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People’s Assembly recall sets out aims

About 500 delegates from 100 local groups of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity (PAAA) attended a national conference in Central London last week-end and adopted a series of resolutions covering aims and future actions.

Peter Arkell reports

About 500 delegates from 100 local groups of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity (PAAA) attended a national conference in Central London last week-end and adopted a series of resolutions covering aims and future actions.

Chaired by Steve Turner, the policy director of Unite the union, the conference was long on motions and short on debate. The original signatories of the PAAA proposed and won adoption of a revised People’s Charter which the trade union movement first launched in 2009.

This talks of a “fairer economy for a fairer Britain” and calls on “any new government” (presumably a reference to Labour rather than the Tories) to challenge inequality through “progressive tax reform and repatriation of the vast wealth held in tax havens”.

The charter also calls for a reversal of the privatisation of public services and public ownership of transport, energy, water, post and telecommunications. How this is to achieved is left open, although there is a plea that “our political representatives must start governing in the interests of the majority”.

The conference began with tributes and standing ovations to Bob Crow and Tony Benn who both died in the week before. Resolutions on the NHS, education, climate change, employment rights, the bedroom tax, parliamentary elections, on immigration, on Trident and the arms industry and on employment rights were all passed with overwhelming majorities.  

The main motion on finance which called for a minimum subscription of £1 for membership (free for the unwaged) and for local groups to contribute £5 a month to the national centre was only passed with an amendment that required the centre to request funds from the branches and suggested that trade union contributions should be sought locally and nationally.

Many speakers emphasised the nature of the PAAA as an umbrella organisation for unity and as a “broad united national campaign against austerity, cuts and privatisation” and as the “broadest possible coalition on actions that we can agree on”.

The strength of the People’s Assembly, the motion on parliamentary elections reads, “is that it is a broad coalition, uniting a variety of political, economic and social views”. The motion went on to call for local groups to help find a candidate who could stand with the support of the People’s Assembly. 

Most of the anger of the delegates was directed against the ConDem government and Cameron’s recent call for “permanent austerity”, with resolutions and the delegates calling for “a government” to reverse austerity. The assumption behind most of the resolutions was that there was no economic requirement for any austerity measures and that therefore the global economic crisis was not the main factor in the attack on the living standards of millions of people across the globe.   

There was little criticism of the Labour Party or of its leaders Ed Milliband and Ed Balls who have promised the bankers and employers that a future Labour government would carry on with the austerity programme.   

The conference agreed to mobilise for a number of national events including a budget day demonstration in Downing Street, a day of action on 5 April against the Bedroom Tax and a national demonstration on 21 June. And it called for support for the upcoming teachers’ strike and for a number of other trade union disputes.

Since the PAAA was founded last summer, it has attracted a good deal of support for the idea of local assemblies that can unite trade unionists with community groups, tenants, and campaign organisations to challenge the right of the government to ruin the lives of millions of people. At the first meeting in Manchester, for instance, 400 people came.

But the approach of the union leadership of Unite that is the driving force behind the PAAA can only lead to more protest politics. Rather than seeing people’s assemblies as a means of uniting everyone behind a programme that can build alternative centres of power, the perspective is to act as an adjunct to the unions. As the general election nears, the aim will be to put pressure on One Nation Labour.

But any future Labour government will be immune to such demands. Ed Miliband’s party won’t be turned since it is committed merely to trying to regulate the market capitalist economy and to “responsible capitalism”.

People’s Assemblies could, given a different revolutionary perspective, become the means for channelling the anger and disgust within the communities into a struggle for power, for a perspective beyond the real cause of the austerity, the capitalist system itself.

17 March 2014

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