DISCLAIMER: The following article is the opinion of its author and does not represent the views of the People’s Assembly or of any political party
On June 22nd over 4,000 people attended The Peoples Assembly in London to form a coherent alternative to austerity. I’m sure that everyone who went down would have taken different perspectives away from it. For me the conference posed more questions than answers. You can see my live blog of the event here, it’s been described as ‘quirky’ by one of it’s readers.
I want to show you how I see the Peoples Assembly and the reason why I became involved in it. The current political situation in Britain is like this; the assorted racists of UKIP, the BNP & the EDL occupy the far right followed by The Bullingdon Club (a.k.a the Conservatives) at the centre right and the tea boy party (a.k.a the Lib Dems) in the centre. There is a debate to whether Labour is currently, the traditional centre left or closer to the Lib Dems and the Conservatives, it’s down to personal opinion. There are also the likes of the Green Party and The Socialist Workers Party to the left.
The current political agenda of austerity is dictated by the right, with the Conservatives in coalition with the Lib Dems and the UKIP who have recently become the third party in the polls at least. I see the Peoples Assembly as very similar to the Taxpayers Alliance which puts pressure on the Conservatives, forcing them right. The Peoples Assembly would for me do a similar thing with Labour, taking them back to the left and their core voters. This is why I joined.
What I saw at the Peoples Assembly was lots of different groups & individuals coming together with a similar aim of creating an alternative. But an alternative to what? To the coalitions agenda of austerity and the right in general, or to Labour, the party who is supposed to represent working people and the poorest in society.
To me, the Peoples Assembly is an apolitical organisation designed to gain support and put pressure on Labour to offer a credible opposition in the face of these unnecessary and calculating spending cuts. But their were hints within the speeches made by some of the national organizers that alluded to a separate party that would challenge Labour from the left. One of the local assemblies had even ran in the May local elections, and every time Labour was mentioned, the hall echoed with cynical groans.
In the current political climate, a party coming from the left under the banner of the Peoples Assembly or any other left leaning organisation will not succeed in gaining enough mainstream support to get anywhere, the SDP failed in even more polarized conditions than the present, so what chance does a new party now. We can’t just break away and jump on the blame immigrant’s populism like UKIP did.
I’ve been a member of Labour for around 2 months but my ideological home is the Peoples Assembly. I’ve attended a few Labour meetings and I don’t agree with many of their policies but I’ve got enough sense to know that if we really want to change things in this country we have to utilize Labours national infrastructure to win elections.
This is what we need to do:
- Get active in your area – by your local area I mean your electoral ward and constituency. Attend meetings, gather support, and ask difficult questions. If this means joining Labour then so be it, their isn’t any test to get in.
- Keep your principles and be opinionated – no one is asking you to change what you believe in, the aim is to take our views and inject them into Labour. In this region and around the country there are intelligent, passionate and capable individuals within the Peoples Assembly who can shake things up and make a real difference.
- Be courageous & don’t give up – There are too many people involved in mainstream politics who have traded in their principles to prolong their careers and keep favor with their party/union leadership. We need people who will not give in to threats and obstacles thrown in their way.
This is what we need to avoid:
- Unions getting involved in politics – Trade Unions are a very important financial and organisational force on the left; we wouldn’t have had the Labour party without them and I welcome the support the Peoples Assembly has received from them. They are also a great help to their members when it comes to matters in the workplace. The problem is they are politically compromised when it comes to competing with the opposition (especially the Tories).
The current unions are the remnants of a defeated movement from the 70’s & 80’s, representing a class (the working class) which is almost extinct in modern Britain. Their strike tactics have become predictable and outdated from a combination of changes in the law and improved means of lessening their impact. I was involved in a discussion last week about unions where someone said ‘Strikes are the only real weapon the left still has’; with the current strategies, a strike would look like this using that analogy:
‘I want to fire a gun at you, but first I have to take a vote on it with my fellow soldiers; most of which wont participate in that vote and aren’t really that bothered. If the majority agrees with me I will come back and tell you when I’m going to fire, but don’t worry it won’t be for a while yet and I only have one bullet, giving you enough time to get out of the way and even take the gun away from me’.
The unions also have a negative image when in comes to the general public, making joining or voting for any organization or party very difficult for many. This has recently been heightened by the alleged vote rigging scandal in Falkirk. The public seeing in the media (admittedly a media dominated by the right) unions block registering members to vote for their candidate is distasteful and extremely unhelpful to the left as a whole.
Individual members, like their unions, don’t seem flexible enough to adapt to a fast moving situation the country finds itself in. I can compare them to the majority of Labour members currently; they are aware of what is going on but don’t seem to want to move outside of their party/union ideological boundaries. If they were to join political parties as individuals (like I just did) in order to move them to the left, they would not have received the negative media coverage that the ham fisted unions did.
Talking too much – It’s something the left has been eternally guilty of. It is OK to speak at meetings and conferences or write in newspapers or blogs like this one if your purpose is to gather more support to your cause. But doing it time and time again becomes repetitive and even if it induces standing ovations from the already converted, it bores potential new supporters back into apathy. What’s needed is action, so I’m encouraged by the Peoples Assembly’s plans to both locally and nationally to get onto the street and compliment words with gestures.
Ways of resisting austerity in the future (theoretical):
- Indefinite strike action: As I have already written, current union tactics are ineffective. The one day strike is easily countered and the media can spin it into negative connotations. What is needed is an indefinite general strike, which in cooperation with direct action and civil disobedience can stop the country running. We need to educate the public on why we are striking so they are less negative, by pushing Labour towards the left we can also gain control of more media sources. We must stay on strike until we get what we want. Yes it may be illegal but you can only follow laws that are beneficial to the people, not to protect the elite; like copyright and anti-online piracy laws.
- Rebel councils: We need Labour councils to resist spending cuts by refusing to send council tax to Westminster and spending that revenue in progressive ways. It’s been done in the past and it can be done again.
Both of these measures involve sacrifices, but it’s the courage to make sacrifices for the greater good is what we need in order to change things in the UK.