Thursday, 20 June 2013
A people’s assembly, how about a workers assembly?
This weekend sees the people’s assembly’s national centre piece in Westminster hall. While all forms of getting together of anti austerity advocates is to be welcome I am left wondering about this mass gathering of the great and the good. I think we should be rightly wary of such an event and should not be afraid to raise our criticisms already. We may be told oh well it hasn’t happened yet don’t write it off just yet well I’m sorry we on the left have history with those who are involved and are backing this latest campaign. The Socialist Party's standpoint on fighting the cuts has been well received by many rank and file trade unionists, anti-cuts campaigners and others. Among its key elements are the need to oppose all cuts, call on anti-cuts councillors to refuse to vote for cuts, for trade unions to disaffiliate from the Labour Party; and especially for immediate preparation for coordinated national trade union action - in particular the naming of a date for a one-day general strike. The People's Assembly (PA) has received considerable funding from major trade unions, including Unite, and has attracted an audience to its regional launch meetings. The Socialist Party welcomes any forum of workers and anti-cuts activists that gives an opportunity for debate on how to take the struggle forward, so we participate in the PAs. However, they will only play a useful role if they allow democratic debate, and crucially, add their voice to those who want the trade unions to lead a serious struggle against austerity. Otherwise the PA rallies will be used as a fig-leaf by some trade union leaders to avoid their responsibility to name the day for a 24-hour general strike against the cuts. The NSSN has asked if it can have a speaker at the 22 June PA in London - to raise the campaign for a 24-hour general strike - and has offered the PA a speaker at the NSSN 29 June conference, but has not yet had a response. Nor should the genuine desire for unity among anti-cuts activists be used as an excuse to uncritically welcome people who vote for cuts onto PA platforms. Unfortunately, it's not unusual at these events for councillors who have imposed cuts at local level to be given an uncriticised platform. For example a platform speaker, Jack Scott, who was welcomed to a People's Assembly in Sheffield by its organisers last month, was the Labour council cabinet member responsible for waste management who oversaw cuts and even a strike-breaking operation against the city's recycling workers last year. Around 30 GMB members took 30 days of strike action against council cuts and a privatised waste management service that was drastically reducing their working hours and therefore their pay. Labour, Green and other councillors who pass on the Con-Dem cuts argue that it's not 'realistic' to refuse to implement every cut. Not only is it realistic - the money exists in society and more can be raised - but it's very divisive to accept some cuts, however reluctantly, and not others. Among those who put this position are defenders of the idea that after the next general election a Labour government can be pushed by its trade union affiliates to use a lighter hand with the cuts axe. Yet not only should no cuts be made, but the Labour leaders have asserted that they will uphold and continue with the present torrent of them. Those who fail to warn that Labour will be little different to the Tories are dangerously playing into the hands of Ukip. Instead of lessening Labour's cuts, right-wing union leaders of Labour affiliates such as Paul Kenny of the GMB and Dave Prentis of Unison are complicit in Labour's attacks on the working class. Demonstrations and rallies The big turnouts at some of the PA and other anti-cuts rallies and demonstrations reflect a growing desire of many people to hear an alternative to austerity and to combat it, as markedly did the massive - over half a million - 26 March 2011 TUC demonstration against spending cuts. Large events can give participants a boost by their size, but this will be combined with disappointment if the proposals from the platforms fall short of what's needed to mobilise a mass anti-austerity 'army' with a programme and strength that can decisively defeat the government's attacks. The actions being put to the 22 June assembly are: A day of civil disobedience and direct action, a day of coordinated local demonstrations, and an autumn union-backed national demonstration. These can be useful steps in contributing to the building of the anti-cuts movement but are not enough in themselves to turn the government back. Strike against cuts! The 2002-3 anti-war movement organised local actions, big rallies and a two million-strong demonstration, but those events were not enough to stop the war on Iraq, as the Socialist Party warned at the time. We argued that only through the millions in the trade unions threatening and seriously preparing for industrial action, could Blair's war plan be stopped. Many speakers at the PAs express support for strikes that have taken place and for the idea of more, which is welcome, but unfortunately it is usually without emphasising the immediate necessity of rapid preparation for national coordinated action across the public and private sector. This isn't surprising when, for example, among the leading supporters of the PA is the same right-wing Unison leadership that poured cold water on the idea of Unison members striking against a derisory 1% pay increase. The issue of democracy is crucial in the anti-cuts movement if it is to be able to challenge and overcome obstacles and arrive at unity in its direction and action. Yet in advance of the 22 June PA there is no invitation for anyone to stand for election to its leadership and the proposals being put forward can't be amended until next year. At a number of the regional PAs, supporters of the Socialist Party's ideas have been undemocratically denied a chance to speak. During PA and other anti-cuts events the Socialist Party will continue to support the right of all organisations to express their views and distribute their material. But we also call for the maximum possible unity around a clear programme of refusing to accept any cuts, of councillors refusing to implement them, and of building the momentum for determined industrial action, as the central planks of defeating austerity. We urge all those who want to build unity on this basis to attend the NSSN conference taking place at the Camden Centre in London on 29 June National Shop Stewards Network conference 29 June, 11am to 5pm Camden Centre, Judd St, London WC1H 9JE www.shopstewards.net Socialist Party news and analysis Cuts can be bea Extracts from this week’s main article in this week’s socialist http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/770/16906/19-06-2013/cuts-can-be-beaten