that is quite different from saying that the organised activity of the left should be dedicated to that purpose officially. It would blunt or likely dissipate any of the resurgent mobilisation which the PA could, in embryonic form, represent.

    A friend of mine described the PA as about people wanting to feel that they weren’t alone, if only for a while. I think that is probably uncomfortably accurate. However, given the labour movement’s struggle against austerity has been characterised by complete organisational inertia, and an inability to mobilise sustained popular support for an alternative – and given that the left has essentially been ground down into gravel – I think it was probably a flippant to dismiss how important the revival of the solidaristic impulse is to future efforts.

    Certainly, the thousands who attended on Saturday do not feel that the Labour and trade union leaders are, like them, part of an alternative to austerity. At most they are simply more vulnerable to pressure. But if the position of the Phil BCs of the world is that people should find company amongst those committed to a lesser austerity, and abandon their ‘projects’ at something better, in actuality what his position augurs is a further demobilisation of the left, and probably the acceleration of compromising tendencies within the mass organisations.

    I think the prospect of local People’s Assemblies is a good development – and more important than the recall conference or national demonstration being floated, which has a very ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ feel to it. They may not live up to their potential; but that’s life. Certainly, however, if they were essentially going to become a de facto Labour Supporters Network, or to provide further cover to the abysmal performance of union leaders who believe that shrill rhetoric substitutes for, or can overcome, their passivity and directionless flailing, their total failure to provide leadership, then it might be better if they were not even established.

    In politics, sometimes it is better not to have loved at all, than to have loved and lost. No one wants to end up slumped over, asking plaintively whether you, ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ The band typically breaks up shortly thereafter.

  9. Manzil on said:

    Vanya: I like you as a comedian and as an eloquent spokesperson for our side in the media Mark, but I think you need to get away from the idea that generating enthusiasm is incompatible with dealing with serious political issues.

    Dealing with serious political issues how? The article above implicitly wants us to solve the issue by adopting one position (of the battered shield, the lesser evil etc. etc. etc.). That’s not dealing with issues; that’s just abandoning them.

    And it’s a position, we should add, that has so far utterly failed to mobilise widespread enthusiasm and where it has won the passive support of the electorate, nevertheless has essentially led the Labour Party and any subsequent Labour government onto a self-limiting and rightward-moving path. Admittedly the left of the labour movement has not only failed to sustain its organised mobilisation, but has failed to make any serious dent in public opinion, and that is a serious political issue. But you seem to suggest that the only alternative is to give up, that ‘seriousness’ is a synonym for surrender to their perspective.

    Yet you say yourself that the refusal of the Labour council will not stop your local group from campaigning on the same line. Other than a predisposition towards the maudlin cynicism of the Phil BCs over the desperate enthusiasm of the Mark Steels, do you actually disagree with the broad analysis or agenda that the People’s Assembly represents, Vanya?

    I think, even if our main concern is on replacing this government (as it should be), if we want to replace its policies also, there needs to be a counterweight to the massive pressures that are already bearing down on the Labour Party. Without a shift in the balance of power towards more progressive forces, both inside and outside the Labour Party, the performance of any likely government formed by it will make even its present political position seem like the halcyon days of radicalism.

    My local Labour council has also refused to commit itself to preventing bedroom tax-based evictions. Given how difficult it would be to determine whether rent arrears were mainly or wholly due to the tax, an authority would probably have plenty of scope to escape any paper commitments it made on such a score. The advantage lies in the message that such a commitment disseminates: that the tax, and the response to authority represented by it, is illegitimate. This raises people’s confidence and expectations – and strengthens the position of those in authorities who want to fight these cuts, to change the political situation, rather than to manage their implementation without endangering their own re-election.

    I hope that local assemblies would incrementally improve the performance of those determined, not just to fight individual cuts, but those who want a truly popular anti-austerity movement to cohere as a permanent voice in British politics – one that would play a positive role in generating the political and industrial muscle wherein the non-cooperation of our respective councils would be seriously challenged, rather than just accepted as inevitable.

    That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems with such a proposal. But they offer at least the potential of a solution, unlike the snide references to “Lenin and co.”

  10. Vanya on said:

    #12 ‘But you seem to suggest that the only alternative is to give up, that ‘seriousness’ is a synonym for surrender to their perspective.’

    Sorry, where do I seem to suggest anything of the sort?

    “do you actually disagree with the broad analysis or agenda that the People’s Assembly represents, Vanya?”

    You tell me mate, as you seem to have a better idea what I think than I do myself.

  11. Good points Phil. My only quibble is your reference to Left Unity as an internet/facebook phenomenon. It may have begun that way, but with over 100 local groups now established in response to Ken Loach’s appeal, it’s very much IRL, as they say on the internetz.

  12. Manzil on said:

    Vanya,

    No, that’s a fair point, you do indeed resolutely avoid actually making clear your position – other than rote criticisms of the sects, in this case both the ‘British Section of the Fourth International’ and (the apparently soiled) ex-members of the SWP. Which, given the fact it is blindingly obvious that Phil BC is not engaged in an honest attempt to “identify relevant questions and try to answer them”, but rather wants to sublimate this activity to the benefit of the Labour Party, on any terms, provoked a (perhaps unfair?) unwillingness to take you at face value. If I am mistaken I apologise.

    You enjoy asking of George Hallam that, rather than engage in pedantry, he actually say what he means. Well it was an honest question. Do you actually disagree with the People’s Assembly in principle, or in terms of the actual form it has taken, or do you just want to make clear that you happen to dislike a whole bunch of people involved in it?

  13. Manzil: Certainly, the thousands who attended on Saturday do not feel that the Labour and trade union leaders are, like them, part of an alternative to austerity. At most they are simply more vulnerable to pressure.

    I am struck by how different the language and discourse of trade union leaders is becoming. Dave Prentis went beyond his usual conference-time militancy to raise the stakes somewhat with Labour.
    Frances O’Grady is becoming a real star with a way of reaching out to new people and especially young people with a language that is unheard of from the TUC.
    Len MacLusky and Mark Serwotka gave speeches that sounded clear warnings to Labour’s leadership and, in my experience, are widely welcomed by Labour supporters.
    How this can be translated into decisive action is the key issue but unless it is thought that these changes are simply the happy result of finding a clutch of leaders of a new type then we must take account of what changes in mass conscious they reflect. And what the next stage might be.

  14. Manzil on said:

    Nick Wright: Frances O’Grady is becoming a real star with a way of reaching out to new people and especially young people with a language that is unheard of from the TUC.

    As one of those young people, I guess, I was honestly genuinely impressed. I remember her speaking after the ‘A Future that Works’ march and not being too optimistic; I was completely wrong. Whether her current performance is a result of growing into the role, or reflects the changes in consciousness that you mention, giving union leaders more confidence or actually changing their view, I don’t know. But after Sir Brendan being in that role for almost as long as I can remember, it is a wholly new experience to actually hear something worthwhile from the TUC.

  15. Vanya on said:

    #15 I think the Peoples’ Assembly has a great deal of potential, and was merely pointing out that it is correct to identify the existence of contradictions (not necesserally a fatal or antagonistic ones) within the forces involved.

    I won’t pretend that I find rallies of the enthusiastic a particularly helpful use of my time, particularly when they appear out of sync with the level of struggle, but maybe that’s just me. I will be more interested in how many people turn up to lobby the landlords in Manchester tommorrow or to protest against Lord Freud (also in Manchester) on Thursday- not to mention the success of the teachers’ strike on the same day.

    However I specifically said that I think it’s wrong to make contributions calculated to demoralise, and in that sense I thought it was clear that I was, to an extent, sympathising with what Mark Steel was saying about the tone of Phil’s post.

    As it happens, I don’t dislike a whole bunch of people involved in the PA. I actually like Mark Steel, as I thought I made clear, but I don’t intend to defer to him because he feels enthusiastic and is good at taking the piss when he does it for a living.

    And I’m afraid that I simply don’t go along with pandering to the fiction that small left groups are particularly representative of anyone but themselves.

    Moreover, ANNON merely stated the obvious, the Labour Party is shite for all sorts of reasons, but it gets rather a lot of money from the very organisation that gives Len McCluskey the weight that he has in such bodies as the PA. Let’s face it, without the involvement of UNITE and other LP affiliated unions the initiative would be a lot less impressive.

    I will also say that I don’t think Phil BC is being dishonest. I think his position is quite clear, just as clear as that of much of the ultra-left. It’s simply that you don’t agree with him.

    And finally, when I said what the local bedroom tax campaign would continue to do I include myself in that. So I won’t be telling people to accept what the Council are saying or to wait until we get a Labour government that may or may not repeal it.

  16. Manzil on said:

    Vanya,

    On the ‘small left groups’ stuff, well, I agree. I just don’t see the need to constantly reiterate that they are irrelevant. That ‘ANON’ thinks what Socialist Resistance has to say is of importance is his concern. The sects didn’t even represent the People’s Assembly turnout, let alone anyone else in sympathy with it. Let them flail.

    However, I do think his/her comments about the likely direction of travel of a Miliband government, while possibly stemming from an ‘ultra-left’ attitude (I personally don’t know), are in this case important – given it was in response to this nonsense that “the trade union leaders need to stamp more of their authority on it”. Which I think is dishonest. Nick Wright’s remarks about the changing performance of various union leaders – and hell, your own (absolutely correct) comments about the importance of Unite to this initiative – both point to one fact that Phil BC ignores: that the People’s Assembly has been constituted by these ‘trade union leaders’. No doubt under pressure from their members; but nevertheless they have been instrumental to making it what it is.

    So the call for their ‘authority’ to be stamped on it can’t mean for O’Grady, McCluskey et al to have a more prominent role, because they were at the front and centre. It means for them to have a wholly different role, which is to use the PA not as a means of improving the ‘level of struggle’, but to turn it into something that (if we’re honest) would be accomplished a lot more simply if you just forced the four thousand attendees to join their local CLP.

  17. After 3 long years the left are starting to work out that you have to build a movement for real change based on core values and involving anyone who signs up unity in action and not some exclusive club, where comrade sectarian decides you should be part of the struggle or not.

    Turkey, Brazil etc were the reference points on Saturday and all methods used to fight, strikes, occupations, direction action etc should be supported by the new movement as one!- it was urged – At the same time as agreeing core principles for the type of society we want – and you are in if you agree to most of them. Perhaps the People’s Charter time has come?

    Play stupid sectarian games based on building your sect or influence, I think will draw a lot of anger – as I think comrades may have noticed in the founding of Left Unity – which itself need to beware of becoming exclusive and elections obssessed.

    Its about buiding a strong united movement and then building the new ‘parties’ or electoral ‘alliances out of it.

  18. For what it is worth, I was not at the PA because I was at the SW Labour Party’s regional board meeting, which from my own perspective and location seemed a better use of my time

    While I appreciate the point of view of those who don’t like Phil’s tone, the question of how the PA deals with the “no cuts” argument does need some maturity.

    There is a difference between those who advocate austerity on principle, and those who feel there is no practical alternative to going along with austerity, and further to the left those who oppose austerity, but are trapped by “the possible” through institutional constraints in unions or councils.os

    The question therefore does become whether the PA can mobilise sufficient momentum and social weight to provide other options to those currently institutionally constrained, and thus demonstrating an alternative to those who currently reluctanty can’t see one, thus creating clear distance from those in the Progress/Yellow Book/Osbourne consensus.

    Nick Wright is correct lthat we need to see what is “possible” as potentially moveable feast. This is where I think Phil BC does have a point, that the trade unions need to exert some authority to hold the whole adventure together and not alow a falling out by those who take different positions of the “possible” in the current conjuncture, but who may substantially agree on what would be desirable if we can shift the terms of the debate.

  19. Vanya on said:

    Manzil: something that (if we’re honest) would be accomplished a lot more simply if you just forced the four thousand attendees to join their local CLP.

    Except there’s probably more chance of pursuading most them to walk barefoot over broken glass.

  20. Manzil on said:

    Andy Newman: Nick Wright is correct lthat we need to see what is “possible” as potentially moveable feast. This is where I think Phil BC does have a point, that the trade unions need to exert some authority to hold the whole adventure together and not alow a falling out by those who take different positions of the “possible” in the current conjuncture, but who may substantially agree on what would be desirable if we can shift the terms of the debate.

    The question being, what is the ‘adventure’ to be? Roy, further above, talks about the central importance of unity in action. What the People’s Assembly agreed by acclamation – a national demonstration, another conference – are all things we can agree on, that are firmly within ‘the possible’, but they don’t necessarily show how to shift the terms of debate. We’ve had demonstrations before. They fizzled out. How can you make it so that doesn’t happen again?

    Whether we can manage to build local assemblies, on a sustainable and effective basis, could be decisive. If we can’t sustain a broad, ‘mature’ and radical alliance at a local level, accepting the realities of the situation but with a clear ambition to change those realities, then whatever direction the PA takes, it doesn’t really matter; it’s going to be happening in a vacuum. The future of the country isn’t going to be determined in Hyde Park.

    Vanya: Except there’s probably more chance of pursuading most them to walk barefoot over broken glass.

    Haha. Aye, but that is why I think this ‘sceptical view’ is simply a way of coming to the same end-result. Shut down every alternative, and focus, not on improving our position, but just supporting some other bugger’s.

    Come, Vanya, take off your shoes and walk with me a while.

  21. jack ford on said:

    The neoliberals are winning because they and the Tory press have convinced the public that there is no alternative to austerity. Ken Livingstone’s SEB suggests an alternative here

    http://socialisteconomicbulletin.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/why-do-we-have-austerity-and-what-is.html

    The government could use its state owned banks to turn the situation round without having to depend on taxation or borrowing from the money markets.

    A serious crackdown on tax evasion/ avoidance by the super rich and the corporations would also mean that many of the cuts would be unecessary and it would be very popular with the public.

  22. George Hallam on said:

    Manzil: If we can’t sustain a broad, ‘mature’ and radical alliance at a local level, accepting the realities of the situation but with a clear ambition to change those realities, then whatever direction the PA takes, it doesn’t really matter; it’s going to be happening in a vacuum.

    Be very careful what you wish for.
    a broad, ‘mature’ and radical alliance at a local level, sounds a bit like Lewisham People Before Profit.

    By the way, some of our activists did attend the Saturday’s People’s Assembly.

  23. Manzil: remarks about the changing performance of various union leaders – and hell, your own (absolutely correct) comments about the importance of Unite to this initiative – both point to one fact that Phil BC ignores: that the People’s Assembly has been constituted by these ‘trade union leaders’. No doubt under pressure from their members; but nevertheless they have been instrumental to making it what it is.

    The People’s Assembly hasn’t been ‘constituted’ by trade union leaders but it will be enhanced to the extent that unions find ever more creative ways to work with other forces, especially at local and community level.

    I rather think that Len McClusky, Mark Serwotka and Frances O’Grady, and a good number more trade union leaders, are honestly trying to raise the level of resistance to austerity and find it easier precisely because of the changing climate and the anger of their members.

    These people have finely tuned antenna to what is both necessary and possible and they have the political and organisational weight, providing their members are mobilised, to hold the thing together.

    No one force owns this project and it to the extent it is effective it will have many who will claim it as theirs. A few years ago there was a discussion in the Communist Party executive about how to make the long standing idea of something like the party’s alternative economic policy more the property of the labour movement as a whole.

    Lots of other people have reached similar conclusions and to a great extent the idea of working with a broad range of forces is increasingly attractive even to those forces who still run their own privately owned anti austerity franchises.

    My guess is that the winning combination of wide unity combined with the social weight of the unions will marginalise the most sectarian and transform the least. We have seen in France how, once a credible unity project gets going failure to participate will fragment the unwilling. The Nouveau Party Anticapitaliste has shed tendencies like a tree in an autumn gale as its die hard sectarian core have insisted that unity should be on their terms.

  24. George Hallam on said:

    Vanya: #25 And it would be very interesting to read what they thought about it.

    My own personal and purely subjective view is that it was, overall, a positive development.

  25. Manzil on said:

    Nick Wright,

    My point about the trade union leaders is that the People’s Assembly would not exist in its current form without their endorsement and involvement. It would not be hard to see how the antipathy or simple absence of the ‘official’ labour movement would have substantively increased the influence of more sectarian voices. A cursory glance at the upcoming National Shop Stewards Network conference, ‘campaigning for a 24 hour general strike’, perhaps offers a view to what it could have been reduced, had there not been the broadest possible unity.

    Both Andy and yourself have used this phrase, holding it together. Again, I think it needs to be made clear what holding it together means. Turning the People’s Assembly into the property of any one ‘group’ and its attendant line would be awful – but the obvious danger of that comes, not from the sects which have been most critical of it, but rather those which were central to its organisation, in John Rees & Co. event and website management ltd. Holding it together should mean preventing a needless, self-inflicted split amongst the movement (whether over Labour, or the union leaders, or whatever) but also against suppressing those disagreements by means of trying to lead from above. Broad unity in action does not require broad agreement in all areas. Nor would real local People’s Assemblies require central direction or support.

    I think the Communist Party’s attitude is a fundamentally positive one, and takes seriously both the pros and cons of the Assembly and what it represents. Roy’s mention of the People’s Charter perhaps points in the direction we should be travelling – especially given the wide support it also received from the trade unions and many trades councils. Remaining utterly rooted in the unions, while not sufficient to ensure the success of a leftward-influence, is absolutely necessary if a real movement with the capacity for organising and asserting its strength, as opposed to a pressure group or a sectarian protest fringe, is to be built.

    George Hallam: Be very careful what you wish for.
    a broad, ‘mature’ and radical alliance at a local level, sounds a bit like Lewisham People Before Profit.

    Good! Where did you ever get the idea I have anything but respect for LPBP? :)

  26. Ian Croft on said:

    When are the idiots going to realise that raising an army requires more than sticking your banner on a hill and waiting for people to flock to it.

    You need practical policies, a solid organisation and an actual plan to get what you want. It also needs to be couched in the day to day demands, aspirations and language of ordinary working people.

    Stop it with the conferences and marches, followed by more conference and marches and nothing else.

  27. Ian Croft on said:

    “These people have finely tuned antenna to what is both necessary and possible and they have the political and organisational weight, providing their members are mobilised, to hold the thing together”

    Their members can’t be mobilised because their members aren’t interested. Their reps aren’t interested either. All union people were there in a personal capacity only.

    Little quiz for you – out of it’s 300,000 members how many of them were either at the conference or represented by a delegate.

    Members: At least 1 (Mark himself, indeed as himself as well since the PCS didn’t endorse him being there).
    Members represented by delegates: None

    How may will be represented at the next conference?

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and bet: None

  28. Barry Kade,

    I tell it as I see it. Yes, I might be “negative” or – despite bathing frequently – exude an odour of defeatism, but why might that be? Do I lack the bolshevik fortitude of the keyboard warriors who spend hours on end hanging about SU’s comment boxes? Perhaps. Or is it because over 18 years of labour movement activity I’ve seen one project after another disappear up the left’s rear end?

    I don’t share your enthusiasm because my faith in the next-big-thing evaporated a long time ago. Will the People’s Assembly be any different? It could well be – but it’s ridiculous to ignore the problems I’ve flagged up.

    Oh, and by the way Mark, I spend some of my time listening to working people on their doorsteps and getting them into unions and the Labour Party – an organisation you might have heard of.

  29. Manzil,

    Weren’t you drawn into a long and bad tempered exchange around the motives of contributors?

    Whatever, I couldn’t give a monkey’s whether you see me as an outrider for the Labour Party bureaucracy or not. These tensions exist. Deal with it.

  30. John Fisher on said:

    I was at the People`s Assembly and would strongly endorse Mark Steel`s enthusiastic contribution which was very well received. It was difficult to identify the people who were there except they certainly had an average age over say 40. Most of the contributions I heard were very positive and when in one session in the afternoon they broke into regional or even city groups there was clearly a desire for forming local P.A.`s. Like a number of people who have been trying to figure out how to build opposition to the attacks being made I have felt frustrated, particularly after the retreat following November 30th,2011 and have in the meantime been trying to support and mobilise opposition whether among trades unionists in the local TUC`s or amongst pensioner groups. As anyone who has been similarly involved will know it has been difficult and on occasions I have been quite depressed by the lack of action.
    Up until now we have failed but I do think that the People`s Assembly does provide something we have not yet pulled off and that is the potential for a much broader unity.For one thing in addition to those outside the Labour Party it does provide for the inclusion of the increasingly many Labour Party supporters who are underwhelmed not to say very angry about the response of their leaders, to express their opposition. Recently I have noticed that a number of long established and basically loyal LP members in Coventry many of whom I have known for many years are very `pissed off`. These are people who have been strong and active trade unionists all their lives, but find the pronouncements of their leaders to be completely unacceptable. In our local pensioner trades unionists meeting only a week ago, comprising probably a majority of Labour supporters and members, there was a unanimous decision to campaign against the statements of particularly Ed Balls on his proposals affecting pensioners. I have been trying to persuade them to campaign and they have now decided to collect signatures throughout the city against these proposals. Not a huge step but a start.
    I think that local People`s Assemblies are a real possibility and have the potential to attract a far wider section of a broader left than the usual suspects.
    For once we have the opportunity to unite all those who are opposed to the cuts and hopefully reduce the sectarianism so pronounced on the left. I think this was essentially Mark Steel`s message which was enhanced by the ridicule he poured on the message being provided by all the major parties.

  31. Manzil on said:

    Phil BC,

    People involved in the People’s Assembly, and probably some fair few ‘Trots and tankies’, would-be ‘Lenins and co’, ‘ultra-lefts’, and ‘amorphous Facebook phenomena’ involved in it alongside the Owen Joneses and Caroline Lucases, will undoubtedly face problems and disagreements. They will engage in debate – I would hazard a suggestion that, in a very loose form, that is exactly what this exchange amounts to. Perhaps they will even use keyboards (obviously an entirely alien concept for you, the long-term blogger). And, hopefully, in the end, from that something worthwhile will be built. But not by taking certain ‘fears’ and ‘sceptical views’ with anything but a kidney-destroying-sized pinch of salt.

  32. Jimmy Haddow on said:

    Oh, I feel so depressed after reading this thread: the sectarianism of the sects from the centre ground is mind-boggling. I think I will go to the Unite the Resistance public meeting against Austerity tomorrow in Edinburgh; and on Wednesday go to Glasgow to the Socialist Party Scotland public meeting with Tony Mulhearn celebrating the achievements of Liverpool City Council from 1983 to 1987 and how the lessons of the Liverpool struggle are as relevant today as they were 30 years ago; and then on Saturday in Edinburgh go to the STUC’s SCOTLAND UNITED AGAINST THE BEDROOM TAX CONFERENCE as a means of inoculation against this political depression. Of course at all these meetings I will be advocating unity of all the anti-capitalist, anti-austerity groups around a clear programme of refusing to accept any cuts, whether from the Condem Government, the SNP Scottish government and from any Labour/SNP/Green Councils, and of building the impetus for a co-ordinated public and private sector 24 hour General strike as the central plank to defeating the austerity programme. And I will be selling my ‘Socialist’ newspaper as well.

  33. Manzil on said:

    Phil BC, Jimmy H. Jimmy H, Phil BC.

    Maybe you could share itineraries – y’know, let each other know which “working peoples'” doors you’ll be knocking on / how many papers you’ll be selling (and at what meeting). It all sounds so fascinating.

  34. John Fisher,

    Look there is a debate and even concern in the Labour Party, about the direction of travel, I can’t think of any time in my lifetime that hasn’t been the case, but the “anger” you talk about is something I genuinely haven’t encountered in the party.

  35. John on said:

    Ian Croft: When are the idiots going to realise that raising an army requires more than sticking your banner on a hill and waiting for people to flock to it.

    You need practical policies, a solid organisation and an actual plan to get what you want. It also needs to be couched in the day to day demands, aspirations and language of ordinary working people.

    Stop it with the conferences and marches, followed by more conference and marches and nothing else.

    Harsh truths, but truths nonetheless.

  36. Manzil on said:

    John, how do we get to a stage where we have “practical policies, a solid organisation and an actual plan”, and not just created in a vacuum but actually built out of the existing situation, without (at a very remedial level) getting people talking to one another in one place, and determined to actually achieve those things?

    Andy Newman,

    My best friend is a councillor and is seriously dejected and pissed off. Has been since the workfare fiasco. I wouldn’t say there isn’t always someone unhappy with something (although obviously at certain times the degree of alienation can become much more serious and widespread). But I don’t think JF is just pulling that anecdote out of a hat.

  37. Andy Newman:
    John Fisher,

    Look there is a debate and even concern in the Labour Party, about the direction of travel,I can’t think of any time in my lifetime that hasn’t been the case,but the “anger” you talk about is something I genuinely haven’t encountered in the party.

    I don’t think there is a single part of the region covered by the South West Labour Party Regional Board where Labour are in control of all tiers of local government (correct me if I’m wrong). So Labour Parties there are the opposition to the Coalition and can speak out against it.

    Elsewhere in the country, it’s very different. Labour is in control of all aspects of local government in many areas and is implementing Coalition policies, much to the distress of some Labour members.

  38. Btw just head that Mark Steel is on QT this Thursday. Hopefully his enthusiasm will prove infectious :)

  39. John Fisher on said:

    Andy Newman:
    John Fisher,

    Look there is a debate and even concern in the Labour Party, about the direction of travel,I can’t think of any time in my lifetime that hasn’t been the case,but the “anger” you talk about is something I genuinely haven’t encountered in the party.

    As you know I am not, nor ever have been a member of the Labour Party, but that doesn`t mean I haven`t worked closely with many LP members who are or were convenors and shop stewards. Despite our differences, we have always tried to work together in the interests of our respective members, but their views on the views expressed by their leaders are a mixture of sadness, embarrassment and anger. In the past they may have had criticisms, but they stayed loyal. That is changing although it may well be that they continue to vote on the basis of keeping the Tories out. Coventry has three Labour M.P.`s and been a solidly Labour city for many years, but it would be a mistake to take this for granted. However, my main point was that the setting up of a local People`s Assembly does provide a potential for a coming together of both non-members and members of the LP to work together in opposing the current attacks and any future continuation by a Labour Government. I cannot predict the future, but there is at least a flicker ,let`s hope it becomes a flame!

  40. anon: I don’t think there is a single part of the region covered by the South West Labour Party Regional Board where Labour are in control of all tiers of local government (correct me if I’m wrong).

    Labour controls Plymouth and Exeter.

  41. anon: Elsewhere in the country, it’s very different. Labour is in control of all aspects of local government in many areas and is implementing Coalition policies, much to the distress of some Labour members.

    Ahh, but your point is not really about the Labour Party here, so much as regional political differences. The harsh truth is that we cannot boot out the Tories out of government unless Labour wins in the South, which – for example – means winning another 9 seats in the SW. So you calibrating your politics only to Labour heartlands is not a sufficiently coalitional approach to deliver a government.

  42. John Fisher: As you know I am not, nor ever have been a member of the Labour Party, but that doesn`t mean I haven`t worked closely with many LP memberswho are or were convenors and shop stewards. Despite our differences, we have always tried to work together in the interests of our respective members, but their views on the views expressed by their leaders are a mixture of sadness, embarrassment and anger. In the past they may have had criticisms, but they stayed loyal. That is changing although it may well be that they continue to vote on the basis of keeping the Tories out. Coventry has three Labour M.P.`s and been a solidly Labour city for many years, but it would be a mistake to take this for granted. However, my main point was that the setting up of a local People`s Assembly does provide a potential for a coming together of both non-members and members of the LP to work together in opposing the current attacks and any future continuation by a Labour Government. I cannot predict the future, but there is at least a flicker ,let`s hope it becomes a flame!

    Absolutely agree – I think we saw a glimpse of the serious left with the 6.5 million membership Trade Unions flexing their muscles on Saturday and with the Labour left and others including the Green Party, and new social movements like Uk uncut etc and the Left Unity group in support, running with and hopefully keeping the movement away from the domination of the Sects that has has plagued the left in the UK for the last 3 years especially. Their were so many newspapers sellers all competing against each other outside the Conference halls but a very different mood in side the venue – which was very anti sectarian and clearly focused on unity and supporting each other as well as crafting a positive vision for real change that most can sign up too – and not be disrailed on the smaller percentage of the whole, so loved by the sects in the past – I think these goups will needs to take note or find themselves out in the cold. Its just stupid to exclude those still in Labour or in the Green Party for that matter and rubbish thier efforts.

  43. jqmark on said:

    i for one have become frustrated with the debates around the cuts in local government as if we want to build an alliance broad enough to deafeat the cuts then we have to aknowledge that some people in local governement who set legal budgets are not pro-cuts fighting battles with these people is weakening the movement. i have changed my mind multiple times over what councilors should do about government cuts but one thing that sticks in my mind is i distrust people who say is an easy answer and who dont accept the logic of there positions.
    for example if you adopt the position of refusing to pass a budget (yes i know tusc deny this is there position but it is logically) then you will lose the chance to do many things that can and do make a difference to peoples lives. you wont stop the cuts you are just organising a protest against them and it is a huge gamble.
    i do however think that in circumstances where councils are declared unviable by the lga then it would be worth taking the risk of doing that for those councils but other wise i do think raising council tax and doing the best you can while building a movement for a new local government settlement is the best thing to do.
    by the way i think about local government so much as it is the main area dividing the anti-cuts movement as everyone is united about what they would expect a left wing government to do and that is not put councilors in devil dilemnas in the first place. i stop here as i think this already to long for a comment on a blog as opposed to a blog

  44. Andy Newman: hyperbole

    Well that was a well rounded response Andy, do you not think the TUC leader talking (and not being heckled) and saying its a class war, we are in, a little bit different to what we have heard and seen in the past? Or talk of solidarity as one movement to activists involved in different struggles and using different tactics by organised labour suggesting a development worth thinking about? Or formulating ideas for real changed based on being united as a movement around common aims and not lettting us be devided by those in the movement who like to find differences to call points of order on or flog the latest pamplet on – lecturing the movement on what we are doing wrong. The is the start of a sea change on the left and I am afraid you Andy can’t see it.

  45. Andy Newman: Ahh, but your point is not really about the Labour Party here, so much as regional political differences. The harsh truth is that we cannot boot out the Tories out of government unless Labour wins in the South, which – for example – means winning another 9 seats in the SW. So you calibrating your politics only to Labour heartlands is not a sufficiently coalitional approach to deliver a government.

    You weren’t talking about election strategy. You were talking about the mood among people you knew in the Labour Party – which I assumed was mainly through the South West Regional Board of the Labour Party as you thought that was more useful than the Peoples Assembly.

    The vast majority of Labour Party members don’t live in the South West and it’s an area that is not typical of Labour’s experience. Nothing new there. There are plenty of Labour people elsewhere, including councillors in solid areas, who are pissed off at what they are having to do. There are also plenty of Labour people who relish it of course. Again, nothing new there. What is completely new is the small number of Labour and ex-Labour councillors who have defected to UKIP in recent months.

  46. anon: 7% of the Region’s population.

    Yes, Labour are relativelt weak in the SW. Who knew.

    However, the party is not negligible. It is also the largest party in Bristol, and has a large opposition group in Swindon, etc.

    anon: You were talking about the mood among people you knew in the Labour Party – which I assumed was mainly through the South West Regional Board of the Labour Party as you thought that was more useful than the Peoples Assembly.

    That would be an assuption of mind-boggling stupidity on your part. The regional board is an elected body within the party, obvioulsy you could not get elected onto it unless you were active enough in the party and affiliates to know a lot of people. But obvioulsy I am also an activist in GMB in Southern region, and know a lot of trade union activists and Labour Party members across the South, including London.

    I am a delegate to regional board elected by the affiliates, and it is my responsibility to attend on behalf of GMB who put me forwards for the role.

    anon: There are plenty of Labour people elsewhere, including councillors in solid areas, who are pissed off at what they are having to do.

    Exactly, your emphasis is “what they are having to do”. Local Conservative councilors, including the former council leader have also expressed discontent at the drive from central government to cut more money than they can do without damaging services.

    Austerity is driven from the centre, and from the Tories. Given the limited powers of local government then Labour being in control is important but unfortunately not decisive.

  47. Andy Newman
    Austerity is driven from the centre, and from the Tories. Given the limited powers of local government then Labour being in control is important but unfortunately not decisive.

    George Lansbury must have been wasting his time in Poplar then.

  48. anon: George Lansbury must have been wasting his time in Poplar then.

    Had the same events happened today, the elected councillors would simply have lost control, and Eric Pickles would have appointed unelected bureaucrats to run the council instead, (see what hapened to Yns Mons council)

  49. robert p. williams on said:

    Andy Newman,

    Don’t be so sure. After all the local councilors are the elected representatives. It is not so easy to sweep elected councilors aside like that. If an anti-cuts council used their position to build a mass campaign against the cuts and in support of democracy, if they did this in partnership with their own workers and the trade unions, they could give Eric Pickles a hell of a run for his money.

    ~~~~~~~~~~

    “This government is proving that ‘if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile’! The refusal of councillors across the country to make a stand against the Con-Dems’ funding cuts has simply given them the green light to make even bigger cuts.

    “Councillors must now recognise that their appeasement hasn’t worked, but that there is still time to organise a united campaign of resistance by local authorities which would stop this government in its tracks.”
    Keith Morrell

    “It is vital we have people putting themselves forward to become councillors who would reveal an alternative to the ‘we have no choice but to cut’ nonsense, and put an end to Labour councillors collaborating with the Con-Dems in the dismantling of our public services.”
    Don Thomas

    Southampton councillors Keith and Don were both expelled from the Labour Party for voting against cuts

  50. Malaw on said:

    I attended the People’s Assembly, but missed the “star Speakers” attending the breakout meetings instead. Something I found very shocking, and demotivating, about the PA was the lack of diversity on show…. majority of people by a large margin were 40 if not 50+ (as am I) and so overwhelmingly white it made my eyes water. I have seen more Black or Asian origin people at a Millwall football match… and there was talk of strikes (what is the composition of the London workforce?) The few young people I saw seemed to be selling newspapers or working in some capacity… and yet there was talk of making the country ungovernable…. if this is the state of the revolutionary vanguard as some obviously say themselves then maybe some of the ‘left’ groups would do well to plan for “red” day centres and retirement homes. Lets get real… if we want to change our society we need to break out of our “safe” comfort zones where 2 out of every 4 people is selling a newspaper…

  51. Jimmy Haddow on said:

    Last Wednesday I went to a Socialist Party Scotland public meeting in Glasgow with Tony Mulhearn, one of the leaders of the socialist Liverpool Council during their epic struggle against the Thatcher government in the early to mid-1980s. Socialist Party Scotland predecessor, Militant, played a leading role in the Liverpool struggle. Tony was one of the 47 councillors who refused to bow the knee to the Tories, unlike Blunkett and Livingstone, and led a mass fight back that secured £30 million for the city. Between 1983 and 1987 the Liverpool 47 council built thousands of council houses, many new sports centres and nurseries and created thousands of jobs.

    Over 50 people packed into a Socialist Party, half those attending were at their first Socialist Party meeting. The attendance reflected the increased profile and standing of the party from its work in the struggle against the Bedroom Tax with many activists from the anti-bedroom tax campaigns attending as well as the trade unions. The electrifying atmosphere of the meeting showed the appetite for the lessons of the Liverpool struggle and its relevance today when local Labour, and in Scotland SNP, authorities are passing on the Tory’s vicious cuts onto working class communities.

    One of the other speakers was Cheryl Gedling from the PCS NEC (speaking in a personal capacity), explaining that the PCS trade union has been at the forefront industrially against austerity. PCS members over the last few years faced cuts and attacks from Westminster from New Labour and the Con Dem’s and the Scottish Government. The PCS’s record of struggle has been based on a socialist leadership that empowers the members that had defeated the right wing. The government is attacking PCS reps facility time in an attempt to weaken the union and the rights of workers precisely because PCS has been successful in forcing concessions even in a time of austerity through industrial action. Cheryl made the call for co-ordinated general strike action.

    But the speech given by Tony Mulhrearn, a Socialist Party member, who was President of the Liverpool District Labour Party and one of the 47 socialist councillors who refused to make cuts in the 1980s Tony began by contrasting the courage and sacrifice of people who built the labour movement by “breaking the law rather than breaking the poor” like the Liverpool 47 and the Tolpuddle martyrs to the careerist New Labour politicians of today like Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson who have “ridden on the backs of those who have struggled in the past”. Labour are in power in Liverpool today but rather than being city of struggle that inspired millions from 1983-7 they are top of the league for making cuts. Tony made the point that the constituency of politicians like Anderson today is big business and the right wing press rather than the mass working class democracy that existed in the labour movement with the District Labour Party and the Trade Union Co-Ordinating committee in Liverpool under a socialist leadership, and that this reflects the fundamental change of Labour into a party of capitalism.

    This transformation started with what happened in the Liverpool struggle, where socialist policies and full resistance to austerity cuts won mass and increasing support at the ballot box and on the streets with mobilisations of the trade unions and communities at one point over 50,000 marched through the city in support of the council. During his speech Tony demolished the shrill lies and denunciations of the press and capitalist politicians that continue to this day that claim the stand of the council wrecked the city. Labour in Liverpool at that time got its highest ever votes and the trade union movement mobilised in support of the strategy and tactics of a council which fought for jobs, housing services and the funding the Tories had stolen from the city.

    The Tories couldn’t remove the socialist council by democracy and the ballot box so they resorted to stage a coup by using the district auditor. They were assisted by the other councils that capitulated and the witchunt led by the right wing Kinnock Labour leadership. Tony got applause when he remarked “when I hear Labour politicians’ say today in local government there is nothing we can do about the Tory cuts, I say there is plenty you can do you can mount a mass campaign and adopt a socialist program build houses, expand services and create jobs, the Liverpool council built more houses than all the other councils put together it’s a question of political will”.

    Tony concluded by outlining the potential for a mass working class struggle today which can be successful against austerity and its political advocates with the right political leadership. He denounced the cowardice of the right wing trade union leadership in selling out the pensions struggle in 2011. Tony echoed the call made by Cheryl for a 24-hour general strike and pointed to the union leaderships who are determined to fight like the PCS, RMT and the POA and urged Unite and Len MCluskey to join them and name the day for action. He also raised the need for a new mass party of the working class to fight for our interests and a socialist society.

    Now contrast that to the People’s Assembly which I was not at, but I leave a link to a Socialist Party article which also puts a critical assessment:
    http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/16998/26-06-2013/peoples-assembly-thousands-opposing-cuts-but-leaders-sidestep-strategy-for-victory

  52. Jimmy we’ve spoken to you about this before.

    In that long post you just wrote, apart from the first and last bits the entire comment is a copy and paste from an article on a Socialist Party website.

    I don’t mind if you quote from a story, but if you write a paragraph talking about yourself, and then paste in the whole report from someone else, you’re being dishonest. You’re making it look like you are the author. And even if you hadn’t started it with your own paragraph, the right thing to do is to simply post a link to the article, perhaps with a few quotes.

    Why didn’t you just write your own report of the meeting? If it was as electrifying as the report says, it would’ve been interesting to read your take on it.

  53. Vanya on said:

    #69 That explains the 2 references to who Tony Mulhearn is.

    #68 I read the SP article about the Peoples’ Assembly you linked to Jimmy. I note that you are scathing about the involvement of Ken Livingstone as a speaker because he was talking about what a Labour government should do. But isn’t that what Len McCluskey does as well? And Billy Hayes who’s speaking at the NSSN conference.

  54. Jimmy Haddow: Over 50 people packed into a Socialist Party, half those attending were at their first Socialist Party meeting.

    So only 25 long term members were there? After not only years but even decades of effort building your group in Scotland.

  55. Manzil on said:

    But what do you all think about Tony Mulhearn who, it’s yet to be mentioned, was one of the leaders of the epic, heroic socialist council, and which, as the Liverpool 47, was the inspiration for the oft-overlooked political satire, Zack Snyder’s ‘300’?